In about three weeks, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire will hit cinemas around the world. Excitement for the next installment of the THG universe is high, and a large part of it is due to the transmedia marketing strategy for Catching Fire, which consists mostly of a mix of social media, fan participation, and brand cooperations. Responsible for this unique marketing campaign is Ignition Creative, an LA-based ad agency.
The marketing campaign for Catching Fire kicked off at the beginning of 2013, and over the course of the last months, we’ve been treated to increasing amounts of content from the THG world. Today, I’d like to offer an overview of the different tools and media Campfire and Lionsgate have been using to create a new type of excellent entertainment marketing that blurs the line between reality and fiction.
In April, billboards started popping up that advertised “Capitol Couture”, and more specifically, futuristic fashion and a fragrance titled “CINNA – L’Essence D’un Champion.”
At this point, existing THG fans already suspected that the billboards were about the upcoming Catching Fire movie. Curiosity stirred in both fans and anyone not familiar with THG, and once they googled “Capitol Couture” they encountered a tumblr site, which in turn linked to the Capitol’s Facebook page, twitter account, Instagram page and YouTube channel.
“Capitol Couture” on tumblr
The platform with the most content for fans, the “Capitol Couture” tumblr site takes the shape of an online magazine that seems to be written for the citizens of the Capitol. It contains stories about the victors that will be featured in the Quarter Quell in Catching Fire, reports of social events like the Victory Tour Culmination Party at President Snow’s mansion, and of course, typical magazine-style articles about fashion designers, make-up, and even architecture. While the tumblr content generally doesn’t contain too much new information in terms of the actual THG story, it does a great job at giving fans the possibility to experience the THG world and to feel a part of it.
Articles About Beauty/Fashion/Designers >> Brand Cooperations
Let’s take one of the many articles about specific fashion designers and trends, for example. All of these articles are cooperations with renowned, often high-end, brands. The articles on them are editorial in style and cover the brand in question in great detail. Check out this article on designer Stella Jean, for example:
When Giorgio Armani signs on as an ardent benefactor, you know you’ve got some muscle behind your label. Former model and relative newcomer Stella Jean capitalizes on her blended heritage—half Haitian, half Italian—to create ethnic looks with unique silhouettes. The result is a riot of color in ebullient forms. For her fall/winter collection, Jean paired wax fabrics from Africa with Navajo-like faux fur and Mongolian-inspired assymetrical cuts.
“I drew inspiration from the capacity to blend and juxtapose traditions that are distant, like pre-Columbian and Mongolian civilizations,” Jean has noted of her recent line. Jewel-embellished striped sweaters feel like rugby wear for royalty; patterned bustiers are perfect for layering with faux fur shrugs. Jean’s genius lies in her bravado—like a Michelin-rated chef, she takes bold, seemingly incongruent ingredients and makes them sing in harmony. Her signature kaleidoscope of color is a smart calling card for this up and comer.
Jean has summed up her design motto and personal mantra this way: “The only insurmountable frontiers are those of the mind.” Well spoken and elegantly executed. You can check out her fall line—from funky, studded African print cuffs ($128) to a ladylike dress with flared skirt, white collar and button cuffs ($1105)—at farfetch.
From working in brand communications, I can tell you that such an in-depth treatment of your brand in any magazine is ideal – and very rare, as most magazine editors won’t just write a grand laudation of your product, of course. In the case of Capitol Couture, however, all brands are featured in this much detail. Needless to say, they probably had to pay quite a bit of money to be part of Capitol Couture, but that money is well invested.
