Fan Fare

Entertainment behind the scenes

How to market a movie in the Twitter era

July 17, 2009

Movie studios are recognizing the increasing importance of word-of-mouth fan reaction in making successes or failures of their big budget movie releases. Check out the Reuters story on that topic here. Hollywood studios see an opportunity to reach potential movie goers through social networking websites like Twitter, and to market movies in ways other than the sacha-baron-cohentraditional trailer/television spot/billboard approach.

Universal Pictures, the company behind the movie “Bruno” that opened a week ago, actually sought to create buzz about the film by not marketing it, at least not right away. Universal delayed the release of its trailer and other advertising material for “Bruno” for a couple months, because it knew that the many fans of lead actor Sacha Baron Cohen would chatter about the movie online, said Adam Fogelson, president of marketing and distribution for the studio. With that delayed approach, the studio allowed fans to lead the talk about “Bruno” and give the subversive movie a cutting-edge feel, by not oversaturating them with advertisements and trailers.

Over at Walt Disney Studios, executives are also paying attention to the growth in importance of word-of-mouth fan reaction. Chuck Viane, president of distribution for the studio, said that to generate the right kind of word-of-mouth, filmmakers are making last-minute tweaks that will get fans reaching for their cell phones, but for the right reason.

“A lot of times, walking out of a theater, the last thing that you want to leave a customer with is a smile, and that’s why (filmmakers) find the appropriate outtakes,” Viane said.

For its alien movie “District 9,” studio Sony Pictures has encouraged the public to call in reports of “non-human activity,” and the studio said it has received more than 20,000 calls a day.

Movies that appear to have benefited from strong word-of-mouth this summer include comedies “The Hangover” and “The Proposal.” Films that have nosedived at theaters after opening strong include “Terminator Salvation” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” leading some box office watchers to suggest that audiences told their friends to stay home and not go to those films.

Television studios have used Twitter and social networking for some time to generate word-of-mouth. Hardie Tankersley, an online strategist for Fox Broadcasting, said his company could go further than it has by hitching a live Twitter feed on TV shows to Fox’s website, and including negative comments in the feed.

That can be a daunting challenge from Hollywood’s perspective.

“Shaping the conversation is extremely difficult and probably impossible,” Tankersley said. “People are going to say what they’re going to say. We try to contribute to the discussion but I don’t think we’re so arrogant to think that we can shape the conversation.”

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