The recent soft landing of Solo: A Star Wars Story makes one wonder about the supremacy of the Disney marketing machine. Is there a Star Wars fatigue setting in? Did the studio release the movie too soon after another Star Wars movie? Is there too much competition with Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2 still in the theaters?
It’s still too soon to give Solo a dead verdict (considering the hype) and too soon for a marketing autopsy. The movie might still be a hit of sorts. Not a movie critic, but my son and I saw it over the weekend and we both left with a “mehh”.
We can say, though, that Solo was marketed well — since the studio mostly aped the promotion of the other three recent Star Wars film (all box office monsters). One thing Hollywood does well is understand its audiences and market to them.
By grasping the general marketing techniques of movie studios, we can leverage insights that can work in any vertical. Your brand may not become a global behemoth like the Star Wars franchise, but it will move the right audiences to action and loyalty.
Tell a story
Movie studios just don’t create a product and then advertise it to kingdom come (if they want to be highly successful). They create a story around the actual storyline of the movie.
The most iconic example of storytelling is The Blair Witch Project. In the nascent days of the internet (1999), marketers behind this low-budget horror film generated additional storylines on its site before the movie was released: a faux documentary, “missing” posters of characters, fake news stories, and more.
The marketing was so successful that audiences were drawn into the overall mythos of the plot, with many actually thinking the Blair Witch legend was not fiction!
These days, this type of world-building around a film is common with horror fares, including The Walking Dead and Paranormal Activity.
Another great example is The Dark Knight. A year before the movie release, the film’s marketers successfully invited audiences into the narrative of the movie by creating:
- A fake campaign for politician Harvey Dent presented in a very realistic website.
- Producing and distributing a fictional newspaper called The Gotham Times.
- Delivering mysterious Joker playing cards with “HA HA” at comic book stores.
This and other promotions produced a massive buzz for The Dark Knight, but you could also say they unified audiences with the Batman characters and milieu.
In the “real” world, it means that companies engage better with audiences when a story is part of marketing campaigns and overall branding. Apple is accentuated by the story of Steve Jobs while SpaceX is bolstered by the story of Elon Musk.
What’s in your story?
Successful brands continually engage their audiences, and in the Digital Age, there is no excuse not to. In Hollywood, it’s almost an automatic.
Case in point: The promotion of Jurassic World was as interactive as possible. It took the form of a promotional website that was an accurate representation of the film’s setting, down to details like current temperatures on Isla Nublar, a realistic map of the grounds, and specific facts of dinosaur housed in the amusement park. Every single page worked to convince visitors to buy a ticket for the attraction, with assistance even offered on planning an unforgettable trip. The actual trip was not to the hypothetical Jurassic Park but for a spot at the local cinema.
Just as effective, the marketing in The Hunger Games provided “Virtual Hunger Games,” where users were able to join a district and compete against other districts (as in the film). The virtual game online allowed viewers to experience the movie characters while connecting with other like-minded fans.
In the “real” world, it simply means make your sites, social media, and events as collaborative as possible. And make your brand as transparent as possible, too, so audiences feel comfortable taking an amusement park ride down the proverbial sales funnel.
Tap into your SME’s
Actors sitting down for television interviews or coasting on a red carpet during a premiere is so legacy media. Actors who become proverbial brand evangelists take marketing to the 21st century.
The best case study is Deadpool, which saw Ryan Reynolds made the titular character transcendent. Reynolds continually promoted the movie in full character, from handing out chimichangas at the Super Bowl 50 to creating a Deadpool Tinder profile. It helped that Reynolds loved the comic book character, so much that he was actively involved in studio meetings to plan various marketing events (or more like stunts, if you will).
The next best illustration (arguably) would be Sacha Baron Cohen’s shocking character, Borat. To promote the mockumentary Borat, Cohen stayed in character most of the time before the film’s release, whether he was on The Late Show in front of David Letterman or in local news shows.
In the “real” world, it means brands should not be shy in tapping into their talent for marketing initiatives. Company thought leaders can contribute articles, appear at events, and be visible/available during promotions. A company succeeds with the talent behind it, so the talent should be in front of it as much as possible.
Know your audience
Understanding consumers might seem obvious, but it’s so essential it needs to be continually repeated. It’s no different in the film industry when it comes to marketing.
Take, for example, the movie Sausage Party. Being a rather subversive animation, studios promoted Sausage Party in such cutting-edge events like SXSW, as well as spent 50% of marketing on social media blitzes for Millennials.
On the other hand, a teen rom-com movie like The Fault in Our Stars focused on promoting on social media sites popular with younger demographics, including Instagram and Tumblr (where the movie hosted its official site). And yes, there were plenty of faint-worthy photos of the stars, behind-the-scenes videos, and GIFs.
In the “real world,” this means to know your audiences to the point you know exactly where they frequent. As basic as that.
Content is king, but market research places the crown
At the end of the marketing cycle, the product or service is what matters, since it knights marketers with the right inspiration and logistics. The disappointing results of Solo might be simply due to its weak plot. On the other hand, we have this year’s Black Panther. As an article in Fast Company stated:
“If there is a marketing lesson or blueprint to take from all of this, it’s that marketing success starts with the truth of the product itself. Disney built a fantastically solid foundation, then tapped into the magical Marvel hype machine to amplify the film’s inherent strengths. The single greatest marketing move for Black Panther was T’Challa and the heroes of Wakanda themselves.”
Put it simply: It still comes down to the best possible market research to deliver the best possible product. After all, the finest marketing in the world could have never saved Howard the Duck, Cutthroat Island, John Carter, or Monster Trucks. In retrospect and to a degree, the same might be said for Solo.
So start with the research to make sure marketers make your product a star. Having a Wookie in the campaign won’t be enough.