How Facebook Marketed "Straight Outta Compton" By Race

“Straight Outta Compton,” telling the story of the rise of pioneering gangsta rap group N.W.A., was one of last year’s biggest surprise hits, with U.S. box office takings of over $160 million – and a big part of this success was due to a Facebook marketing campaign that targeted different audience segments with different messages, including some aimed by race (actually, by various affinity groups that serve as a proxy for race, since Facebook doesn’t collect that information).

While African-American audiences were already familiar with N.W.A., most white Americans had never heard of the group, according to Universal executive vice president of digital marketing Doug Neil, who discussed the campaign during a panel at the SXSW conference (admittedly, this seems a bit incredible considering the huge controversy and media coverage the band inspired in the late 1980s and early 1990s; for example, the song “Fuck tha Police” was condemned by 60 members of Congress).

To broaden the appeal of the movie, Universal and Facebook took advantage of the social network’s targeting capabilities and leveraged a helpful insight: although they didn’t know about N.W.A., plenty of white Americans recognized two of its members in other capacities – Dr. Dre as the founder of Beats, and Ice Cube as an actor.

Thus the campaign marketed the movie to white audience members by positioning it as the story of the rise of Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, with a tailored movie trailer heavy on clips featuring those characters. In fact, the trailer didn’t even mention the group by name (aided by the movie’s title, which makes sense even if you aren’t familiar with the group’s music). By contrast, the trailer targeted to African-Americans emphasized the band name on the assumption the audience was already familiar with it.

Next up, I imagine we’ll be marketing a movie about Public Enemy as the story of the rise of Flavor Flav, the guy from “Flavor of Love.” Sheesh.

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