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As we close the chapter on The 86th Academy Awards, the 2013/2014 season will be remembered (in these quarters, at least) as the year we celebrated the Black experience and best song went to a snow tune.

And how did the marketers fare? Top three search returns of the terms “Academy Awards” and “marketing” produced this:

The Independent’s “Long, Expensive Road to Academy Award Glory” describes the process of getting a project nominated as a “six month slow burn” whose price varies, averaging “and says that while spending varies per film, “the average cost for a campaign is $5 million ($3 million on advertising and marketing and $2 million on entertainment and travel).

An instructive look back at the art of the modern Oscar marketing campaign as invented by Harvey Weinstein appeared in New York Magazine’s The Vulture (published January 29, well before voting closed and it became known that Weinstein would be snubbed for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom).

And the L.A. Times’ Company Town jumped in with Oscar 2014 Round-up of Commercials During Academy Awards (“…brands including Pepsi and Dove paid an average of $1.8 million for 30-second commercial spots on ABC during the awards show.”)

Brad Pitt featured in an Italian movie poster for "12 Years A Slave"

The decision to feature producer and supporting player Brad Pitt in a poster for “12 Years A Slave” was a controversial one for the film’s Italian distributor.

When it comes to marketing movies, studios face a unique challenge in that unless it’s a sequel, they’re essentially positioning a new and unique product with each release. Philomena and The Wolf of Wall Street were based on books, but the word “comic” didn’t precede them, so they weren’t well known. American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave were likewise tales from real life, but who among today’s 18-34 year-old key movie demo remembers Abscam? And the name Solomon Northrup wasn’t exactly a household name, either.

More often than not, studios have to build awareness from the ground up with each outing. Decisions as to how to market a film are begun early on – starting with the selection of the material – and made continually, throughout the process, but it’s all geared to the release date, selection of which is an art unto itself.

One must be sure the date does not coincide with another film targeting the same audience. And you have to be reasonably sure your film is not overwhelmed by a previously released movie that became a major hit, commanding all the ticket-purchasing dollars. For a typical A-list studio film, marketing budgets are in the area of $50-60 million dollars for the U.S.

You have to decide upfront, will the film be a simultaneous worldwide release? Or does it need more work on dubbing or captioning? Media selection is key. Television for sure, but social media is now mandated. Start that at the right time or you will never get a viral component. You’ve booked publicity appearances on “The Today Show,” “The Tonight Show” and “Entertainment Tonight,” among others, and tried to get as many magazine covers and news features as possible.

Don’t make you buys too early or too late, as the window for the consumer attention is fickle and very short. When everything is in place and you’ve pulled the trigger and the film is in theaters you will have about two weeks to make it work. If people don’t show up to buy tickets, theater owners will yank it to make room for the next promising newcomer. Aside from some fine-tuning you may get for the home market release, there are no second chances when it comes to marketing movies.

If you are lucky, and smart, your efforts will be successful and you will get back an average of $40 to $60 million on a film in which $150 million or more has been invested.

If you are the producer, it won’t be until the foreign, the video, the TV and the PPV comes through over the next few years that the film will ever see any personal profit, likely measured in single digits.

When finished, do it again and do it about 15 to 18 times each year. Movies are a “product” unlike any other. Now you know why studio jobs don’t typically last long and the business of filmed entertainment is not for the faint of heart.

Bob Dowling ran The Hollywood Reporter from 1988 to 2005, as Editor-in-Chief and Publisher. He now runs the consultancy The Dowling Group, based in Santa Monica, California.

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by Brandon Gutman
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Brandon is an expert connector and seasoned business development professional. As Principal of Brand Approved, he's led the advisory to become the bridge between brand marketers and best of breed service providers that are reshaping the industry.

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