Behind the Scenes: The Future of Marketing to Young People

When it comes to making movies, marketing is half the battle, during the digital age at least. As Robert Marich describes in his book Marketing to Moviegoers: A Handbook of Strategies and Tactics, creative advertising has drastically transformed since the first half of the twentieth century, when movie theaters would lead their own marketing efforts by issuing newspaper advertisements and distributing localized art posters (40). As Hollywood marketing agencies gained traction, acquiring higher quality advertising materials and developing more imaginative techniques, theaters conceded to the power of the studios. The appearance of new technologies in the 1970s and the growth of television spurred new advertising techniques, including photo-based movie posters and, for the first time, television advertising for movies. Using titillating images and taglines, studio films and even indies hoped to drive viewers away from their couches and back to the theaters through the very medium that had stolen them away.

While America’s booming population proved helpful to most modern industries, it came as a double-edged sword to the film industry, who was forced to adapt their marketing style for a mass audience. With greater ground to cover and more potential viewers to reach, the stakes for the movie industry were raised and studios began adopting new approaches to film promotion. Behind the scenes, Hollywood started invested in consumer research “to help identify target audiences for films and to determine which advertising and promotions have the most impact on each one, without sending confusing or irrelevant marketing messages” (Marich 44). Script assessment. Tracking surveys. Pre-screenings. Title testing. Though many of these methods were long and sometimes convoluted, the specific analytics garnered through such practices allowed marketers to better cater to the interests of the filmgoers and understand, not only how to advertise the movie, but how to construct the movie itself. Test screenings allow marketers to test the reaction of their audience to certain characters, plotlines, and other content through a process called biometrics, which involves “measuring eye movement, pupil dilation, brainwaves, and facial reactions” of moviegoers to discover what form of the film is most effective or intriguing (Marich 62).

A movie theater in 1973. Via Google Images.

In the 1970s, Marich notes, “the major [studios] finally wised up and went after the youth audience,” creating cheesy genre films in hope of attracting the Baby Boomer teenagers that were coming-of-age during the period. This slant towards younger viewers continued into the 80s and 90s, with filmmakers producing more provocative films and slating movies for release during the summer, when teens were out of school and desperate to escape the summer heat and their own boredom (Marich 262). The increasing focus on young cinephiles would become evermore relevant at the start of the new millennium as the encroachment of new media on Hollywood marketing strategies complicated the effectiveness of traditional marketing techniques and research.

Kids

The younger generation is becoming more invested in media. Via Flickr.

Dominated by members of the younger generations, cyberspace opened doors for advertising agencies looking to capture the coveted youth demographic. Despite the built-in audience, the Internet provided fresh challenges for marketing teams, who struggled to make digital campaign tactics in viral publicity seem authentic (Marich 113). With the combined, simultaneous deployment of traditional and digital marketing campaigns, identifying the influence of new media forces proved difficult, thus muddling the heavy research strategies that Hollywood had relied on for so long. Additionally, modern technologies like caller ID and call blocking allowed citizens around the country to opt out of research surveys and other forms of film polling, further frustrating marketing executives.

At the intersection of this technologically advanced generation and Hollywood’s determination to capture youth audiences is viral video marketing, a form of advertising that Marich surprisingly skims over. Though the author emphasizes the power of “cyberspace buzz,” listing the various methods of digital marketing that companies have adopted in recent years (including email blasts, flash display ads, online video games, native/seeded advertisements, etc.), he overlooks the push for viral videos, clips specifically created to attract young Internet-junkies and national news junkets like Huffington Post. With do-it-yourself consumer-producers on the rise, YouTube and similar streaming sites have reinvented the idea of video marketing, which perfectly aligns with the values and interests of filmgoers today.

In his article, The Art of Persuasion: 5 Viral Videos You Didn’t Know Were Ads, Andy Smith outlines the changing expectations for marketed content, stating: “When making marketing content, one of the best things you can do is NOT make marketing content.” His suggestion that “viewers who have grew up on DVR and On Demand content have no intention of watching a blatant advertisement” and that making a piece of content “that tells a story more than it sells your product” is essential to selling content recalls the fear of new technology that plagues film studios and television networks to this day. Marich’s assertion that the more integrated the promotion, the less alienating the ad will be to consumers (and the more effective) perfectly aligns with the goals of viral video marketing, making it a prime tactic for entertainment companies in the twenty-first century.

Recognizing the potential of such practices, MGM and Screen Gems orchestrated a successful viral campaign in 2013 with its release of Carrie, a remake of the 1976 Stephen King horror classic. With the help of local actors and businesses, MGM staged a telekinetic encounter in a coffee shop, playing off the film protagonist’s supernatural abilities:

Pixar, too, jumped on the viral video bandwagon, producing a highly-realistic 1970s-esque ad for one of their new Toy Story 3 characters, Lotso, in 2010:

TV networks have also started to participate in such practices. In 2014, AMC hired actors in full-zombie makeup to stand in a storm drain in New York City and attack unsuspecting “walkers”:

Though the practice can yield unpredictable results, if executed correctly, it can bode well for productions looking to gain quick, widespread publicity. As changing technologies force the advertising landscape to adapt and turn a film’s marketing into a make or break element of its Hollywood run, marketing strategies are bound to become more invested in digital forms of promotion, which capture the “young” quadrant that the movies have historically worked so hard to capture.

Featured image via YouTube.

Sources:

Marich, Robert. Marketing to Moviegoers: A Handbook of Strategies and Tactics. N.p.: Southern Illinois University Press, 2013. Print.

Smith, Andy. “The Art of Persuasion: 5 Viral Videos You Didn’t Know Were Ads.” ReelSEO. Web. 21 Feb. 2015. <http://www.reelseo.com/5-viral-videos-were-ads/&gt;.

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  1. […] campaign in 2013 with its release of Carrie, a remake of the 1976 Stephen King horror classic (Vendetti 2013). Sure they spent a small fortune but as you’ll see the video causes a […]

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