Five Wishes for Movie Marketing This Year

Betty White Aside, Did 'You Again' Really Need Its Own Twitter Feed?

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Chris Thilk
Chris Thilk

Since last month you haven't been able to swing a Dramatic Chipmunk around the web without bumping into one set of predictions or another. Many opined about how 2011 will be the year we finally crack the mobile advertising nut (see also 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2006) or how more people will "cut the cord" and drop traditional TV (possibly true, but the numbers on this always say exactly what either side wants them to say).

If I made my own predictions about what new tools might be used in support of movie marketing campaigns, events might even prove me right. Harry Potter might ask a question on Quora. "The Green Lantern" might check in to Oa on Gowalla. Bella could update her Facebook profile with a melancholy snippet from a John Mayer lyric.

But it's most likely that social media will keep zigging and zagging unpredictably, guaranteeing that most pronouncements made now will look as outdated next year as the phone Gordon Gecko gets back from the prison property master in "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps."

So instead of predictions, here are a handful of things that I hope to see happen in 2011.

'You Again' has 106,000 'Likes' on Facebook but just 576 followers on Twitter.
'You Again' has 106,000 'Likes' on Facebook but just 576 followers on Twitter.
Hollywood really gets social: For an industry that loves setting up Facebook and Twitter profiles for every movie, shockingly little actual conversation goes on. That's before opening weekend; a month after the movie is released, studios all but abandon each account.

Movie studios aren't alone in this -- a couple of recent studies have shown that the vast majority of corporate social network updates are promotional in content, with very little replying or other dialogue going on. But considering the studios are working overtime in the press to build up goodwill, they'd be well advised to devote more time to getting people to not just 'Like' them on Facebook but to turn those relatively passive Likes into active ticket buyers.

Those who have engaged on a social network could be offered a discount on multiple ticket purchases, a free song from the soundtrack or some sort of other incentive.

But Hollywood consolidates certain social efforts: For the love of Zuckerberg, please stop setting up separate profiles for each individual movie. When I'm working with clients on publishing programs there needs to be not only a really good reason for setting up an additional profile but also a six-month content plan. Unless there's a really solid argument for a movie having its own profile -- Harry Potter, Twilight and the like could easily make this case -- all a Twitter feed like @You_Again_Movie is doing is taking up server space.

Instead efforts that are more centralized, either around the entire studio or at the genre level -- think something like Lions Gate Horror -- have the potential to speak to a wider audience of movie lovers without fragmenting the audience or demanding consumers to follow a dozen films a year.

Studios give people a reason to buy more than once: Right now studios are simultaneously fighting for and against consumer behaviors that have collapsed release windows, behaviors that are largely resulting in declining home video revenue. On the one hand, they are playing to consumer demand by releasing movies on home video just three months or so after their theatrical releases. On the other hand, those same studios are imposing restrictions on the home video outlets seeing the biggest gains -- Redbox and Netflix -- with 28-day windows and other limitations.

But having more or less exhausted their big weapons against Netflix and Redbox, they'll soon have few other parties to blame for the fact that people are renting and not buying. If the studios are serious about propping up the home video market, they need to create incentives to buy, not just penalties for preferring to rent. That likely means some sort of discount on home video purchases for those who see the movie in theaters or some other sort of model that encourages people to pay for a movie at least twice.

Alternate reality games tone it down a notch: To continue being effective, alternate reality games will need to not only evolve but also stay novel, a tough trick to pull off. The game for "Tron: Legacy," one of the biggest such efforts since 2008's campaign for "The Dark Knight," bridged the first "Tron" and its sequel by filling in the mythology of the intervening 28 years.

Bouncing between the online and offline worlds, these kinds of ARGs keep people not only checking online for the next clue but also getting active in the real world, which lends itself to spreading significant word of mouth.

But there probably aren't many avenues of innovation left here, so delivering something novel will get harder and harder. Here's one counter-intuitive idea: Drastically reduce the scale, creating games in which only a handful of people can participate -- meaning the Unfiction forum team won't be able to crowdsource the answers in half a heartbeat.

Festival buzz stops inexplicably disappearing into the ether: I'm constantly in shock over how a movie becomes a fan or press favorite at one festival or another but, after a distributor is found and the release is coming up, the studio does little or nothing to build on that buzz. All those good vibes seem to be ignored as the studio launches its own campaign from scratch, the film's early supporters don't seem to get any extra attention and even the positive write-ups from festival days don't appear on the new website. That buzz needs to be harnessed and directed to turn a festival darling into a box-office success.

Chris Thilk writes and publishes and is a supervisor at PR and marketing agency Voce Communications.
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