For one, the juxtaposition of the brands in question with the Capitol from THG reinforces the brands’ high-end image in the fans’ minds. Moreover, the phrasing and tonality of the Capitol Couture magazine is reveling by nature as an extension from the tone in Capitol media in the THG books, which makes the brands and their products appear all the more desirable. At the same time, the fact that the brands are featured as part of a cooperation in Capitol Couture magazine means that the brands’ communication managers probably have a great level of editorial control when it comes to the articles, and finally, being featured in Capitol Couture magazine introduces the brands to an entirely new audience.*
Articles Expanding the Experience
Next to the brand-focused articles in Capitol Couture magazine, there are also plenty of reports that vividly describe life in the Capitol in a way that lets fans join in the experience. As I mentioned earlier, there are detailed recounts of the Victory Tour Culmination Party, but also an article on a photo shoot with Katniss, for example. While these articles don’t add much content to the overall THG story – probably because the books are finished already – they do use short descriptions of THG characters and what they do in the situation the respective article covers that tie-in with each character’s overall image. Take, for example, this excerpt from the article about the Katniss photo shooting:
On the day of our exclusive photo shoot, for instance, she arrives four minutes early and treats everyone with respect. Unlike past cover divas, Everdeen demands no over-the-top amenities like albino caviar crepes or a 24K gold-leafed footstool. (Um, yes we have yielded to such requests in the past.) When our stylist hurries in with a rack of custom gowns from couture designers such asLanvin and Balenciaga, Everdeen smiles and points to her leather duffel bag. “I’m all set,” she says and then adds, “Thanks to Cinna, of course.”
As a result, Capitol Couture magazine is able to expand the THG experience without the need for much additional content – small descriptions like “arrives four minutes early” and “treats everyone with respect” are enough to draw the fans into the world of the Capitol and to get them excited.This is complemented further by the use of euphemisms in many descriptions pertaining to the victors, which frame the victors as star-crossed heroes who selflessly sacrifice themselves for a higher purpose rather than the poor victims that they really are – just like in the books and in the movies.
Capitol Couture also makes great use of existing fan activity by channelling it into challenges. In one challenge, the Capitol Art Challenge, fans can enter their own piece of fan art, for example, while others ask fans to tweet/post a picture of their “Oh So Capitol” style on Fridays (hash tagged #CapitolStyle) and their choice of a red carpet look in the Capitol (hash tagged #CapitolRedCarpet).The Capitol Art Challenge is even presided by a jury including Capitol Couture‘s editor-in-chief Monica Corcoran-Harel, bloggers Faran Krentcil and Valentine Uhovski, and fictional character Effie Trinket, ensuring that the lines between fiction and reality blur further.
The Catching Fire website is no longer just a film website. It has become the Citizen Control Center of Panem, complete with a “.pn” URL ending (which is usually used for the Pitcairn Islands). As users enter the site, they can use Facebook or Twitter to login and to create a Panem government ID – which runs under the hash tag #identifyyourself – turning them into Citizens of Panem. As a citizen, they then have the possibility to sponsor victors, check up on district/local weather and news, and follow activity levels in the different districts, which are tied to the HG Explorer, an official, pre-existing THG fan community in which fans can use their activity to unlock badges, check out additional content (videos, pictures, etc.) and join in fan competitions. There is even a small excerpt from the film showing the Quarter Quell participants in training. Unfortunately, the website is experiencing quite a few technological difficulties, making it difficult to navigate.
Facebook Page & Twitter
The Facebook and Twitter pages of Catching Fire are the official pages of the Capitol/Panem government and contain mostly “public service announcements” and ideological messages as you would encounter them in the actual country of Panem, such as “Respect district boundaries. District crossing forbidden. Movement beyond your district is strictly forbidden.” Moreover, the Facebook and Twitter pages also feature promotional pictures, the official trailers and links to Capitol Couture, all looking like official government releases.
On Facebook, the pages are not just limited to the Capitol, but there are also Facebook pages for each district. While all of them generally contain the same “public service announcements” and ideological messages, they vary in fan participation, as each District page asks its fans to post letters of support for the respective District in the Quarter Quell on that District’s Facebook page.
What is quite interesting to note, is that the ideological statements posted on the Capitol’s Facebook page trigger emotional reactions in the fans, causing them to post endorsing or rebelling comments underneath the post in question:
On YouTube, we encounter another official Capitol medium – Capitol TV. It features the official Catching Fire trailers and previews, but also a section entitled “District Citizen Reels“. In this section, fans are once again called upon to participate in the form of fan vids that are then featured in the official Capitol TV channel.
Finally, Instagram is another Capitol Couture medium, with the Capitol Couture Instagram account consisting of many pictures found in the Capitol Couture magazine. It does not offer new content, but helps spread the buzz around Catching Fire on one of the most important social media in the THG target audience.
Thoughts & Remarks
I am immensely glad that there is finally a transmedia campaign marrying storytelling with marketing. While storytelling part is arguably cut short most of the time, there is a great emphasis on offering a very well-rounded and inclusive Catching Fire experience. All media used have been chosen wisely and generally offer new content at every platform. In the case where no new content is offered (Twitter and Instagram, mostly), the importance of the media themselves among the young target audience justify the re-use of material.
