In June of 2012 I wrote Another Crack in the Mass Media Wall, a post that detailed how Lionsgate effectively used social media for the first time to get a huge opening weekend for The Hunger Games.
It is worth noting that two years later Hollywood decided to follow up on its own innovation with the release of The Fault in Our Stars.
As described in How “The Fault in Our Stars” Movie became a Social Media Supernova, Fox effectively reached its audience with a well planned social media campaign before the movie opened.
“Other movies have done [social media outreach] in places,” George Dewey, Fox’s senior vice-president for domestic digital marketing, tells Yahoo Movies. “We’re doing it across the board. I think the combination of the passion that pre-existed the movie with the decision to involve fans every single step of the way is why you see so much conversation about The Fault in Our Stars now.”
Dewey goes on to comment.
“In general, treating fans as part of the campaign as opposed to the audience for the campaign is the future of how movies will market.”
This view expressed by Dewey is still a minority one within the Hollywood marketing and distribution machine. Most in Hollywood still believe that the audience is simply there to receive the campaign—not be part of it. This dominant point of view clings to the old mass media model of “we create, you simply consume”, where all control rests with the media company and gives no control or “emotional ownership” to the audience. But we live in a new connected world.
This past weekend showed that the marketing strategy employed by Fox and Mr. Dewey was “spot on”.
The studio projected that the movie would hit $29 million at the North American box office.
But something bigger happened. As detailed in the New York Times,
“The Fault in Our Stars took in a spectacular $48.2 million at North American theaters between Thursday night and Sunday, and it did so with nary a billboard in sight and no weeks long television ad barrage. In fact, 20th Century Fox spent less than $30 million on marketing, or half of what studios typically spend to introduce a summer film.”
It is important to mention that the movie was made for $12 million—paltry by Hollywood standards.
So Fox effectively cut their marketing spend in half (thus saving $30 million), by not buying many ads (on that old fashioned one way mass media channel called TV) and instead reached out to fans directly on the Tumblrs, Pinterests, Facebooks and Twitters of the world (all built on that new fangled two way network called the Internet.)
They went directly to potential fans, invited them in and created an ongoing conversation. They allowed them to converse with the “movie” and converse with each other about the movie.
And note that @realjohngreen, the book’s author and a social media force in his own right, was a big part of this conversation.
Will Hollywood bosses ignore the lessons from this success? Will they insist that this is just a “one off” that cannot be repeated? Will Mr. Dewey be praised for his work but also be told that this is really not the future of how movie marketing will work?
Very likely, if history is any guide.
Most industries would be thrilled to find a model that creates their product for less money, gets it into the market it at a reduced cost and still attracts a large number of consumers. Most industries would work hard to see how they might replicate this model for future products.
They would have R&D units within their companies whose only purpose is to figure out the new connected world we live in. They would experiment and innovate.
But this is the movie business we are talking about. Change is slow and not actively pursued. Instead of two years between innovations, it should be two months, two weeks or two days.
Can Hollywood learn a new trick that it can repeat, improve and execute consistently over time?
It should. After all, the new world is staring them in the face. On at least two occasions it has also contributed massively to Hollywood’s bottom line.
But maybe it is just an old dog.
And learning new tricks is just not its thing.
Update, June 23: A excellent piece today by Kathleen Toohill of Full Screen gives further detail on the social media campaign waged by Fox and John Green. Here it is: Getting Gen C to the Box Office [Infographic]. Read it!