SXSW14 Re-Cap: 5 Lessons Learned from Movie Studios on How to Market Your Movie

Welcome to the fourth part of my SXSW14 re-cap, which will focus on the 5 Lessons Learned from Movie Studios on How to Market Your Movie panel. To go to any of my other SXSW14 re-caps, please click here.




JP Richards, Vice President Digital Marketing, Universal Pictures

Ethan Applen, Executive Director, Warner Bros./MediaCamp

Maria Pacheco, Senior Director, Marketing, DreamWorks Animation

Bettina Sherick, Senior Vice President, Digital Strategic Marketing, 20th Century Fox International

Moderator: Kevin Winston, CEO & Founder, Digital LA



Introduction & General


The way movies are marketed socially depends on various factors, e.g. the movie’s content, its audience, a possible existing fan base, etc.  What is always important, however, is that you must maintain a continuous story and that you have enough content to really keep the social media activity going continuously on all platforms that you are using. It can also be highly useful to have talent that supports your social media strategy and posts about the movie themselves.


If you do not have enough content for an actual social media run or campaign, just create a digital PR kit for your website and let audiences discover it themselves.


Possible hooks/content opportunities on social media include:






An example of the Pitch Perfect Memes used to promote "Pitch Perfect"
An example of the Pitch Perfect Memes used to promote “Pitch Perfect”



The biggest objective in social media marketing of movies is to tell stories about the stories.




  • The Fast & The Furious: Social narratives focused on production, talent, behind the scenes; including posts from actors of happenings on-set; tied-in with existing fan hype, which includes the hype surrounding the movie series itself and the hype surrounding its action stars.


"The Fast & the Furious" on Twitter
“The Fast & the Furious” on Twitter


  • 50 Shades of Grey: Only limited behind-the-scenes content available for sharing on social media (so far). As a result, the marketers have resorted to using lines from the books in place of actual movie material to fuel excitement in the existing fan base.


  • Planes: Game app containing prizes launched months before the movie’s release date; leading to 12 million downloads before the movie even was in theaters; catered to young, male audience interested in games and allowed for push notifications to all app users on opening day.



The "Planes" game app
The “Planes” game app



Common Challenges


  • Talent: Obviously, your talent cannot be told to post about a movie and in what manner, but usually promoting a movie in social media is beneficial to the social media growth of both parties, so most talent is quite cooperative. Also, movie directors should be included early on in the communications planning process to maximize any content they may have to offer.


  • Pictures/content: The picture approval process is huge and has to go through both the studio’s internal and the talents’ approval stages. Obviously, this takes a while, so candid, on-set pictures (e.g. cell phone pictures) that are being shared by the talent itself on social media is often a much easier and flexible alternative. Also: Due to high-resolution trailers, fans now have much more potential stills at their hands than many studios themselves. As a result, movie marketers can re-tweet/re-blog/share fan generated content, but not make use of this non-sanctioned material without breaching their own approval requirements.


Boosting Communication During A Movie’s Release


To increase the buzz surrounding the release of your movie, the panelists recommend the following:

  • Build up continuously to the movie’s release with the content you have at your disposal.


  • Post content on Twitter tying into TV ads and amplify these Tweets.


  • Be sure to invite your key influencers to your movie’s special screenings – e.g. bloggers & journalists, but also fans and influencers of key brands featured in the movie, for example.


  • Re-use all trailers and stills you have at your disposal as much as possible.



In the film industry, a social media campaign never ends, as it can always be reactivated for home entertainment releases.


Own Notes/Comments


While the panel featured great marketing executives, I personally found their recommendations rather basic. I am pretty sure that the panelists didn’t actually share the biggest tricks they’ve got up their sleeves in order to maintain their respective competitive advantages. Still, despite the fact that the panelists mentioned at the very beginning that the social media content of a movie’s campaign would have to be tailored to its target audience and possible existing fan base, the main type of social media content mentioned for the majority of the panel was behind-the-scenes material. Behind-the-scenes information can of course be extremely relevant to the right audience and seems to be easier to come by, but it would have been great to hear more about more innovative types of content such as the Pitch Perfect Memes or the Planes and Turbo games.

At the same time, a topic that remained completely untouched was any way in which the story world of the movie itself could be integrated in and expanded on within a social media campaign. After all, we are currently faced with countless movies that cater to existing fan bases – all Marvel movies (e.g. Captain America, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers, Thor, Iron Man, X-Men, etc.), 50 Shades of GreyThe Muppets, Spiderman, Transformers, Sin City, The Hobbit, Paranormal Activity, just to name a few.

Given that it is these existing fan bases that movie studios bank on when producing more and more movies of the aforementioned franchises, it seems quite surprising that there was no talk during the panel about how the story worlds of the movies themselves can be used as the biggest hook of all. In movies, it is the story that sells. If you have an existing fan base that is deeply invested in your story already, they will be keen on any shred of new content you can provide them with. These fans have bought primarily into the story itself, not into the process of how the story is being made. So it would only be a logical step to use the story of a movie to a much greater extent in marketing, just like in the campaign surrounding the release of the most recent installment of The Hunger Games.

Granted, the latest transmedia marketing feat surrounding the release of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was a great novelty, and looking at the difficult picture approval process the panelists talked about, I would assume that it would be just as difficult to get additional types of story content for social media approved. Nevertheless, it would have been nice to hear about such possible limitations, including any challenges one might not even think of as an outsider. Because as a fan, it can get quite annoying to read things like:

“Marvel’s “The Avengers” (2012) Character Spotlight: Agent Maria Hill
The high-ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Maria Hill is a talented commander, an expert marksman and capable hand-to-hand combatant, and is the second most powerful figure of S.H.I.E.L.D. behind Nick Fury.” (Official Avengers Facebook Page, January 27th 2014)

Hint: If I liked the movie on Facebook (or any other social medium), it usually means I have seen it, in which case I know all the above info already from watching the movie, meaning that this post is just boring for fans.  

True story extensions on social media, no matter how small, would probably have to be created and written by the same creators responsible for the movie (franchise) itself. Unless of course – and I’m sorry to constantly be using the example but it was just so good and smartly done – you do it like The Hunger Games: Catching Firewhere the additional content didn’t actually say much about the story of the upcoming movie, but focused on other aspects of the universe like parties celebrating Katniss & Peeta as victors. By doing this, the campaign did expand the story world the fans bought into, but without endangering/revealing the different story lines of the upcoming movie.

Lastly, I would also have liked to learn more about how to keep your audience engaged once the movie has been released. Again, additional story content would be a great way to do so, but even without it, there must be more possibilities than just “re-using any trailers and stills” you may have at your disposal, as mentioned on the panel. Of course, it is difficult to get by the amount of new/interesting content needed to keep your audience engaged, but there are already movie social media pages out there who do a great job at keeping fans interested and on their toes, such as the Facebook page of the Thor movies. It uses all kinds of content – movie stills, movie quotes, documentaries, DVD count-downs, fan content, comic material and meme-like pictures – and instills them with value to the fans by tying them in with larger social media trends such as the #tbt hashtag (which in this case was even converted into “throwback thorsday”).

The panel only had one hour, of course, and it is absolutely impossible to fit everything about social media movie marketing into this tiny time frame. The panelists were of a very high caliber, and so again, I don’t think they would have wanted to share all their secret sauces and tricks with us. I am very grateful that they made time in their undoubtedly busy schedules for this presentation and they did make excellent points throughout. It would just also have been nice to learn  about cutting-edge approaches to social media marketing of movies in more detail rather than just touching on them, given that the panel was classified as “intermediate”.







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