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The Hard Sell: Movie marketing in a new age

Film Marketing Summit 2011

Remember the days when all a movie needed was a trailer to sell it?

Now, in a rapidly changing and very competitive industry, it takes much more to sell a movie to its target audience. For a film marketer like Ira Rubenstein, exec VP of digital marketing at 20th Century Fox and a panelist at Variety’s Film Marketing Summit, it’s fun to think of new ways to get a movie noticed.

“A case in point is ‘The Sitter,’ ” he says, referring to the ad with Jonah Hill’s picture above text that read “Need a Sitter” and phone numbers on tear-off slips. “We posted a one-sheet in colleges and did wild postings in Los Angeles. The ad was also online and on Facebook. If you called (the number), Jonah might actually pick up, otherwise you would get a voicemail — that was reinforced with publicity work with Jonah on radio talkshows.”

This worked well for that particular film, Rubenstein says, as the film concerns a babysitter and it’s a comedy, but it would be hard to say how it would do with another film, say a family film or a four-quadrant blockbuster.

“That’s the fun of marketing; you get to be creative through traditional means, but traditional is no longer traditional,” he says.

The biggest challenge facing marketers is how to be different from the competition, especially on any given weekend that sees three or four films opening.

The penetration of smartphones and the increased speed of the wireless networks will play a bigger role in theatrical marketing, says Rubenstein — only recently have execs started to discover the capabilities of marketing films on such mobile devices.

“There is tremendous growth in mobile device browsing, so the question is, as people use devices more and more to engage in social marketing, how can we get them to find out about our films and buy a ticket?” he asks.

Rubenstein is proactive in competing for filmgoers in his own way through meetings with startups and young companies and keeping up with his contacts in the venture capital world, who tip him off to new technology. He processes all the information to see if there is a way to leverage a certain service in marketing.

“You try things,” he says. “That’s what my job is, and I try to keep my eye looking forward as well as keeping my eye on what’s opening this weekend and constantly evaluating — the fun part is that things are constantly changing.”

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