Does digital data offer indicators that can be used to monitor marketing effectiveness and predict box office success even before awareness turns into intent? We analyzed this weekend’s new movies across Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Google (the methodology behind the numbers is laid out in the appendix below) over the seven days leading up to their release, when marketing campaigns should be at their peak.
“Noah” sails into theaters this weekend on a wave of controversy following criticism from Christian religious groups, and the decision was made by several countries to ban the film. While the debate over Darren Aronofsky’s Hollywood take on a biblical story has rumbled on in the mainstream media, the social campaign has been busy appealing to younger demographics.
The natural appeal of this type of movie would be to over 25-year-olds and Christians, with the disclaimer of “Inspired by the story of Noah” in promotional materials showing the importance of faith-based consumers to the movie’s success. “Son of God’s” recent debut with an impressive $25.6 million illustrates the box office power of the Christian audience and a Fandango poll suggests three-quarters of “Son of God” viewers also plan to see “Noah.”
Russell Crowe has been instrumental in seeking approval from this audience, reaching out to the the Pope via Twitter and eventually receiving an audience with him at the Vatican, as well as the Pontiff’s blessing for the movie. Additionally, this week, a featurette was released with Christian community leaders evangelizing the movie in an effort to calm remaining anxieties about this interpretation.
Yet as a tentpole movie with a budget reportedly over $125 million, even before you start to count the media dollars, “Noah” needs to draw in a large audience from different demographics in order to keep its head above water. While the traditional media marketing has been geared to appeal to a wider, older audience, the social campaign has been focused on the younger moviegoers who use social the most.
Emma Watson is at the heart of social activity, as she has more cache with a younger crowd than her co-stars, as shown by her follower numbers. This is thanks to her recent indie efforts and “Harry Potter” stardom, while Russell Crowe’s box office heyday came just after the turn of the century and he is more attractive to older audiences.
Watson’s 12.5 million Facebook followers make her bigger than the Pope on Twitter. Last week, she hosted a Q&A using the hashtag #AskEmma which drove a huge 135,000 tweets, making up a large portion of “Noah’s” tweet volume — although admittedly not all of these tweets were directly related to the movie itself. Co-stars Logan Lerman and Russell Crowe have also contributed thanks to their large followings, both over 1 million. Watson will be taking over the MTV Twitter account, which is over 10 million strong and will also be shared on the MTV Instagram account which has 2.1 million followers.
Watson recently shared a trailer exclusively with her Twitter and Facebook fans and she has also featured heavily in the content shared to the “Noah” Facebook page, including images and a lot of video material — the trailer she dropped includes an intro by her and was pinned prominently to the top of the official Facebook page. A mix of entertaining content and some media spend have combined to engage over half the Facebook fan base before release.
Although none of the videos viewed on Facebook contribute to the overall trailer count, “Noah” still has a respectable 31 million views — good but below the 50 million or more often chalked up by blockbuster superhero and animated movies: “300: Rise of An Empire” recently released with 63 million trailer views and took $45 million during opening weekend. Exclusive “Noah” clips were also shared through Yahoo! Movies and Fandango, which further increase the count.
While the “Noah” stats aren’t as impressive as “Rise of an Empire,” which had over 11 million fans, twice as many trailer views and a search volume of 229,000, “Empire” was a sequel and had years to build up a solid, core fan base of younger males, who are in general extremely active on social. While “Noah’s” social campaign has focused on winning over younger followers, the key to its success will be how many older viewers turn out. A search volume of 196,000 suggests “Noah” will come out on top this weekend but won’t have the buoyancy to survive the “Captain America” tidal wave next week.
Final Expectations: “Noah” will sail into theaters on a wave of Emma Watson inspired tweets, but the interest of older demographics will decide its ultimate fate.
“Sabotage” is the third movie Arnold Schwarzenegger has starred in since he left office as the governor of California, and its social stats suggest it will perform similarly to both “The Last Stand” and “Escape Plan,” which opened at less than $10 million.
