When a movie opens to nearly $153 million dollars, the studio executives backing it always tend to look like geniuses. But in the case of the Lionsgate (NYSE: LGF) marketing department, what they did digitally to stoke buzz for youth-novel adaptation Hunger Games is earning them a particularly large amount of street cred among their envious peers. .
Emphasizing the creation of digital content based on writer Suzanne Collins’ popular source novel in lieu of more expensive ad buys, Lionsgate may have created a template for other studios to follow
“I can’t emphasize enough what they were able to accomplish with so little money,” said a marketing executive for a rival studio.
So what did Lionsgate do that was so impressive?
By now, every film studio in Hollywood has the basic tricks up their sleeve regarding use of social media. The game plan is essentially to buy promotion through Facebook and Twitter. And through those platforms, create and distribute inexpensively produced digital assets related to your film, like interactive games and still images, and get a core group of fans to start passing those elements around weeks or months before the movie comes out.
To amplify the impact of these campaigns, studios will pay the big social platforms — for Facebook, for example, they’ll often give up more than a doller per “like,” creating an illusion of social media buzz.
Lionsgate’s campaign differed from most movie campaigns because it created, well, actual social media buzz. The key: instead of paying for likes, the studio put its resources into creating rich-media elements that far outstrip the ambition of simple games and other movie collateral, such as an interactive tour of the source novel’s “Capital,” which was accessible through Facebook, Twitter and YouTube (NSDQ: GOOG). The tour wasn’t a movie ad — it was an interactive experience rendered from the book with painstaking detail.
“They simply appreciated the value of the book and fleshed out its world with a massive amount of content that’s designed to live on the web, well beyond what you see in the film itself,” the rival studio marketer said. “They activated the core fan base from day one, fired them up and let them carry the message to their friends, which in turn grew the fan base.”
In typical studio fashion, Lionsgate won’t reveal what it spent to create this premium content. But another rival studio executive told us it was a fraction of what a typical major-release digital campaign might entail.
Promotional costs for a big Hollywood movie typically exceed $100 million. But Lionsgate, a so-called mini-major, coming off a series of bombs, doesn’t have that kind of money. It had to make do with a marketing budget of around $45 million, with a typical allocation of 8 to 10 percent of that going to digital media spending.