Twilight and The Unborn depended on online buzz to fill seats
When the Twilight movie hit screens late last year, it had the muscle of a best-selling book franchise behind its marketing campaign. By contrast, the January release of the horror flick The Unborn pretty much just had one of the vampire villains -- albeit as a good guy in this film -- as a hook.
Welcome to the tale of two films -- one a pop culture phenomenon that turned its actors into full-blown celebrities and the other a scary movie that brought in double its small budget.
Both movies came at their marketing from different ends of the spectrum, but they both relied on smart online video campaigns that played to their core strengths. The respective online video campaigns did their part in helping both movies exceed box office expectations: The vampire teen romance pulled in about $70 million its opening weekend, while the missing twins movie scored $20 million.
Movie studios are often the most innovative advertisers; they take risks and experiment with new tools before other marketers do or can. As such, their work often serves as an early incubator for new marketing techniques that will become commonplace later.
Twilight had a marketing foundation in place already - more than 3.5 million copies of the four books had been sold as of last spring (the number hit 42 million in March 2009) before the film's November 2008 release. The franchise had also spawned countless fan sites, providing a logical ground zero to begin the film's online marketing efforts.
"Everything grew from the fan base," says Jack Pan, executive vice president of marketing at Summit Entertainment, the studio behind the hit. "The video played such an important role, because before there were trailers available we posted behind-the-scenes footage on our YouTube page and our blog page."
Those early videos stoked the fan frenzy for the trailer, he says. The studio offered a widget for fans to embed on their own sites, which would play the first trailer an hour before it was released widely online, Pan explains. "It also allowed you to send a Twilight e-card to a friend and would give you exclusive content like the trailer ahead of other venues," he adds.
Because of the interactivity of the online campaign, it functioned as the hub of a broader multiplatform film-marketing campaign. Summit said the third and last trailer generated more than 55 million views online between all platforms including the Web site, widget, MySpace page, third-party publishers and ad banners, with 3.2 million views alone from the widget in the first 24 hours.
From Page to Scream
At first blush, Twilight might seem like a special case because of the well-oiled machinery already in place through the best-selling books. Still, there are best practices that can be applied, Pan says. "We were giving fans the chance to participate in the world premiere of the trailer and have it an hour before."
Summit, a new movie studio, also created a teaser page online quoting a popular passage from the book. Fans quickly found the page and started commenting, asking if Summit got a word wrong in the passage. But other fans pointed out that Summit was true to the book version and many fans then posted comments thanking Summit for making the movie. Those remarks were vital to the new studio, because Summit wasn't a household name, says Mike Tankel, senior vice president of marketing innovation at The Cimarron Group, the agency Pan worked with.
Book sales continued to soar in the months leading up to the movie's release, with the film and books feeding each other. During the holiday shopping season, one of every five books bought was by Stephenie Meyer. By March, when the dvd was released, the film had grossed $375 million.
"We had this core fan base and their fever was contagious and we were very opportunistic," Pan says. "The bulk of the online campaign was primarily around the fans and was built for the fans. We really needed to have them be on board and evangelize on our behalf, so we just created a lot of opportunities for them to get involved."
Summit now has that fan base, email list and YouTube channel to market the next film in the series, New Moon, premiering late fall.
Universal didn't have so many preexisting advantages with its pg-13 horror film The Unborn. The film debuted in early January, wasn't a holiday feel-good movie and it didn't have name stars in it, says Doug Neil, senior vice president of digital marketing at Universal. "Summit had Twilight, we had nothing," he jokes.
But the film was directed by the writer of The Dark Knight and starred one of the Twilight vampires, so the studio glommed onto those twin factors in its marketing. Universal also leaned heavily on the Internet as a focal point for the campaign. Though trailers ran on TV, the studio was limited by the nature of the flick in the type of ads it could run. On the Internet, Universal could show scarier images from the film, like a spinning head and a dog walking backward.
"There were images that can shock and draw people into the story a little more, but we still spent significantly on TV," Neil says. "But this was a campaign where we increased our budget online and it paid off well. We saw positive responses from exit-poll data. We did a study with Facebook that showed online was a significant influence in awareness and intent. Our own exit polls showed online popped higher than it usually does for interest for a film and social awareness," he says.
To capture film viewers, the studio and its agency, Ignited, created customized videos for fans to send to friends showing a girl having an exorcism. A separate Web site called mytwinhauntsme.com featured a scary person unexpectedly popping out after a visitor clicks on a few images. Sites like break.com and fearnet.com picked up some of the edgier ad elements.
In total the trailer generated 60 million completed views, while banners, companion ads and rich media garnered 2.8 million clicks, according to Megan Crowell, associate media director at Ignited. The film earned more than $42 million domestically in eight weeks of wide release and cost only $16 million to make.
It's almost scary how well that worked.