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‘Hunger Games’ Marketing Plan Should Get Us Thinking

Hunger Games marketing campaign yields vital lessons

“This book is on junior high reading lists, but kids killing kids, even though it’s handled delicately in the film, is a potential perception problem in marketing,” he said.
—from March 18 New York Times article about the marketing of the film The Hunger Games

The “he” in that quote is Lionsgate’s chief marketing officer, Tim Palen. His company began marketing this film in spring 2009, and the end result so far has been a non-sequel record $152.5 million opening weekend gross. Marketing lessons here do have to be taken with heaps of salt—especially when you read this from the NYT article: “Lionsgate has generated this high level of interest with a marketing staff of 21 people working with a relatively tiny budget of about $45 million.” But we can, nevertheless, look at how they did it and learn a couple things.

1. Know your product well. In 2009, Palen traveled to New York to meet with publicity executives from Scholastic to learn about The Hunger Games books.

2. Choose your social media. Early last year, they started regularly putting out casting news via Facebook. Then they assigned a person to the blogosphere.

3. Plan out a detailed schedule—for whatever media you will be using. “Danielle DePalma, senior vice president for digital marketing, drafted a chronology for the entire online effort, using spreadsheets (coded in 12 colors) that detailed what would be introduced on a day-by-day, and even minute-by-minute, basis over months. (‘Nov. 17: Facebook posts — photos, Yahoo brand page goes live.’)”

4. As much as possible, make your project feel like an event. From a recent Washington Post story: “There is so much competing for audience’s attention that I think to go out there early and engage fans [customers] and make a project feel like an event is certainly an important thing to do,” says Heather Phillips, the chief marketing officer at Aspect Ratio, a movie marketing firm in L.A. “But…you don’t want to give away too much.”

5. Use interactive content when possible. I saw a question like, “Do you plan to see the film on its opening weekend? in many places. Vote. View the results. Comment on the casting choices, etc. Or how about this? “One hundred days before the movie’s release, the studio created a new poster and cut it into 100 puzzle pieces. It then gave digital versions of those pieces to 100 Web sites and asked them to post their puzzle piece on Twitter in lockstep.” An online jigsaw.

6. Plan a possible contest or giveaway. A valuable online component for the film featured a sweepstakes to bring five fans to the North Carolina set. It was very successful.

7. Look closely at your phrasing and wordsmithing. In the film, 24 children fight to the death until one wins. Said Palen: “…we made a rule that we would never say ‘23 kids get killed.’ We say ‘only one wins.’ ” The team also barred the phrase “Let the games begin.” They did not want the competition to be the focus.

8. Focus on the self-interest of your audience. I previously saw this as a tip for subject lines as well. Lionsgate created a website that allowed people to make digital ID cards as if they lived in The Hunger Games’ fictional city. More than 800,000 people created them. Wow! But how would that translate to our world? I’m not sure—a stock market game, a fictional mecca for accountants or IT people? It’s worth some thought though.

9. Foster online communities; get your customers talking. “People used to be O.K. with studios telling them what to like,” said Danielle DePalma, Lionsgate’s senior vice president for digital marketing. “Not anymore. Now it’s, ‘You don’t tell us, we tell you.’ ” Find out what’s on the minds and plates of your customers and audience.

10. It’s still about the product. “You can campaign however you want and you can be clever,” says Joshua Jason, head of an L.A. PR firm that publicizes films and orchestrates Oscar campaigns. “But you have to have a product that stands up.”

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