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Sparking Conversation: Movie Magic Is In The Marketing

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Why do we go to the movies? Is it because we really want to see a specific film (if that’s the case, then there are literally dozens of other ways to get our movie fix in this day and age) or is it for the whole “theater experience”? Buying buttery popcorn, getting your ticket ripped and putting your arm around a date when a scary scene happens is as American as apple pie, right? Well, maybe not. Annual ticket sales have seen a downward trend since 2000, and the fragmentation of the movie viewing market is probably to blame. Production companies have tried to come up with new ways to get people into the seats, including the utilization of emerging and social media. Yet, there is still a good chance that the movie experience, and the way it is marketed, may look very different in the future.

Some of the first advertisements for film included colorful posters created by Frenchman Jules Cheret. Because the illiteracy rate was so high in the late 1800s, Cheret used a great amount of vibrant images rather than words. The first movie poster for a specific film was for L’Arroseu Arrose in 1896.

There is some debate as to when the first movie trailer came about, but the general consensus is that it was shown in 1912 at Rye Beach, NY. A sheet featuring a clip from the upcoming installment of The Adventures of Kathlyn hung from a concession stand. By 1916, studios started to use the trailer as a marketing tool for their more high profile films.

Trailers are still around today, of course – along with commercials and other movie marketing strategies. But those strategies have even shifted dramatically over my life time. The first film advertisement I can remember was for Steven Spielberg’s classic Jurassic Park. To this day it remains one of my favorite movies and I assume it caught my attention because, let’s face it, dinosaurs are awesome. But back in 1993 movie advertising was so limited – a preview in the theater, commercials on television and a movie poster outside the theater or a billboard in Times Square. Perhaps there were a few other promotions, like toys or cast interviews, but overall, this was what Hollywood had to work with.

Fast-forward to 2012. All those elements from 1993 are still here, but now there are even more outreach methods. Mobile advertising has been a huge ally for cinema. It allows studios to promote trailers through mobile video, push consumers to buy tickets through apps such as Fandango, and even encourage engagement and conversation about upcoming films.

Social media has made a world of difference for movie marketing, as previously mentioned. According to research by California Polytechnic State University, 32.6 percent of people said they’d be more likely to go see a movie if one of their friends had shown interest via social media. Conversely, 54.6 percent of people said they would not go see a movie based on a friend posting a negative review, proving that social media definitely has an effect on whether people go see a movie or not.

When the highly anticipated movie version of the New York Times bestseller The Hunger Games hit theaters in March, it was the closing chapter to a year-long social media effort that included carefully placed Facebook contests, Twitter scavenger hunts, a YouTube channel and more. The film grossed over $670 million worldwide when all was said and done, and it wasn’t necessarily a stampede of bookworms that were having their tickets ripped.

Outside the obvious goal of implementing social media, which is to get people talking and sharing movie news and content, it can offer engagement with those behind a certain film. Ted, released earlier this summer, gave moviegoers a chance to interact with the fictional star of the film (a dirty-mouthed teddy bear) through a Facebook page.

These innovative forms of movie marketing also serve as a reminder that the movie viewing experience is changing exponentially, which could be leading people away from the theater as well. People are starting to watch not only trailers and advertisements, but full features through media such as smartphones, tablets or on-demand television. It’s this easy access to movie content that has some questioning how movie theaters will even survive.

Prices have not helped the situation either. Nowadays a trip to go see a Major League Baseball game can run less than taking a family to the movies. Back in 1994, the average cost of a movie ticket was at $4.08. In 2011, that number was at $7.93, with prices as high as $15 in some areas of the country. Combine that with snacks and soda and a night at movies could cost upwards of $50. Suddenly watching a movie on an iPad from your home, or on a train or bus, seems a lot more appealing. It’s cost effective and convenient, and though the theater experience may be lost it sure beats having an empty wallet.

When I think about my own movie viewing I am surprised that I, someone who has always cherished the theater experience, have looked to other forms of media to get my Hollywood fix. After a careful review of my film viewing habits, I determined that I watch about 24 films in their entirety per year (note: this doesn’t count coming in halfway through a movie on television. It means watching from opening to ending credits without getting up). My breakdown of film viewing was as follows: 10 films were viewed in the theater, six on DVD or Blu-Ray, three were on-demand and five were through some kind of rental service such as Netflix. As a matter of fact, 2011 saw 23 million people subscribe to Netflix streaming services. Nothing compared to the over one billion movie tickets sold, but when you consider that Netflix users watched over one billion hours of streaming content in June 2012 alone, the numbers start to look a little bleaker for theaters.

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If studios want to continue filling theaters they will have to be even more innovative with their marketing than they already have been. What will tomorrow bring? Movie marketing, along with marketing in general, will undoubtedly become more engaging and interactive, because in the fast paced world of today’s (and tomorrow’s) consumer, brands can easily be overlooked if they aren’t screaming out for attention with something unique, yet convenient. In the case of movies, mobile marketing could offer users a chance to buy tickets immediately after they watch a preview. Or perhaps the bold marketing of Ted will be taken a step further and we’ll actually be able to interact with movie characters through technology, like holograms. It might sound far-fetched, but hey, if I had gotten a chance to actually see the T-Rex from Jurassic Park before the movie was released, I might have gone to see it in theaters even more than the three times that I did – almost 20 years ago.

The Takeaways

1). Movie marketing is ever-evolving, even from year to year.

2). Social media has an effect on whether or not people go to see a movie.

3. Today’s most successful movie campaigns involve a heavy amount of interaction with their fan bases.

4). The amount of movie content watched on home devices has increased and could threaten theaters, which have already seen a decrease in attendance.

5). Dinosaurs are awesome.

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