How marketing is used to promote films

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Marketing can make or break a film.

It’s a truism that rings clear in distribution and filmmaking circles, much to the ire of filmmakers like populist indie superstar Kevin Smith, who used nothing but his Twitter account for the promotion of his 2011 horror Red State. “I just want to tell stories,” Smith says. “It just doesn’t work like that anymore. Why does it cost five times the budget of the movie to open the movie?”

It’s a concern for aspiring filmmakers everywhere. The mass marketing model works for blockbusters that were made for millions of dollars. In that instance it makes sense to pump in cash to see it distributed as widely as possible. But for indie filmmakers or those with a more modest budget, the same paradigms just aren’t viable. How does one penetrate a market with a $50,000 film that requires millions of dollars’ worth of traditional advertising?

The answer is that you don’t. That isn’t to say don’t try, but there are other avenues worth pursuing rather than the traditional route of plastering your film’s title on every second billboard along the M5. There are ways to create hype about your film that doesn’t involve splashing out on third party agencies. Manipulating social media is one such way – as can be gleamed from Kevin Smith’s distribution success story with Red State as well as Tusk – but not the only one.

Recently Warner Bros partnered with Google to promote their new movie, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Anyone who owns an Android phone will be tangentially related to the Potter universe by being able to cast spells via Google’s voice assistant. For instance, saying “Lumos” will turn on a phone’s flashlight whilst “Silencio” will put it into silent mode. It’s fun for everyone, but a stroke of genius by Warner Bros’ marketing team. Every time someone utters those spells their minds will likely be drawn to the new film. A unique marketing method like this, even alongside the way search engine marketing is used via a service which can create Google ad campaigns, makes a lot of sense for studios to practice in the future.

Word of mouth will always be the best way of promotion. This could mean likes, shares, retweets or real conversation, but a prerequisite of that happening is creating something worth talking about. You have to create something remarkable, a spectacle that would want to make people show their friends. A good example is the telekinetic prank which went viral in the run-up to the 2013 remake of Stephen King’s debut classic Carrie. The shocking, part terrifying and part humorous nature of the video ensured that it spread rapidly, and no doubt drummed up interest to an already hyped film.

And while these examples might have been orchestrated by production houses, the lesson remains the same: you don’t have to spend exorbitant amounts marketing a film in the age of digital communication. The audience is out there waiting; it’s just a matter of finding the right tools to connect with them.