How the movie industry respond to digital marketing buzz

by Daniel Matsuda

River is a hybrid agency with a digital core, serving a variety of different clients. As a digital agency we probably use buzz words as a jargon when explaining and labeling what we do.

Buzzwords have never been very popular in the movie industry. One reason could be the industry’s slow transition to the changing marketing landscape. But today, I realized that our latest activity is a combination of a long list of buzzwords. I’ll let you decide.

What is going on with Digital Marketing?

The short-lasting buzz words is clouding the actual change in our business of digital marketing. Remember ”Web 2.0” that referenced the introduction of social media to our online experience? Or ”Contextual Marketing”? ”Native Advertising”? How about ”Immersive Experience”? The list is entertainingly long. There are more articles written about each than I am able to reference with actual cases. All of them have an actual meaning, but few are really understood. Meanwhile, Digital Marketing Managers are scrambling to stay relevant in a world that is constantly changing, so tapping into latest trends will hopefully influence sales numbers and advance a career.

The big shift came with social media becoming a two way conversation between brands and consumers. Everyone quickly understood the new value of an ambassador. And that was easy for brands like Apple or Starbucks. But what about brands with no existing fan base? ”Build brands that people care about, or perish” is not an encouraging message for companies trying to market a product with a short life span, like a theatrical release. Not every movie is a super-hero franchise.

Fumbling movie industry

I’ve had the pleasure to work with marketing movies for a long time. Long enough to have a perspective on the dramatic industry changes. It used to be very simple;
Step 1: Theatrical release (big marketing budget = box office success.)
Step 2: Home Entertainment release (theatrical success = home entertainment success, and with a smaller budget spent, this is where the studio is making solid profits.)
This statement is overly simplified and other factors are also at play, but this was generally true 15 years ago.

But then the DVD died. And piracy appeared. The critically important profit on the home entertainment window is gone and big budget spend on theatrical releases is not an option for a majority of the marketing campaigns.

In addition to this problem, new players like Netflix is further confusing the solution. We all love having an all-you-can-eat SVOD (subscription-based) service like Netflix but with the territorial contracts and limited catalogue, the actual movie library remains unattractive. If we settle for the curated content of Netflix, we will turn into movie-illiterates.

Netflix long term value is limited to their own productions like the popular House of Cards-series. You won’t be seeing new releases of box office success on your SVOD service in a foreseeable future. Those titles are released at TVOD-services (transaction-based). Think of TVOD as the online-edition of your good old video rental store. You pay for each film, with no monthly subscription.

Those TVOD services have been around for a while, but research show depressing awareness figures.Yet the same polls suggest that customers are willing to pay for premium movies if services available and reliable. One such available and reliable TVOD service is SF ANYTIME. They have been around for a decade (with an impressive back catalogue of +5000 titles), but is still nowhere near their potential in sales. This is a service offering new releases from all studios, with no subscription requirement. It’s what the piracy-users have been asking for!

Ambassadors comes in many different shapes

Marketing Netflix with a new season of House of Cards makes perfect sense. But marketing SF ANYTIME with the release for Rogue One makes less sense. First off, Rogue One is available on a number of competing TVOD-services. It’s a marketing investment that makes perfect sense for the studio, but not for the service. So how do you market a digital service with no unique proposition?

The SF ANYTIME experience is typically happening in the cozy couch with the entire family looking for a movie-evening together. A modern family is rarely finding a couple of hours together in the week, so they want to make the most out of this occasion. They prepare snacks!

In order to make sense in the social stream, we reversed the story by offering inspiring snacks-videos, and partnered with a relevant food chain. The trade was inspiring content vs. reach – a logical partnership where both parties act as ambassadors towards the other.

Because of the genuine effort to inspire a cozy family moment, we manage to speak to a large consumer base and make our primary offer secondary. This particular activity is not going to change the industry, but it goes great lengths to show how home entertainment-marketing have changed and adapted to the digital environment while the industry is undergoing another revolution. Major players are starting from scratch, reinventing ways to communicate with it’s consumers. We will get it wrong at times, but we will also get it right. This is why our business in marketing is exciting! We get to start each new project with a clean sheet.

Daniel Matsuda
Creative Director / Founding Partner