Movie marketing on a budget

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Mark Cuban posed a problem—how can a movie studio effectively market a movie without spending $60 million? Studios lose $8 for every opening-weekend ticket sold. Solve the problem, and Cuban will hire you.

Many proposed solutions have centered around the theaters—serve better food and drink, sell subscriptions, or assign seating. Some of these might improve the theater experience, but Cuban is a distributor. The distributor doesn’t control the theaters. Nike marketers look toward improving Nike’s marketing by changing how shoes stores work.

There’s also a number of suggestions to change the way movies are advertised, from showing longer format trailers as TV shows, to giving the movie away for free and having an advertiser sponsor it. But those don’t solve Mark’s problem at all. If the trailer is eliminated in exchange for showing longer clips, how does the viewer find those clips? How does a moviegoer find out about a movie and seek out those free tickets? Advertising. This puts studios back where they started, spending millions advertising a film.

The problem Mark Cuban is trying to solve is mass-marketing films isn’t efficient. Advertising draws millions of people, but the studios then lose money on every sale. That’s not an effective business strategy. Why then do studios use mass market television advertising? The money spent on TV and print advertising is amortized over the life of the film—that $60 million continues to draw viewers for weeks after the film opens, helps sell DVDs and drive rentals, and increases viewership for cable and network TV showings. More importantly, those opening-day viewers help build buzz. People see the movie and discuss it with friends. TV news runs stories about the top box office draws. Reviews get written on web sites. It’s all about word-of-mouth marketing.

In order to replace mass-marketing of films, studios need to replicate the successes while eliminating the problems. They need to build word of mouth, build mass awareness, and create interest among their target market. At the same time, they need to avoid the high costs of mass market television advertising.

Let’s assume that they still want the big opening weekend splash. For the niche audiences of typical HDNet films that might not be a valid assumption; however, if we’re going to remake movie advertising, we might as well think about all movies.

Studios build word-of-mouth with previews to bloggers, reviewers, small newspapers, web sites and the like. Getting a theater and hauling a few hundred people in to see it is expensive, slow, and a sure way to keep scores of opinion makers from seeing the film. If reviewers don’t live near one of the screening theaters, are not available at that time, or just forget about the event, they’ll miss the movie. Make screenings more convenient for for reviewers and studios will be able to get more reviewers and a more diverse group. Instead of screening in the theaters, send a DVD to people. Or let them download it. Or watch it online. The important thing is to let them watch the movie on their schedule. There will be some who leak the film onto the P2P networks or release a bittorrent of it, but that’s an acceptable loss. Most people aren’t going to substitute a downloaded version of the movie for the theater experience. The online reviews and discussions of the movie will get people talking. All you need to do is hunt down the right seed group.

Trailers are cheap to make, but expensive to distribute. Cut distribution costs by publishing trailers, and perhaps even longer clips, on YouTube, Google Video, and other video sharing sites. This month, the broadcast networks had less than 21 million viewers each night during prime while YouTube is showing 100 million videos a day. Give people the tools to spread and share clips and trailers. If they’re good, they will go viral. More people watched the SNL Lazy Sunday video online than actually watched SNL that night. The video spread through social networks, via email, and on blogs.

Letting people remix the clips can boost the viral nature. Tools like those that created the remix Chevy Tahoe ads are easy to create and can give the average person the ability to create their own trailers. They’ll feel ownership and pride over the ads they create and they’ll want to show them off—showing off the movie in the process.

Consumer-created media is growing daily both in terms of views and producers. One thing that’s missing is an easy way for producers to earn money—there’s no AdSense for podcasts. Pay videobloggers and podcasters to run ads and trailers for your movies. Rocketboom has an audience similar in size to CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 and the advertising doesn’t cost nearly as much. Hunting down podcasts on which to advertise is more time-consuming than advertising on TV networks, but that will change as podcast networks become more common. In the meantime, the extra effort is more than worth the savings and targeted audiences that podcast advertising can mean.

Approach the mass market through some non-traditional advertising. I’m guessing Mark already knows the power of this after watching the success of Akeelah and the Bee. I don’t remember seeing a single ad for the movie outside of Starbucks, yet the film was well-known and a modest success. Studios can find out where their target customer hangs out and put their messages there. Aiming the film at 12-18 year old girls? Partner with stores in shopping malls and put ads on bags and point of sale materials. Stick DVDs with trailers at the counter—free with any purchase. Got a sci-fi film? Start a marketing arrangement with Frys and Best Buy.

