Chances are if you’ve watched television or read a magazine in the past ten years, you’ve been witness to both brilliant and terrible marketing campaigns. The hype surrounding a film can blossom or wane depending on how you navigate the minefield of marketing. With careful consideration toward your audience, you can leverage their past experiences to your advantage.
Think about some of the successful ‘reboots’ of the film industry – Star Trek, Star Wars, Daniel Craig’s 007, and the new Planet of the Apes films. Why were they successful? What did they manage to accomplish?
Be authentic (or else)
All of your major marketing decisions need to reflect the image of your brand. Are you remaining authentic to the legacy you’ve built? A major complaint of fans when Indiana Jones IV was released was in regards to the outlandish plot and involvement of aliens. The fans argued that while Indiana Jones had always used fantastic elements, they were at least always based in pseudo-history and legends. Your future endeavors need not be identical, yet for optimal success they should in some ways hearken back and feel like a spiritual successor. Pay homage to what has come before without delving into self-mimicry or what fans consider to be blasphemy.
We live in a customer-driven world that relies upon loyal customers to support the brand. Without proper marketing, there is no way to reach these supporters in any large-scale and meaningful way. Not all of your customers are of the same demographic. Beware of changing your image too drastically. While this may appeal to a younger generation, it can alienate those that made you successful in the first place.
It’s OK to leave questions unanswered
Leave them wanting more. This is a fine balance of giving your viewers what they want, but just enough to leave them satisfied. Satisfied, surprised, but still starving for more. More information, more images, more of your content. They want to know more and see more.
The way that this happens is by creating an emotional connection. If your audience doesn’t care about your content, then they won’t keep coming back. In fact, you’ll lose them right from the beginning. An even worse variation of this is when you have an invested audience, but squander their goodwill by not giving them what they ask for OR by giving them too much of what they want. The good news is that you can come back from this, but it is very difficult.
Play off audience expectations
When you created your brand, you also created a cultural brand identity. If you did not take the steps to cultivate this identity deliberately, it may have been chosen for you or developed over time. By addressing or challenging this identity and your audience’s expectations, you can garner a considerable amount of hype and support.
Much of this depends on appealing to the emotions of your audience. Nostalgia is a powerful tool, and when used carefully it can stir up powerful emotions. The marketing for many movies has a narrative all of its own, leading fans and casual viewers to believe certain things about the completed project. A recent example would be the focus on the character of Captain Phasma in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The character is portrayed by Gwendoline Christie and was notable as a seemingly prominent female villain. The character was featured on the poster art and in several publicity pieces and photo shoots. The actress portraying her was interviewed by major news outlets and the role was hailed as a feminist victory.
When the film was finally released, we discovered that Captain Phasma was little more than a background character with a handful of lines. The collective expectation was of something more substantial than what was delivered. Her silver-clad likeness is featured on posters, bedspreads, cups, plates, action figures, in video games, and on collectibles of every shape and size. Yet ultimately, the role accounted for approximately five minutes of screen time and exited the film as somewhat of a joke. Could there be redemption? It’s possible, since it was recently confirmed that the character will be returning for Episode 8.
For all the things that Episode 8 did right, this was a case of not correctly managing the expectations of their audience – they led fans to believe something that wasn’t true.
That said, the market is not the same as it was thirty years ago. The times and technology are changing, and that introduces a need to adjust the way we reach our audiences. Mobile devices, social media, and streaming video are widespread and play a vital role in both distributing and consuming media. These three represent some of the greatest tech trends that are innovating marketing. Each new piece of publicity is immediately and globally available.
Use your source material or brand as inspiration
The Hunger Games films built buzz through no small amount of irony. Their marketing team took cues from the source material by launching products inspired by the dystopian novels. When developing a marketing plan, you must take into account your target demographic and develop accordingly. This is why The Hunger Games’ marketing team deliberately forged key partnerships with makeup companies to mimic the ostentatious styles of the oppressive Capitol featured in the series.
The intentional irony of producing lavish products representing the extravagant ruling class wasn’t lost on fans of the series. Many of the themes of the books and films are touched on repeatedly by on the nose and potentially insensitive licensing – specifically, the Subway sandwich event for a series called The Hunger Games.
Regardless of your approach, the lessons remain. You can find significant marketing success through authenticity, managing audience expectations, and a little inspiration from source material.