How digital advertising is changing the way films are brought to market

Anchorman 2The BAFTAs have signalled that Awards Season is upon us, and with the Oscars on Sunday 2nd March, the juggernauts of the silver screen will continue to battle it out for more top gongs.

Be it the dizzying and jaw-dropping effects of Gravity, the moving screen adaptation of 12 Years A Slave, or the seductive crime drama American Hustle; there really is a film for every taste at the cinema right now.

Each of these films has triumphed with awards wins at the BAFTAs and the Golden Globes. Having wooed the critics they are now wowing audiences, but outside of this golden sphere how do film makers and entertainment brands resonate amongst the watching public when they lack critical acclaim?

In this age of digital and social, the campaigns reaping the benefits are the ones we see using a cross-channel multiple touch-point approach to drive audience engagement. At Yahoo we work with all the major film studios and we’re increasingly seeing movie campaigns break new ground in the way audiences are being enticed to the box office.

A great example is Anchorman 2: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. It took nearly ten years to get a sequel on screen, making it a hotly anticipated release. Paramount capitalised on this hype with a social approach never seen for a film debut, with strong viral content drip-fed to audiences in the run up to its release.

Yahoo had a starring role at the heart of the digital push for Anchorman 2 (pictured), which included a movie partnership with Yahoo owned Tumblr forming the cornerstone of Paramount’s social activity. On Yahoo we ran bespoke video content recorded by Will Ferrell and the rest of the Anchorman cast. Burgundy even did a spoof news-reading of Yahoo’s Year in Review, highlighting the most searched stories and terms on Yahoo that year.

Tactics such as these bring the emotion of cinema to life and meet audiences’ ever increasing demand for good quality viral content. Video is becoming a daily habit and the proliferation of mobile devices is driving an increase in video consumption at all hours of the day. If content is good, it will be shared and films have an excellent content resource to draw from.

As a result, film marketing no longer relies on big budget trailers alone to drive sales. Savvy studios are spinning off additional material to build a whole universe of digital content to promote films. Online is able to add an extra layer of audience engagement by tapping into existing cult followings, Anchorman 2 being the epitome of this.

But not only that, a digital platform gives fans the opportunity to interact and shape the marketing story – a tactic used in the innovative campaign to promote 20th Century Fox’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty on Yahoo. Users were invited to connect to the film by sharing their stories of personal growth and dreams, themes closely tied to the film.

As well as triggering an increase in the amount of time people spend browsing online, mobile and tablet devices are incredibly sensory due to their employing sight, sound and touch. Again in film marketing, this presents a tremendous opportunity. Music is an important aspect in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, so with a shortlist of songs chosen by the film’s director Ben Stiller, we integrated a Spotify playlist on Yahoo. As users engaged with content related to the film, they experienced music that evoked the film’s themes. More than 80 million people engaged with the campaign, with content shared on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook. Results like this show that audiences are willing to interact with film content in vast numbers and it creates phenomenal awareness before release.

For the launch of the ground breaking Warner Bros film Gravity we created our first ever three screen takeover – across PC, tablet and mobile. Utilising cutting edge parallax technology, users were able to interact with a ‘cosmic’ background and immerse themselves in a space landscape. This was a visual first for digital and Yahoo.

In addition, we’re increasingly seeing the worlds of offline and online film marketing merging. Wonderful examples can be found in our work with Sony Pictures. For their film One Direction: This is Us, we ran a global live stream of the biopic about the smash-hit band. Yahoo and Sony created a carefully coordinated marketing campaign hyping up the live event, resulting in the largest live screen of a premier ever and well over 5 million users. Elsewhere the release of Smurfs 2 saw us set up Smurf walls in Westfield shopping centres. Visitors were encouraged to guess how many Smurfs were actually in the wall and submit their answers online – family fun which brought to life the playful nature of the Smurfs themselves.

Whether its user-generated content which aligns with a film’s theme, bespoke video or music content, live stream events or social amplification, digital advertising is ushering in change when it comes to how films are marketed.  At the core of this is great storytelling, and using digital platforms to tell mini-stories which promote the bigger picture.

Michael Pennington is Head of Entertainment at Yahoo!