There are a few additional points that I would like to highlight particularly:
- Interestingly, the negative image of the Capitol doesn’t seem to impact on the brands negatively. Given the social critique of modern day opulence the Capitol embodies, one would think that no brands – luxury or otherwise – would want to be associated with the Capitol, and that fans would look at the featured high-end brands as associates of the evil President Snow and Capitol society. However, judging from the comments and popularity of Capitol Couture, fans don’t seem to think that way. My guess is that they like how using real brands blurs the line between fiction and reality, and that they enjoy a bit of self-reflection brought about by the use of actual brands.
- Even though all the media mentioned above can’t actually add to the overall THG storyline with new plot pieces or new characters, they still enrich the experience and the message of THG. Take the tone of the Capitol Couture articles, for example. On the one hand, they reflect the absurdity of the country of Panem and the lifestyle in the Capitol, but on the other hand, they are showing us how close we are already to this particular opulent lifestyle. One way of doing this is the inclusion of luxury brands and designers, that a large part of our own society lusts after, and another is the style and tone of the Capitol Couture articles, which we will all recognize from the type of magazine articles that fill our real-life magazines everyday. THG fans (and probably everyone who’s seen the first movie) can quickly spot the way in which the Capitol and Capitol Couture gloss over anything that could be remotely critical of the status quo, even in the media listed above, and with this type of content directly juxtaposed with real-life examples of media and lifestyle, the criticism behind THG becomes all the more powerful. Therefore, the Catching Fire marketing strategy is able to greatly add to the THG message despite the lack of new story content.
- The transmedia marketing campaign for Catching Fire also makes exceptional use of the existing gigantic THG fan base with its many fan challenges that capitalize on activities and content fans already produce and consume on a daily level: fan art, fan videos, hash tags, fan challenges, supporting a specific team/character, etc. As a result, these participatory challenges are highly organic and integrate seamlessly in the existing THG fan community. What’s more, theses challenges not only pay attention to but praise fan activity like fan art, which greatly resonates with fans who are usually threatened with legal action when publishing their own pieces of fan art/videos/etc. The only thing missing now would be a tie-in of fan fiction, but I am assuming that this type of fan activity would infringe on Suzanne Collins’ works too closely.
- The entire campaign seems to be aimed at existing fans and at least those, who are familiar with the first movie, rather than courting new potential consumers. tumblr plays a very important role in that respect, as tumblr has really become THE fandom medium. As a result, it really is the best tool to meet fans where they already spend their time, to activate this powerful fan base to spread the excitement for Catching Fire, and to let them do the work of spreading the word among non-fans.
- All the media chosen in the campaign are also very effective because they a) allow daily/constant reminders of the upcoming Catching Fire movie in the fans’ newsfeeds as social media, and because b) they make use of the young (target audience) generation’s wish to present themselves to the world and to consume socially. This is reflected very well in the many hashtags used by the Capitol and by Capitol Couture in the last few months: #identifyyourself asks fans to visit the Panem website on the one hand, but also lets fans identify themselves as THG fans; #capitolstyle and #capitolredcarpet help to activate fashion bloggers and also reflect the lifestyle of the Capitol, etc.
So, all in all, I really have to say that the Catching Fire transmedia campaign truly is an example of impeccable fan understanding and a very creative expansion of an existing storyworld that needs very little new story content because it is able to capitalize on the message of the story itself. I do hope that this is only the first of many more great transmedia examples to come, and will be keen to see how this campaign will continue throughout the production and showing of the next two THG movies.
* While one could argue that this new audience isn’t actually relevant to the featured brands as they are very high-end in design and pricing, it must be remembered that the Capitol Couture magazine is likely to be followed and read primarily by big THG fans. Fans of any fandom go to great lengths to re-create experiences from the stories they love, so even if they may not have the financial means to become regular customers of the featured high-end brands, they might be enticed to save up for a special product they read about in Capitol Couture just for the sake of feeling a part of the THG world.
Note: This post has been edited on February 26th 2015. The previous version of this post claimed that NY-based agency Campfire was responsible for this campaign, which is incorrect. The agency behind this project is Ignition Creative.