Your film could have the most incredible storyline, highest level of production, and outstanding acting, but it takes an audience—and a really big one at that—to become a blockbuster. That audience won’t just appear without proper marketing and promotion to let people know about your work. Read on if you’re interested in how movies are marketed and the best film promotion strategies with insight from industry professionals.
Movie marketing is the promotion and advertisement of a film to create awareness and interest. Whether it’s a studio film or indie, the goal of every film is to reach an audience. Marketing is the primary way of letting potential viewers know a movie exists, and the right promotional strategies will turn them from potential viewers to actual audience members.
“Movie marketing is a process that begins with the inception or idea of a movie,” says Hossein Panahi, CEO of HPD Media, an international production and distribution company. “Many independent filmmakers become so obsessed with their [movie] idea and the production process that they forget about marketing completely. Then when the movie is done, they’ll start thinking about sales and generating revenue…but sometimes it’ll be too late.”
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Here are some of the marketing materials used for advertising and promoting a film:
- Trailers and extended trailers
- Teaser trailers
- Behind-the-scenes footage
- Interviews with talent and crew
- Film posters
- Press release
- Social media
Forgetting about the marketing of your film early on may leave you without the content that can help you build an audience and generate sales.
While a great director, crew, and talent are the building blocks of a good film, it’s marketing that will get the film seen. Marketing a film allows for two critical elements of success: building a target audience and generating sales.
Marketing builds an audience
Completing a great film and making it available to viewers isn’t enough to attract an audience. Viewers want to know who’s in the film, what it’s about, and why it’s a “can’t miss.” If you're making an indie movie, there's an even more important layer—viewers need to know your project exists, as well as how and when they can watch it.
Your marketing materials will help audiences answer these questions. Whether it’s a 30-second ad, social media, or press interviews, the objective of marketing is to generate excitement, give a little bit away, and excite and entice audiences to actually watch your film. More promotion leads to a larger audience, which (hopefully) leads to more sales, minimizing the risk of financial loss.
Marketing generates sales
While it’s a filmmaker’s dream to reach and resonate with a large audience, the other important factor of filmmaking is making enough money to pay back investors and turn a profit. And as the old saying goes, you have to spend money to make money. Big-budget films with wide theatrical releases will spend as much as half the film’s budget on marketing, whereas lower-budget and indie films spend from a smaller amount and typically put the marketing dollars toward promotion at film festivals.
In either case—and every case in between—the point of spending money on marketing a film is to ensure it reaches the right audience, which then leads to sales.
“The Blair Witch Project” newspaper marketing Courtesy Artisan Entertainment
“We are in show business,” says Alida Pantone, director of London’s Rolling Film Festival. “To be a successful business, you need an audience and you need to find the best ways to reach your target audience.” A good marketing campaign contains some or all of the following material and strategies:
“Have professional content,” says Pantone. “The quality of your poster and trailer is the first thing that reaches the audience. The first impression counts!” A poster should showcase the film’s title, talent, and visual elements of the story.
Trailer (and teaser)
A film trailer is the most important and required marketing item. It’s a powerful way to generate interest and build an audience. This visual element showcases the actors and engaging scenes that build suspense and leave the viewer wanting to see the whole film.
Teasers are short, visual snippets that hook the audience and build interest.
Once promotion begins, it’s important to have a place to direct anyone interested, especially if the film hasn’t been released yet. A website dedicated to the film should feature the artwork, trailers, teasers, release dates, etc.
“Social media [platforms] are the most accessible platforms nowadays to reach audiences, so a good marketing strategy shall not avoid using them,” says Pantone.
They’re also some of the most cost-effective and organic ways to reach your target audience. Leverage the platforms you think your viewers are most likely to engage with, and maintain the accounts with regular posts, updates, and clips. Interact with followers by answering questions and comments.
Films with a larger budget often work with social media influencers, who can broadcast the movie to their significant audience. If you’re just starting out, influencer pricing might break the bank, but it’s worth reaching out to micro-influencers and their small but loyal niche following.
Behind-the-scenes content is a powerful way to generate interest. An audience enjoys watching the magic that happens behind the scenes, so sharing B-roll, exclusive interviews with the cast and crew, bloopers, and even taking them inside the cutting room will make the audience part of the process.
Press kits typically contain the materials needed to properly promote a film via media outlets. They may include:
- A one-page press release about the film, including cast, film festival selections, and awards
- Filmmaker and cast details
- Still images from the film
- Social media accounts
- Movie poster
- Movie trailer
TV and radio commercials
TV and radio commercials are, of course, the cornerstone of film marketing for most big and mid-tier budget films—think of the hype around Super Bowl spots, which can cost as much as $7 million for 30 seconds. If you’re on a tight budget, contact your local radio or TV station to see what your options are.
Flyers and merchandise
Print advertisements and merchandise are traditional marketing tactics for selling a product or a brand. Your film is a brand, and items such as flyers, souvenirs, or apparel are a great way to create brand awareness and reach an audience. Bonus: Merch is relatively cheap to produce at a local print shop.
Used by industry professionals, IMDb is a must for any serious filmmaker. Create a page for your film and include all cast and crew. Remember to update the page with any festival selections or awards.
“Psycho” Courtesy Paramount Pictures
These movies had innovative marketing strategies that resulted in massive success, becoming inspiration for marketing campaigns everywhere.
Alfred Hitchcock scored his biggest hit by keeping all its secrets. The director commissioned posters for “Psycho” that sternly warned that nobody would be admitted to the theater after admission, on the basis they wouldn’t understand the film’s twist ending. Hitchcock also barred stars Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins from doing interviews in the lead-up to the premiere, did away with press screenings, and even (very publicly) hired nurses to attend the lobby in case the shocking ending was too much for anyone’s health. All that intrigue led to the largest box office success of Hitchcock’s six-decade career.
“The Blair Witch Project”
Though the film was fictional, “The Blair Witch Project” was marketed as actual documentary footage. The film’s website featured missing posters for its virtually unknown cast; the production company released a “documentary” about the events of the film; and the director was notably absent from press events to heighten the ruse. Because of the intrigue, “The Blair Witch Project” ended up with just under $250 million worldwide at the box office on an estimated $60,000 budget.
Paramount stirred up nationwide interest in this tiny-budgeted film with an ingenious marketing tactic. During its initial limited run, audiences could go to a website and vote for “Paranormal Activity” to be screened in their city. Thanks to a trailer that featured night-vision footage of early audience members reacting in fear and pull quotes promising “the scariest movie of all time,” people around the country were eager to be part of the experience. The result was $194 million worldwide at the box office on a $15,000 budget, one of the largest profits for a film ever.
“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”
For the second installation of the “Jurassic World” franchise, the production company teamed up with Amazon for a publicity stunt that was not soon forgotten. Prior to the film’s premiere, a truck carrying a massive Amazon box punctured with air holes and stamped with the movie’s logo drove around Los Angeles. The call to action was for spectators to use their Amazon Echo device to ask Alexa what was in the box.
This collaboration was an example of an interactive marketing campaign where potential viewers not only saw the dinosaur “shipped,” but also received audio from the film in response to asking Alexa the question. Those who attended the event could also scan an interactive element in the box that prompted fun videos and discounted ticket prices.
Whether a movie is a theatrical release or independent film, planning and budgeting your marketing strategy in the early stages of your film will be a critical element for your film’s success.