Social Media Buzz: Science and Religion Collide as ‘Transcendence’ Takes on ‘Heaven Is For Real’

How this week’s wide releases are shaping up on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google


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 below) over the seven days leading up to their release, when marketing campaigns should be at their peak.



The digital campaign for “Transcendence,” starring Johnny Depp, has tied into the movie’s plot with a viral campaign from extremist group “Rift” and ads appealing to sci-fi and technology fans.

“Transcendence” has appealed to older demographics through partnerships with established tech firms like IBM and through takeovers on technology websites like The Verge and news sites like the Huffington Post, attempting to sell fans on the intelligent, sci-fi plot. To reach younger males, “Transcendence” has been featured heavily on video games site IGN in an attempt to snag fans on a weekend in between behemoths “Captain America” and “Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Both audiences should be impressed by director Wally Pfister’s credentials as Christopher Nolan’s right hand man on “Inception” and “The Dark Knight Trilogy.”

The viral campaign has featured videos and graphics across YouTube and Facebook, produced by anti-technology group RIFT who pose the counterpoint to the de-facto position that developments in technology are beneficial. Interestingly the viral campaign plays into the narrative thrust of the movie, adding color to the theoretical questions posed rather than just fleshing out the movie’s universe as these campaigns typically do.

Stats wise “Transcendence” looks to be coming up just short of “Elysium” — an original sci-fier without a franchise or popular source material to build on. “Elysium” opened just shy of $30 million last summer with 364,000 Facebook fans and 21% PTAT, 14 million trailer views and 0.28% Buzz and 70,000 Tweets. “Transcendence” does, however, have a significant lead in searches as “Elysium” opened around half as strong with 60,000, which could be a sign that it will draw more fans from older audiences, although “After Earth” opened to $27 million with 298,000 searches.

Final Expectations: Social suggests that “Transcendence” will follow a similar course but not outstrip “Elysium.”

Heaven is For Real

“Heaven Is For Real” is the latest film targeting faith-based moviegoers opening in 2014, following the success of “Son of God,” “God’s Not Dead,” and “Noah.” “HIFR” will be hoping it has arrived before audiences become fatigued by the glut of religious movies releasing this year, with several more to come. Then again, it’s Easter Weekend.

Similarly to these other movies, “HIFR” has enlisted community spokesmen to be ambassadors for the movie in order to connect with the Christian audience, posting video testimonies from faith leaders and celebrities such as Rascal Flatts to Facebook. “HIFR” has received support from megachurch minister T.D.Jakes — who also produced the movie — with his 1.43 million Twitter followers and the weight of this kind of endorsement is key to encourage turnout in theaters.

With more engagement than fans on Facebook and an excellent 0.61% Buzz rating on YouTube “HIFR” has emphatically engaged it’s core audience. “HIFR’s'” stats are not far behind “Son of God,” which opened to $26.5 million with 627,000 Fans and 67% PTAT, 6.6 million views and an almost identical Buzz, 40,400 Tweets and 57,600 searches. Not included here are interviews with the young boy at the center of the story which was turned into a book, with over 18 million views showing the popularity of the source material, which could see “HIFR” open very strongly.

Final Expectations: Following the success of other faith-based movies this year “Heaven Is For Real” could be set to spring a box office surprise.

A Haunted House 2

The campaign for “A Haunted House 2” has attempted to leverage the fan bases of stars Marlon Wayans and Gabriel Iglesias who both have large social media followings: in addition to the 1.5 million Facebook fans from the original “A Haunted House”, Wayans has 1.6 million and Iglesias, incredibly popular among Latin Americans has 6.4 million, as well as having another 2.1 million Twitter and almost 800,000 Instagram followers between them.

To promote the comedy, Wayans and Iglesias have appeared together on the NFL Network and Wayans has Instagrammed selfies with sports teams in order to reach out to a younger audience, as the stars attempt to engage their largely African American and Hispanic fans. “AHH2” is also using Tumblr to host its official site, another move to appeal to younger users. To leverage the “Haunted House” fan base, anyone who buys tickets through Fandango is being offered a free HD download of the original.

Very strong trailer Buzz and plenty of tweets suggest that the core audience will turn out, and low search volume shouldn’t be a worry as this demographic doesn’t typically use search — Kevin Hart’s “Ride Along” opened to $41.5 million with only 25,000 searches. However, it’s unlikely Wayans will repeat Hart’s success as “Ride Along” had a more active Facebook fan following, similar trailer buzz but 15 million more views, and over 90,000 Tweets. “AHH2” will be closer to “About Last Night’s” $25.6 million opening, starting with 4 million views, 40,000 tweets and also with 25,000 searches.

Final Expectations: Wayans and Iglesias fans should turn up but not in enough numbers to scare the competition.


Disneynature has gathered a sizeable social following of 674,000 Facebook fans for its niche market thanks to the popularity of its previous releases like “Earth” and “Oceans.” Its latest release, “Bears,” is aimed at families, particularly targeting older women with an interest in the environment. Pinterest is most popular among women and “Bears'” 18,000-strong account is filled with craft activities for parents and children and environmentalist messages, as is are the Twitter and Facebook feeds. These accounts also have lots of cute bear images and personify the bears to stimulate the interest of younger users. On search, where parents are highly active, “Bears” clocks in with half as many searches as “Chimpanzee,” Disneynature’s last release, which took in $10 million during its opening weekend.

Disney is offering to donate to the National Park Foundation for every “Bears” ticket bought, appealing to older, conscientious moviegoers. Other parts of the marketing campaign also appeal to this affluent, concerned demographic, featuring co-ops with DodoCase and talks featuring Dr. Jane Goodall at Apple Stores. “Rio 2” will be competing for the same families and children but “Bears” should manage to attract its core audience.

Final Expectations: Fans know what to expect from these releases so “Bears” should be headed for a solid return, but is unlikely to top “Chimpanzee”’s $10 million.

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.