The Newest Hottest (and most controversial) Spike Lee Joint

SpikeIn Chapter Four of Robert Marich’s Marketing to Moviegoers: A Handbook of Strategies and Tactics (3rd Ed.), entitled “Marketing in Digital Media”, Marich promptly explains, as according to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel The Last Tycoon, that “the whole equation” of movie marketing (in the digital age) is multivariable and perhaps no longer fully fathomable (Marich, 112). One facet of marketing in the digital landscape that he makes note of is the emergence of the “viral marketing campaign”, pioneered by the 1999 box office blockbuster The Blair Witch Project (113). The viral approach is somewhat sobered by the potential for the absolute failure of a marketing campaign; this risk is what leads Marich to declare the new media landscape the “Wild West” in regards to the movie business (115). He writes:

In the analog era, bad buzz had limited ways to spread…So these days, failures get accelerated and magnified thanks to online (113).

Sony’s 2013 remake of the classic 1976 horror movie Carrie is a fine example of the high-risk, high-reward mentality of viral marketing campaigns. According to, the film had a production budget of $30M (fairly modest as far as Hollywood productions go), and saw worldwide profits of over $80M. Interestingly enough, Carrie saw more success abroad than domestically, with 58.4% of total profits being foreign. The marketing for the film called upon the NYC based marketing agency, Thinkmodo, specializing in the conceptualization and production of viral videos (you’ve definitely seen some of their work before). Check out the piece they made for Carrie (take the two minutes to watch, it’s pretty funny):


Clearly Sony’s marketing campaign for Carrie paid off fairly well; while it most likely was not the hit they wanted it to be in the box office, the viral video most certainly intrigued potential audiences. Needless to say, the viral approach is valid although not always successful. A far more prosperous and realistic approach, in my opinion, can be offered by crowd funding sites like IndieGoGo and Kickstarter, which Marich fails to touch upon. If a major studio were to attempt crowd funding, they would be endlessly scrutinized by moviegoers and the general public (not that they need the extra money). No, instead it is the independent filmmakers that seek the aid of crowd funding.

This past summer Spike Lee started a Kickstarter campaign for his latest film and was painted a villain by CNBC, Bloomberg, and countless other news sources. The assumption was, “Why would a successful director (with court side tickets to the Knicks) ever need the public’s money?” Lee and Kickstarter both had completely legitimate responses. On his Kickstarter page, Lee claims:

The truth is I’ve been doing Kickstarter before there was Kickstarter, there was no Internet. Social media was writing letters, making phone calls, beating the bushes (Lee).

Mr. Lee wasn’t taking advantage of crowd funding, ripping off the people, or stealing business from other creative outlets. He simply capitalized on a tool that is open to any and all independent minds. He made use of the Internet in order to transform and modernize his marketing efforts, and ultimately, make it a more efficient process. Marich justifies the need for indie films to seek digital media marketing campaigns when he writes:

Indie films with smaller budgets often allocate a higher percentage to new media because traditional media are more costly and, thus, out-of-reach of the independents’ smaller ad budgets (118).

Kickstarter itself admits in their article, The Truth About Spike Lee and Kickstarterthat Lee could not have been taking money away from other filmmakers; Kickstarter campaigns are not charity, the funders are rewarded for their contributions. In fact, Spike Lee brought more business to Kickstarter, essentially popularizing the site even more, ensuring that future creators would see more profits. This is epitomized by the fact that 47% of Spike’s backers had never backed a Kickstarter campaign before. In this sense, Marich was correct in declaring the digital media landscape as the Wild West for the movie industry. Spike Lee’s Kickstarter campaign is just one example of a bump in the marketing road; there will likely be many more to be faced by independent filmmakers.

Image found here.


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