Fifteen years ago, selling a movie was pretty straightforward: In advance of the film’s release, you put out a trailer. And some billboards – or maybe a lot of them. Then you send your stars out on a pre-debut press tour to drum up more publicity for the film. If the movie is expected to be a blockbuster, you funnel big marketing bucks into it. If it’s not expected to do well, then perhaps you don’t.
But the centrality of cyberspace in everyday life has changed the ways movies are marketed – decidedly for the better. And now, thanks to the relative cost efficiency of Internet marketing, there’s the potential for small films, not just the massive ones, to have expertly crafted promotional strategies. Whereas film marketing used to be all about following a prescribed formula, the cyber generation of selling movies has made marketing all about finding a way to abandon conventions in favor of a unique approach.
A New Age Of Selling Movies
Just like the Internet can make stars of people who haven’t “broken into” the business, so too can it lead to success for films that otherwise wouldn’t have gotten much airtime. Here are some examples of viral marketing campaigns that helped lead small movies to big success:
- District 9 (2009): In terms of science fiction films, “District 9” was a relatively low budget affair. At a cost of $30 million, the effects-heavy movie didn’t come close in terms of budget to other sci-fi films made around that time, including “Star Trek” ($150 million) and “X Men Origins: Wolverine” (another $150 million). With a first-time director and no major stars, “District 9” was not on the radar of many. Yet the film, which is about aliens who land on earth and are then kept in punishing confinement, benefited from a viral marketing campaign that included the launching of websites related to the film’s fictional Multi-National United organization, the group responsible in the film for overseeing the aliens’ segregation from the rest of society.
- Sound of My Voice (2011): If “District 9’s” budget was small, then that of “Sound of My Voice” was positively miniscule. The film – which was directed by young indie filmmaker Zal Batmanglij and stars Brit Marling – was produced at such a low budget that, when asked how much it had cost to make, Batmanglij simply said, “ultralow budget.” The budget was so low they had to use a borrowed camera. And when it came time to shoot a scene on a plane, they couldn’t rent out a plane and so instead the director bought three round trip-tickets and shot on the commercial flight. In terms of resources at the filmmakers’ disposal, this movie was only a step above that of a student film.
And yet what the filmmakers lacked in money they made up for in clever strategizing, which came in handy for the film’s promotional round. Unsurprisingly, “Voice” did not have a large marketing budget. But the team selling the movie didn’t let that get in their way. Instead, they mounted a campaign based around some mysterious YouTube clips that came off as pretty real. The ads, coupled with word of mouth and a strong festival showing, made the film a relative success, and it ended up pulling in over $400,000 in theaters – which is pretty great considering it was made for next to nothing.
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