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Film marketers savor social media

Panelists at Variety summit tout big bang for the buck in digital

While social media can be alluringly cheap, marketing overall is getting more expensive.

That was the consensus at Variety’s Film Marketing Summit on Wednesday, when panelists discussed the growing challenges — and benefits — presented by the proliferation of digital and social-media platforms.

“Digital is a very grown-up medium — it’s no longer the new kid on the block,” said Sony senior VP of international digital marketing Michael Fisk. “Everyone in my marketing group should be a digital marketer.”

And while some platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, can be cheap and effective ways to generate buzz, emerging platforms have inflated the new-media budgets for many marketing divisions.

“Media is by far and away the bulk of our costs, and we’ve been looking for ways to be much more efficient in our media spend,” Kieran Breen, exec VP of international marketing for 20th Century Fox, told the audience. “When new media comes around, (we’re) trying not to just add it to our media spend budgets.”

Breen added media inflation has added to the cost crunch, saying that “inflation, particularly in the digital space, has gone through the roof.” While inflation is a naturaleconomic component, marketers did enjoy a brief respite in 2008.

“For about 12 months, media was deflationary, and it was a weird and wonderful feeling that we don’t get very often because our spends went much further.”

And while franchises have the appeal of brand recognition, commercial films are often prohibitively expensive to market for companies without big studio budgets.

“A lot of times you’ll have a really good film, and a distributor will come to you and say, ‘The problem is that it’s too commercial of a film, so I can’t just rely on the critics. … I need to spend a lot of money to release this movie,'” said Eric Christenson, prexy of HIS Films. “It’s not even the costs of them acquiring the movie.”

All this makes social media even more appealing, with word-of-mouth hits like “The Help” and “Midnight in Paris” are just recent examples of how inexpensive buzz can fuel box office results.

“Social media has become one of the most economical ways to reach and define audiences,” said Marian Koltai-Levine, exec VP of film for PMK*BNC.

Ivan Reitman, who gave the day’s keynote speech, knows the importance of word-of-mouth marketing in a way that predates the Internet. The “Animal House” producer credits the intangible buzz that built around National Lampoon’s 1978 pic with much of its B.O. success.

“What happens with a movie or two a year (is) this kind of secret signal goes out,” Reitman said. “Sometimes it only works in one country, sometimes it works all over the world. It’s like this electricity that gets generated.”