Creating an account with gives you access to more features and services, like our weekly newsletter and other special features just for the film community.

Large liz gebhardt marquee

Marketing a Movie - When Digital and Physical Worlds Collide

Marketing a movie isn't just advertising, trailers, press junkets, posters, and merchandising. In the digital age, it's much, much more.

What does it mean to market a movie?


Historically, marketing a movie, whether it is a wide release from a major studio or a niche ultra indie, is not the same as marketing a similarly priced consumer product (an item priced at about $10). Movies exist in an environment filled with a nearly infinite variety of creative choices for an audience that needs to make a purchase decision (and an often one time purchase decision) without trial. They don’t personally know if they like it until they have actually tried/viewed it, and there are no returns. For the studio, the value of that initial ticket purchase decision is non-trivial, as it has historically set the tone for the all important downstream revenue opportunities.


So how does a marketer make a potential viewer feel that "they know" the movie and become invested in the experience, and provide signals that raise the chance of ticket purchase, without giving away the creative surprise that is at the core of movie viewing?

"… marketing by its nature is an attempt to influence the outcome." – Jeff Ulin

This is why the race should be on for innovative thinking and well-crafted and monitored execution, and dare we say "some calculated risk taking" in rethinking the appropriate media vehicles and digital-physical linkages for different stages of the marketing conversation.

Marketing needs to be thought of as an ongoing engagement process, not a sales spike only (push style) strategy. Media and platforms chosen for one stage should setup and feed the conversation and engagement in the next. The following activities propose ways of organizing the structure and flow of the marketing conversation.

When digital platforms merge with traditional marketing.

Advertising, trailers, press junkets, posters, mechandising, and cross brand promotions – these are the cornerstones of traditional studio movie marketing campaigns (Figure 1). But now, the layering and integration of digital and social platforms, online video, and apps can transform marketing into a powerful web of connection and conversation (Figure 2).

(Figure 1)

(Figure 2)

Digital and Social Platforms

Creating brand specific digital platforms and leveraging those created by others that have garnered significiant (e.g. Twitter, Facebook) and targeted (e.g. "vertical" blog networks) audiences create powerful amplifying nodes for content creation and distribution; curating, commenting and sharing; awareness and traffic driving; and reach/value extension for the traditional media efforts.

"For too long, we've tried to understand ourselves in isolation, as we test people one at a time in the psychology lab or rely on their past preferences to predict behavior. But these conditions and algorithms are artificial. In the real world, we are deeply intertwined with each other, dependent on our social networks for all sorts of advice. If it weren't for the buzz of strangers, we wouldn't even know what movie to pick at the multiplex." - Jonah Lehrer in The Wall Street Journal

Online Video

Online video can range from the creation of YouTube channels, integration and posts into Facebook groups, promotion and discussion via Twitter, stealth placements, and even syndication across "vertical" blog networks. Material can include that created for traditional broadcast campaigns (e.g. talent interviews), but is even more powerful when unique digital-only content is created on an on-going basis that lets the potential movie-going audience connect deeply and personally with the brand in advance (e.g. behind the scenes, remixes with popular pop culture talent, ongoing Q&A's, digital only trailers). This can be content with high curation, aggregation and sharing potential.

"… the virtual community can scale and expand beyond what would typically occur in the physical world .. because the Internet has no geographical boundaries… It becomes a global, real-time conversation and online video is in many cases the catalyst that brings all these people together." - Peter Levinsohn, President of New Media and Digital Distribution for Fox Filmed Entertainment

Apps - Third Party and Original

Experimentation with apps has recently included the development of original apps and leveraging third party apps to directly drive ticket sales:

  • Disney's DigiSynd developed Disney Ticket Together, Facebook's first in-site movie ticket purchase application
  • "Paranormal Activity" used the Eventful app to fuel a "Demand It" campaign 
  • Indie film "Ready Set Bag" leveraged Groupon to promote and pre sell theater seats and drive social cause donations


"You now have a self-identified list of participants who are passionate about entertainment, and the event brand has even more value to them." - Jordan Glazier, CEO of Eventful in reference to the use of his company's app in the marketing of the movie Paranormal Activity

The Future Is Now

In the entertainment industry, the debate storm usually gathers around the issue of technology and its relationship to the distribution and access of “mainstream product.” What is often overlooked is the “true eye of the technology storm” – the impact of digital media and social platforms and their integration into the traditional mix – that enables movie marketing to evolve to be more about conversation and even “continuity of brand over time” vs. the traditional pure push tactics of the past where we bet the farm to reach initial reach, frequency, and ticket sale targets. Today, there is no magic formula when it comes to the theatrical release. Innovative and creative thinking, married with well-coordinated, but flexible execution with both traditional and digital tools, is as important in marketing as it is in the conception and production of a movie.

A version of this post originally appeared on Thinking Out Loud.


What you need to know today