Captain America: The Winter Soldier had not even hit UK theatres when Marvel announced that the as-of-yet-unsubtitled Captain America 3 would be gracing our screens in May 2016. The fandom, naturally went ballistic. Theories about the plot became the new topic of the day, never mind that no one had seen the second instalment yet or that Avengers: Age of Ultron, which would naturally affect the story, was also still a year away.
In an industry that thrives on creating attention for new projects, announcing release dates is not necessarily a ground-breaking phenomenon. With rival studio Warner Bros. premiering their next Superman/Batman film that same week, the Cap 3 decision was also a tactical move to steal another project’s thunder. However, it is absolutely astonishing how much film marketing has become an event in its own right.
It’s no longer limited to creating hype a week before the wide release by holding a star-studded premiere. It’s not even confined to announcing dates years in advance, or releasing trailers and teaser trailers and teasers for teasers either. San Diego Comic Con, for instance, is now considered a key stop in the film (and television) calendar simply because of how it allows upcoming projects to be set up to the right audience. By combining Q&A panels, the chance for fans to meet the cast and crew, and releasing exclusive footage, Comic Con helps shape expectations and ensures there will be an audience to buy tickets when the film is released. No one knows this better than Marvel, whose properties are always the main attractions each year.
Internet media has become another key aspect of film marketing. There is the obvious use of Facebook and Twitter pages, but a lot of studios take their properties one step further. A year prior to the release of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Lionsgate launched a website called Capitol Couture, Panem’s equivalent of Vogue and GQ, to showcase the latest fashions in the Capitol. Then, as the release date came closer, the website gradually got “hijacked” by rogue District broadcasts calling for rebellion. These “illegal” broadcasts were repeated throughout all official social media outlets, reinforcing the plot of a film that hadn’t even been released at that point.
It’s no longer limited to creating hype a week before the wide release by holding a star-studded premiere. It’s not even confined to announcing dates years in advance, or releasing trailers and teaser trailers and teasers for teasers either.
Lionsgate was also responsible for a brilliant mass marketing campaign for the DVD and Blu-Ray release. With online streaming and downloads becoming more accessible worldwide, the studio arranged for multiple country-wide shared viewings online, where people were encouraged to buy the original discs and join a specially created website at the same time to watch the film together, chat with other fans and stand a chance to win prizes – including premiere tickets for the next instalment due in November of this year. The fact that a lot of the questions involved looking at deleted scenes and behind-the-scenes footage meant that using illegal versions of the film would not work. Everyone was hooked and the UK viewing had close to 10,000 fans tuning in.
Pixar also utilised the internet for their marketing campaigns. When Monsters University was being promoted, the studio created a special website for the fictional university, complete with student profiles, faculty interviews, dormitory details and a list of facilities. You could enrol for the coming academic year and there was even a list of classes available. For the generation who grew up with Monsters, Inc. and were probably going through their actual university applications when the prequel was released, it was an ingenious move by the studio to further increase their target audience’s interest in the project.
With the film industry becoming increasingly competitive – and, some would argue, less imaginative with their scripts – the innovative way in which studios are utilising marketing is extraordinary. There are reasons for concern, of course. The billions of dollars used for 30-second Super Bowl spots could be better used to streamline and edit the actual films, for instance. Man of Steel would certainly have benefitted from tighter post-production instead of fantastic trailers. Still, with a lot of campaigns now shifting to include greater audience interaction, and costing less for the studios as well, it looks like the trend is definitely here to stay.