Some of these ideas can be mixed and matched. Take the top-rated trailers from YouTube and play them in stores while people wait in line. Heck, play the whole movie on all the TVs in Best Buy and have regular commercials promoting the film. I saw a trailer for Monster House with the actors and director talking about the movie. A shot of them discussing the film, then a clip from the film with their voice-over, still talking about making the movie. Aim to inform and entertain, then take the message to the audience—place it where they’re already at.

Studios don’t need to abandon television advertising altogether as long as they’re smarter about it. Introduce micro-targeting to TV advertising. Advertise on smaller shows and channels that appeal to smaller portions of your target demographic. Instead of scatter-shot advertising on mass-appeal programs, try some smaller programs and channels. A sappy romance movie might be a prime candidate for advertising on a fashion or home design show in the late evenings. Not only will this niche advertising be cheaper overall, but it can be more cost effective.

Expand micro-targeting to other mediums. Advertise by direct mail, in credit card statements, and local newspapers. Send ticket discounts for a special showing a few days before the film opens—more word-of-mouth marketing.

Studios should also question whether a movie needs any marketing at all. Would Pirates of the Caribbean 2 have fared poorly without a massive marketing blitz? It’s likely that fans of the first film, Disney aficionados, and casual moviegoers would have flocked to the film even without the marketing. Did the TV ads and food tie-ins bring significantly more people to the latest Superman installment?

Mass-marketing is needed to build awareness in a crowded market. Films that are targeted to niche audiences aren’t part of this crowded market. Blockbusters and cultural events like Star Wars or the latest Tom Hanks film are in their own uncrowded market. These movies don’t need a huge advertising campaign. They are selling themselves.

There’s a reason that mainstream TV advertising is so expensive. It works. As advertisers flock there, the price goes up. These new marketing ideas will be the same. As Best Buy realizes how valuable their point of sale space is, they’ll start charging more for it. YouTube will start charging companies who want to promote other media. Airtime on niche TV shows will become more expensive. And when that happens, the price of marketing a movie will become prohibitive once again. What’s needed is not a couple of new marketing ideas, but a steady stream of guerilla tactics designed to effectively market new movies for less money. Movie marketing should be constantly changing with new trials with concrete measurement to determine what’s effective.

So Mark, is relocation necessary?

July 26, 2006 9:12 AM

Other ideas: a) Only advertize for one movie, but spend hundreds of millions on it, then show a trailer for every movie opening in the next year before the feature. =-) b) Give bloggers who post a review of any movie a free ticket to another movie. (From the same studio, probably). Won't help first weekend draw, but will help give a movie legs.

July 26, 2006 11:50 AM

Start your own television broadcasting network, give it loads of hype. Make it the best network in a particular field, i.e movies, movie reviews etc. The advertise YOUR movies on YOUR channel. Expensive intially, but a potential saver in the long run. (I'd back you, but I haven't quite reached the end of the rainbow yet).

Lorann R Pike
September 25, 2006 3:26 PM

Common Sence ----Make pictures and story lines that people love and care about there are ideas and story lines that will raise peoples spirits in this dumb world. All this action and killing and cops and robbers and racing through life and war movies you don't have to go to the movies any more watch the dumb news. Are you ready for the race ? the human race 310-924-5944 yea--make movies people love and word of mouth takes off. All this advertising to promote a movie is bull shit.

Uche Chigozie Stanley
March 28, 2007 7:19 AM

I just wrote a movie script , and am shooting next week it all about africa youths and scams, staring some german actors,and nigeria youths.. i need marketer and tv right.write me and e-mail gozie Gozie

May 27, 2008 1:24 PM

I disagree Lorann. There is a huge difference between making a good movie and making a movie that brings in a lot of cash. Some of the greatest movies and television shows ever made have flopped because of poor marketing. Once the word gets around it's the DVD sales that skyrocket for many movies. My suggestion for cheaply marketing a movie would be using a viral internet campaign. Start a buzz on the internet and try to make it spread around by word of mouth. The success of the recent movie 'Cloverfield' is due to it's great internet advertising. Another cool method is guerilla advertising. Attack the city with posters, grafitti or other unique visual art forms to promote the movie.

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