Sony's Lessons for How to Market a Summer Movie

Originality Matters, Twitter Not so Much, and Facebook Is a Must

By Published on .

Reprints Reprints

SONY'S SECRET: Marketing execs Jeff Blake (l.) and Marc Weinstock.
SONY'S SECRET: Marketing execs Jeff Blake (l.) and Marc Weinstock.
LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- While its competitors struggled with an over-reliance on franchise tentpoles and inferior sequels, Sony Pictures flew under the radar to become the only major movie studio with a flawless track record this summer. From its surprise-hit reboot of "The Karate Kid" ($174 million), Adam Sandler's ensemble comedy "Grown Ups" ($158 million) and Angelina Jolie's "Salt" ($100 million and counting) to strong August openings for "The Other Guys" ($70 million in its first 10 days) and "Eat Pray Love" ($23.1 million in its debut weekend), Sony is batting five for five.

As Hollywood recovers from flagging attendance (admissions were down 2.5% season-to-date even as box office grew 3%, according to Hollywood.com), some important knowledge was gleaned on how (and how not) to market a film from May to August. Jeff Blake, chairman of Sony Pictures worldwide marketing, and Marc Weinstock, Sony's marketing president, shared 10 lessons.

1. ORIGINALITY
Whether it was Warner Bros.' "Inception," Focus Features' "The Kids Are All Right" or Sony's own "Salt," original storytelling paid off for studios and moviegoers fatigued from the same old script. "Everyone was looking for that original thing, what's cool, what haven't they seen before," Mr. Weinstock said.

2. TWITTER IS NOT ALWAYS YOUR FRIEND
"The important thing with Twitter is no matter how big it is, it's not an arbiter of success. It should be used to see what people are talking about and what they're thinking," said Mr. Weinstock. Case in point: Universal's "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" was the top trending topic for three days before its release, but opened to a disappointing $10.1 million (and fifth place) debut. Added Mr. Weinstock: "You can get into this frenzy before you make sure there's something useful about it. As marketers we have to dismiss it."

3. WHEN IT COMES TO SOCIAL, GO FACEBOOK
Whether it was talking directly to Will Ferrell's fans to excite them for "The Other Guys" or launching the trailer for "Eat Pray Love" online before releasing it theatrically, Facebook is the best place for studios to market through user-generated channels and see measurable impact—and targeting tools. "A lot of times we'll do what's known as a 'reach block' where, depending on the audience of the movie, we'll buy all 18- to 24-year-olds or women 35 to 50. There's very few sites where we can be that laser-focused," Mr. Weinstock said.

4. COUNTER-PROGRAMMING WORKS
Whether it was pitting "Karate Kid" against Fox's "A-Team" for the dueling '80s nostalgia weekend on June 11, or scheduling estrogen-heavy "Eat Pray Love" against testosterone-fest "The Expendables" on Aug. 13, well-timed matchups were a key part of Sony's summer strategy. "Hopefully you're zigging when everyone else is zagging," Mr. Blake said.

5. COMEDY IS KEY
As Warner Bros. learned in a big way last summer with "The Hangover," the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time, having a comedy released at just the right time can pay major dividends in the end. June's "Grown Ups" and this month's "Other Guys" were the only major comedies released all season save for "Dinner for Schmucks," which underperformed for Paramount. "If there was one break we got it was the lack of comedy," said Mr. Blake.

6. LET THE TALENT DO THE MARKETING FOR YOU
"With fractionalized media, the value of talent going out and supporting their pictures is immeasurable," Mr. Blake said. Case in point: Adam Sandler and his "Grown Ups" co-stars started promoting their film at the Super Bowl and didn't let up in the ensuing months, appearing on every talk show, event or junket they could.

7. SOMETIMES THE TRAILER IS ONLY A BIG TEASE
One of the most hilarious (and shocking scenes) in "The Other Guys" involves co-stars Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, but it's not even hinted at in the trailer or TV spots. "We wanted to preserve the surprises as much as possible," Mr. Weinstock said.

8. DON'T GIVE CRITICS TOO MUCH POWER
"Things like Cinemascore or Rotten Tomatoes, they're guideposts but they don't necessarily have anything to do with how you're running your race," Mr. Blake said. "Even though sometimes the quantification of audience reaction can be difficult, you can just get a feel of whether the film has legs or not, from the real nuts and bolts stuff -- are you up Saturday or down Saturday? What are your weekdays like?"

9. 'INCEPTION' WAS THE CAMPAIGN TO BEAT
Both Mr. Weinstock and Mr. Blake had to hand it to Warner Bros.' marketing and distribution teams for creating the most clever launch of a film this summer. "It was a very tricky concept in terms of what they were trying to explain. But they didn't dumb it down, they made it accessible," Mr. Weinstock said, invoking a similar approach the studio adopted for last summer's "District 9." "It's sort of the less-is-more idea -- you always want to show more of the story and get people excited, but if you have the visuals or originality you can pull back and let the audience fill in the gap and do the talking for you."

10. IT'S ABOUT QUALITY, STUPID
"If you've got the goods there's no more important place to put it. If you don't have the goods you get killed," Mr. Blake said. With the exception of "Grown Ups," all of Sony's summer films benefited from largely positive reviews, and even the Sandler comedy overcame critical grumblings by playing to the comedian's strengths. "The movies delivered what the people wanted in each event. We didn't have to do any 'look over here' diversionary stuff. I think ultimately people got what we were selling, which is this talent the way you want to see 'em."

In this article:
Most Popular