Arnie’s presence and the burgeoning reputation of director David Ayer, who comes with credits “Training Day” and “End of Watch,” should attract older males not sold on “Noah’s” biblical overtones. The pair also hosted a Reddit AMA where Arnie is a firm favorite as a regular contributor to the site.
The digital campaign has sought to engage younger audiences, with Schwarzenegger posting on the Yahoo! Movies Instagram account — quite a contrast to last week’s take over by “Divergent.” The action star and “True Blood” favorite Joe Manganiello also took to Twitter to answer fan questions in cooperation with video games site IGN, which has a strong younger male following. The pair even appeared on a WWE “Monday Night Raw” segment with Hulk Hogan as part of the push to interest this demographic.
The social stats are similar to his previous two efforts: “The Last Stand” opened with around 200,000 Likes, 5 million trailer views, 22,000 tweets and a respectable search of 77,000, and Stallone buddy-up “Escape Plan” started with just 8,000 Likes, 4 million trailer views, 17,000 tweets and 12,000 search volume. While the audience on “Sabotage’s” Facebook page is small, it is very engaged, with a fantastic PTAT score of 85% demonstrating that the audience likes what they’re seeing; a stat backed up by an above average YouTube Buzz score of 0.42%. The trailer count doesn’t however include several clips released exclusively with MSN or Arnie’s popular “Get to da choppa!” skit with Jimmy Fallon, which aired this week and already has 2.5 million YouTube views.
Final Expectations: Stats suggest Arnie’s latest won’t have the firepower to sink “Noah” but should play well to his core faithful.
Tobias Bauckhage (@tbauckhage) is co-founder and CEO of www.moviepilot.com, a social-media-driven movie community reaching over 15 million Facebook fans and 7 million monthly unique users. Based on community data, Moviepilot helps studios to optimize their social media campaigns, identifying, analyzing and activating the right audiences. The company works with studios like Sony, Twentieth Century Fox and FilmDistrict.
While individually these metrics may not mean a lot, compared to one another and in context of competition and genre benchmarks, they give a good impression of the performance of a movie’s marketing campaign and the audience’s appetite for the movie. Needless to say, there are limitations to these data points and the causalities they explain, but as Hollywood just enters the era of Big Data, the potential insight offered by these numbers cannot be ignored.
Facebook fan (or like) numbers are a good indicator for fan awareness for a movie, even months before the release. For mainstream movies with younger target audiences, fan counts are particularly important. However, big fan numbers can be bought and movies with older target audiences typically have lower fan counts. Fan engagement measured by PTAT (People Talking About This) is a more precise but also a fickle indicator, heavily driven by content strategy and media spending. Both numbers are global and public facing numbers from the official Facebook fanpage.
YouTube trailer counts are important for measuring early awareness about a movie. We track all English language original video content about the movie on YouTube, down to videos with 100 views, whether they are officially published by a studio or published unofficially by fans. The Buzz ratio looks at the percentage of unique viewers on YouTube that have “liked” a video and given it a “thumbs up”. Movies with over 40 million views are usually mainstream and set to dominate the box office, while titles drawing 10 million to 20 million views indicate a more specific audience. If a movie does not have a solid number of trailer views on YouTube four weeks before its release, it is not promising news. But again, it is important to understand whether trailer views have been bought or grew organically. These numbers are global and public facing.
Twitter is a good real-time indicator of excitement and word of mouth, coming closer to release or following bigger PR stunts. Mainstream, comedy and horror titles all perform particularly strongly on Twitter around release. We count all tweets over the period of the last seven days before release (Friday through Thursday), that include the movie’s title plus a number of search words, e.g. “movie” OR a list of movie-specific hashtags. Some titles with common words or phrases like “HER” or “LABOR DAY” are very hard to track in a meaningful way on Twitter. The numbers are global, conducted using a Twitter API partner service.
Search is a solid indicator for intent moving towards release as people actively seek out titles that they are aware of and are thinking about seeing. Search is particularly significant for fan-driven franchises and family titles as parents look for information about films they may take their children to see. We look at the last seven days (Friday through Thursday) of global Wikipedia traffic as a conclusive proxy for Google Search volume. We have to consider that big simultaneous global releases tend to have higher search results compared to domestic releases.