Hollywood is doing more than using Twitter and Facebook as mere promotional tools. After several years of experimenting, studios have thrown themselves deeply into a medium which is still barely understood. They are now developing elaborate social media campaigns early on, sometimes as soon as a film gets greenlit. Researchers are conducting deep numerical analysis on posts and tweets to guide marketing decisions, sometimes predicting box office revenue with pinpoint accuracy. They’re looking not just at opening movies, but sustaining their word-of-mouth through subsequent weeks. And they are getting more surgical about targeting their ever-fickle, ever-elusive core audience of young people.
Movie marketing has always been something of a black art. Studios typically intensify advertising the month before a movie opens, spending heavily on a barrage of television spots. Upcoming films are now surfacing on social media far earlier. On July 14, nearly a year before the release of M. Night Shyamalan’s “After Earth,” the producers released a video in the form of a Facebook timeline using headlines and photos to describe the historical run-up to an alien-driven apocalypse (the film stars Will Smith).
I’ve yet to see a major movie marketing effort on Twitter or Facebook that I really liked and that was engaging, interesting and enough to make me really tune in to what was going on. Mostly that’s because I have no bandwidth for short-term campaigns, which is what all movie marketing campaigns inherently are.
The story also resurrects the anecdote about how 2009’s Bruno opened big on Friday but then was savaged by immediate (hugely negative) reactions posted to social networks and once again presents this as a case of social media contributing to the sharp drop-off of a movie’s box-office. While there may be some truth there the story fails to adequately point out that this isn’t special, it’s just an example of social media amplifying word of mouth, not some wholly new creation that has to be feared.