From The Wall Street Journal:
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).
For Paramount’s coming film, “Paranormal Activity 4,” the studio is working with Facebook for what it calls the “Want It” campaign, allowing fans to request a premiere in their hometown, anywhere in the world; the 25 cities with the most voting activity will get it first. For “Pitch Perfect,” a comedy debuting Oct. 5 about an a cappella singing group, Universal is announcing a competition on Monday in which fans can submit videos of themselves singing Nicki Minaj’s hit song “Starships.” The winning clips will be spliced into a music video featuring the cast of the film and Mike Tompkins, an a cappella artist whose YouTube page has more than 500,000 subscribers.
There is mounting evidence that promotions like this do move the dial. Last year, Paramount executives were worried about lukewarm buzz over “Super 8.” They’d expected more enthusiasm for a movie with Steven Spielberg attached as a producer, and fan-boy favorite J.J. Abrams as the director. The problem, they felt, was the unusual tone of the movie, part family drama, part sci-fi horror flick. It was “hard to capture in a 30-second TV spot,” says Amy Powell, Paramount’s president of digital entertainment.
The Monday prior to the film’s release, as disappointing tracking numbers continued, Ms. Powell contacted Twitter Chief Executive Dick Costolo and revenue chief Adam Bain with the idea of using Twitter to announce, via sponsored tweets, early Wednesday screenings at 300 theaters. And they threw in free popcorn. After the tweets went out, they sold several million dollars in tickets.
As fans emerged from the Wednesday night screenings, they tweeted mostly positive reactions with the #Super8Secret hashtag. The 11th-hour blitz paid off: the film opened to $35 million, a better-than-expected result that Paramount Vice Chairman Rob Moore credited to the Twitter campaign.
No studio has been bold (or foolish) enough to completely abandon television advertising in favor of a strictly social-media approach. Studio executives say it’s as yet impossible to determine how much a social media strategy actually contributes to a film’s box office results. But the promise for studios is that it could lower marketing costs.
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