SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Selling a movie used to be a snap. You printed a poster, ran trailers in theaters and carpet-bombed NBC’s Thursday night lineup with ads.
Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images for Allied-THA
Fans of “The Hunger Games” waited for the cast earlier this month in Plantation, Fla.
Today, that kind of campaign would get a movie marketer fired. The dark art of movie promotion increasingly lives on the Web, where studios are playing a wilier game, using social media and a blizzard of other inexpensive yet effective online techniques to pull off what may be the marketer’s ultimate trick: persuading fans to persuade each other.
The art lies in allowing fans to feel as if they are discovering a film, but in truth Hollywood’s new promotional paradigm involves a digital hard sell in which little is left to chance — as becomes apparent in a rare step-by-step tour through the timetable and techniques used by Lionsgate to assure that “The Hunger Games” becomes a box office phenomenon when it opens on Friday.
While some studios have halted once-standard marketing steps like newspaper ads, Lionsgate used all the usual old-media tricks — giving away 80,000 posters, securing almost 50 magazine cover stories, advertising on 3,000 billboards and bus shelters.
But the campaign’s centerpiece has been a phased, yearlong digital effort built around the content platforms cherished by young audiences: near-constant use of Facebook and Twitter, a YouTube channel, a Tumblr blog, iPhone games and live Yahoo streaming from the premiere.
By carefully lighting online kindling (releasing a fiery logo to movie blogs) and controlling the Internet burn over the course of months (a Facebook contest here, a Twitter scavenger hunt there), Lionsgate’s chief marketing officer, Tim Palen, appears to have created a box office inferno.
Analysts project that the “The Hunger Games,” which cost about $80 million to make and is planned as a four-movie franchise, could have opening-weekend sales of about $90 million — far more than the first “Twilight” and on par with “Iron Man,” which went on to take in over $585 million worldwide in 2008.