Thoughts 30.11.13

How do you get people to share more? Share less

After delivering a talk at Disney HQ on the subject of film marketing in the 21st century, Fold7 Creatives Dan Fryer & Gate Lambert look at how an absence of information and strong storytelling are at the heart of a successful film marketing campaign.

We all love a good story. Whether it’s fact or fiction, informative or entertaining, rousing or slightly sickening, stories are the lifeblood of human interaction. We love telling them, we love hearing them, and if a good one crosses our path, we’ll make sure to pass it on to as many people as we possibly can. We might even pass it off as our own, and the people we tell might even do the same. And it’s precisely this desire to share a good story that should sit at the heart of a 21st century marketing approach, with film marketing in particular. But how do we get people to share more? Well, as contradictory as it may seem, the art is in sharing less.

The job of film marketers is to get people excited about something that they can’t tell them very much about in the run up to a film release. Whilst this may initially appear to be a restriction, it’s actually the best way to get them excited about it. As Pixar’s Andrew Stanton said, “It’s the well organised absence of information that draws us in”. It’s the commercial equivalent of the person who says that they have the most incredible thing to tell you, before announcing that they can’t. Curiosity may have killed the cat but what’s more interesting is that the cat was willing to risk its life in return for more information. Good film marketing, like good films, should have good storytelling at its heart, and good storytelling is all about drawing people in and holding onto intrigue for as long as possible. More questions than answers, if you will.

A 21st century approach to film marketing demands that we engage consumers through the channels and devices that they favour, and that we deliver entertaining, engaging, and involving content that builds on the film’s theme. What do we want people to do with this content? We want people to take it, share it, and make it their own: to turn them into storytellers themselves by involving them and extending it to their world. Make people feel what they will feel when seeing the film and make the film’s world connect with theirs. The recent coffee shop stunt for the film Carrie is a prime example of this. We’re not the people in the coffee shop watching a young girl display telekinetic powers first hand, but we know how they feel, and we can imagine how we might react in the same situation. It’s this emotional connection that has clocked up over 49 million views of the viral within a matter of weeks. The stunt reveals nothing of the film’s plot but it makes us feel something real because the victims are part of our world – the real world. Subsequently we are provided with both a great story to share and an absence of information around the film itself that encourages us to find out more.

Arguably, film studios are armed with some of the finest storytelling available. Whilst other brands attempt to build stories around gravy granules, washing powder, or running shoes, film marketers have the luxury of pure entertainment at their fingertips. The cinema experience is one of the only times that we get to disconnect from the real world and immerse ourselves in another world altogether. The lights go down, the phones go off, and for a period of time we are transported into a reality very different from our own. Truly great film marketing has to harness this and instead of selling a film as a product, it should sell a universe, and allow their audience to step into it.

How this universe presents itself in the weeks, months, or even years before and after the release of the film is critical to its commercial success. There’s a huge opportunity to extend the window of interest and excitement around a new film by extending the period of time spent marketing it. Perhaps one of the finest examples of this can be found in the 1999 box office hit, The Blair Witch Project. Despite operating on a low budget, the promotion of the film started a year before it hit screens, slowly releasing trailers and teasing collateral that caused much debate as to whether the film was actually a true story. The level of intrigue and mystery surrounding the film led to box office takings of $248m – a true testament to the benefits of sharing a little less.

The traditional structure of pre-release film marketing needs to be reconsidered, with a strong focus placed on finding the best possible way to extend the story’s universe for the film’s existing and potential fans. As film and TV producer JJ Abrams says “Mystery is the catalyst for imagination”. He talks about film being like a mystery box. For as long as it remains closed, your mind fills with wonder at the possibilities of what might be inside. You don’t know what it’s going to be like until you watch it, and it’s that intrigue and absence of information that truly draws us in.

An alternative version of this article was published by Marketing Magazine. Download this article at