Amid sagging movie theater attendance, competition from streaming platforms and a wider range of entertainments options, a successful movie marketing campaign still boils down to one simple axiom: A good movie.
That was the consensus of a panel Wednesday during Variety’s Massive Summit of top marketing executives from major studios. The panel, moderated by Variety co-editor-in-chief Claudia Eller, included marketing executives from major studios, including Ricky Strauss, president of marketing at Walt Disney Studios.
“If you have a movie that is not well reviewed today, it is tough to overcome that,” Strauss said. “Good movies transcend.”
The other panelists were Bob Berney, president of marketing and distribution at Amazon Studios; Josh Greenstein, president of theatrical marketing and distribution at Sony Pictures; Pam Levine, president of worldwide theatrical marketing at 20th Century Fox; and Blair Rich, president of worldwide theatrical marketing at Warner Bros.
The marketing veterans at the panel, which was presented by Deloitte, touched on a number of topics, including how marketing has changed in the digital era and the quick spread of word-of-mouth — good or bad — on social media.
“Whereas maybe some of us that have been doing this for a while and used to be able to dress up a movie and obscure its DNA, that doesn’t exist anymore because of social media and Rotten Tomatoes,” Fox’s Levine said, adding that it’s become tougher than ever to encourage people to leave their homes and head to the multiplex.
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“The younger generation has been habitualized to stay home and stream,” Levine said, adding that good marketing campaigns have to create urgency to see a movie during opening weekend.
Amazon’s Berney talked about attracting the younger demographic through digital buys compared with films aimed at an older audience that may lean more on traditional television ad buys.
“It’s trying to create an event, trying to make each film some kind of event to get you out and going,” Berney said.
Warners’ Rich said that the advent of social media and the prominence of film-review aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes give studios a very early window into how well a film will perform during its opening weekend.
“One of the biggest challenges is how binary it’s become, whether through Rotten Tomatoes or through word of mouth on social media,” Rich said “Thursday night you know (how well a movie will perform) — you don’t even get to the weekend.”
Sony’s Greenstein said that compared with a few years ago, spending on digital in general has roughly doubled, though the mix of spending depends on the picture.
“Our jobs are to get people off the couch and into theaters. We have to use every weapon at our disposal,” Greenstein said about the need to use multiple platforms.
Greenstein said that for the marketing of “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” the studio relied heavily on the massive social-media followings of the film’s stars, which included Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart. He said that the actors were able to keep followers updated throughout the film’s making.
“People were already anticipating and going on this ride well before the movie came out,” he said.
But there are challenges to relying on actors to promote a film through their social media platforms, Rich said.
Actors who are not active on social media and prefer to keep their private lives under wraps are likely not good social-media ambassadors for a film. “If it’s not authentic and comfortable to how they talk about themselves and promote a movie, it’s not going to work,” she said.
Rich added: “At the end of the day we’re selling an inconvenient experience” by asking people to leave their homes and go to the movies.
(Pictured: Josh Greenstein, Pam Levine, Ricky Strauss, Blair Rich, Bob Berney and Claudia Eller)