Sector analysis: cinema gears up for social networks

The buzz around the opening of films on social networks including Facebook and Twitter has reached a new high. Mark Banham asks the leading players in cinema about how brands and their agencies can lock into this potential.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: attracted 100,000 Facebook sign ups per week
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: attracted 100,000 Facebook sign ups per week

If the premiere's shift for 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2', from it's usual home in Leicester Square to the larger Trafalgar Square, is anything to go by, then the cinema industry surely isn't losing any of its magic.

The first weekend box office for the conclusion of the boy wizard's journey stood at £23,643,046, and Muggles queued for days to see if their hero would finally triumph over the evil Lord Voldemort.

Due to the runaway success of the film, which is part of the most successful series of all time with a worldwide gross of $2bn (£1.22bn), the advertisers that got their media agencies to plan schedules around the film really reaped rewards with cut through to an audience of children and adults alike.

For instance, Sky Sports was just one of the advertisers that benefited from the exposure. Activity planned by the channel's retained media agency MediaCom, Digital Cinema Media (DCM) measured that the audience impacts over the opening weekend for Sky Sport's 'Start of the Season' campaign were 3.2 million.

The buzz around the film was enhanced by the social media activity across Facebook and Twitter, with the film's distributor Warner Bros also reaching out to fan sites and creating YouTube videos to promote the film.

The "likes" recorded on the Harry Potter page was topped up to 29 million during the run up to unveiling of the last film in the series.

In the week before the July premiere the Harry Potter Facebook page gained nearly 100,000 Facebook friends per day.

Missed opportunities

The sheer numbers flocking to social networks must have raised questions for advertisers who missed out on Pottermania, such as "Why did we miss this opportunity to address millions of active consumers?" and, more importantly, "how do we make sure we don't miss out next time?"

Social media surrounding film releases seems to be a gaping hole of opportunity for brands to engage with a captive, and engaged, audience, but presents a problem, a problem that, bizarrely, seems to be the reserve of the much feted social networks themselves.

Brands who are not official partners of the film find it very difficult to get any leverage surrounding a much-hyped launch on Facebook, as the film distributor will hold the rights and charge serious money for tie-ups (through on-screen and off-screen promotions).

The same applies to an advertiser who might want to target the film's audience on Twitter and who would have to link up with the film as a commercial partner and, even then, have to wait for the promoted Tweet to be rolled out into territories and not just be the reserve of global or US clients, which is how it currently stands.

Bobi Carley, UK commercial director at Disneymedia+ has had experience of working a brand into a social networking schedule, as she did this year with the partnership of car marque Seat with the Disney film 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides'.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

She said: "Media is consumed in a much more fragmented way and as such, our campaigns are fully integrated with as many touch points as possible to deepen the engagement with audiences.

"Social is an integral part of this strategy, a large part of any movie's success at the box office relies on buzz and word of mouth, therefore social provides a readymade network of advocates.

"This not only drives box office success but allows partners to exist in this highly engaged space, follow the movie beyond the screen and stay with the audience outside of cinema."

The promoted Tweet works phenomenally well

Oliver Newton, head of emerging platforms at Starcom MediaVest, thinks that the rise of communities springing up around the anticipation of certain cinema releases is something that brands should watch carefully.

He said: "I think the key things that we are seeing on social networking – which I will limit to Twitter and Facebook for the time being – is that it is elevating the film away from the 90 minutes you see it in a darkened room. It is allowing you to get involved in the whole experience of it, before you’ve gone to see [the film].

"Twitter is still, as a media buying opportunity, the preserve of the US, but is expected to be launching here in the UK in September properly. The promoted Tweet, for example, works phenomenally well."

This Summer sees the release of 'Cowboys and Aliens' starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, which has also been engaging in social media prior to its US release this month and in the run up to its release date in the UK on 17 August.

Cowboys and Aliens starring Daniel Craig

Director Jon Favreau has been tweeting from the studio's cutting room, keeping fans informed of the films progress, and sending out clues to where they can find competition tickets left in various locations.

Newton said: "It means that people are starting to talk about you on Twitter, and as films are using specific hashtags then it starts to become a trending topic."

For instance one look at the official website for the much-anticipated film where old-style cowboys face a malevolent invasion from Aliens, reveals links to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and an anticipation link for the live webcast of the film's premier through a live webcast on E! Entertainment.

The US site for 'Cowboys and Aliens' also has several commercial partners including 7-Eleven, Nestle (US brands Butterfinger and Nestle Crunch) and hotel chain Hilton Worldwide. It also features an advertiser-funded augmented reality game sponsored by Coca Cola.

Social remains a black hole for cinema brands

Charlie Yeates, associate director at MediaCom and head of cinema, understands the barriers for brands, but thinks that the industry has to pull together to find a solution to the problem, so brands can benefit.

He said: "To try and get people to talk about your brands in association with films [through social networking] whether it be in an advert they’ve just seen, or in the actual film, well, unless they have been paid to do it, I have to be totally honest, I've hardly seen anyone do it, but the amount of people in social networks talking about films is absolutely massive.

"What you might very occasionally see is, and it's a bit like word of mouth, is people mentioning things like the Orange Gold Spots, but ultimately it does seem to be a bit of a black hole for brands at the moment.

"It's very difficult for outside brands to get in on these conversations like they would normally on Facebook and Twitter, without a doubt."

Another anticipated blockbuster that will hit screens over the Christmas season is the US version of Stieg Larsson's 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' again starring Craig and a relative unknown, Rooney Mara, as the titular anti-hero Lisbeth Salander.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The buzz created by an early release of the film's official trailer, which distributor Sony Pictures denied had been released on purpose, but admitted was the real trailer, sent Twitter into a frenzy.

The original Swedish series of films had launched with a 'Dragon Tattoo Blog Hunt', which involved 11 bloggers from different sectors, either writing about or referencing the film.

However, even if the opportunity to team with distributors and surf the social media tide becomes freer and has less barriers to entry, advertisers should use caution.

As both the Swedish and US versions of the film deal with the same dark subject matters including domestic violence, any campaign to associate a brand with the property could potentially backfire, says Kathryn Jacob, chief executive of Pearl & Dean, who stresses that the choice of the film is all important.

She said: "The thing about 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' is that it will be really big, but one of the big themes is domestic violence which is something that your brand really doesn't want to get caught up in."

A new example of how cinema can interact with social media (and arguably how brands may be able to engage with both platforms) has been seen in activity for the next instalment in the Batman saga, 'The Dark Knight Rises', which is not due until Summer 2012, but started its social media build up in May this year.

The official site for the film launched with what looked like a disappointing black screen backed by a sound loop white noise.

In what would outfox all but the most fanatical of fans, the spectrum of the sound file revealed the Twitter hashtag #TheFireRises, which would reveal the first picture of villain Bane once the hashtag gained a certain level of popularity through the social networking site.

The Dark Knight Rises' villain Bane

Once the news was out, the level of visits required to unlock the image took less than a day to achieve, a level of popularity through social networking that brands would, no doubt, love to take advantage of.

Simon Rees, managing director of Digital Cinema Media (DCM), sums up: "As an organisation, we are upping the ante on social media tracking, and we believe that because of cinema's unique position within the social media sphere, that brands definitely want to engage across both platforms, and [as an industry] we have to move forward on serving those brands. Frankly, it's one of the most exciting times for cinema."

One thing can be said, in a world where wizards battle Lords, Cowboys face Aliens, a new anti-hero(ine) is born and a psychotic stalks a Dark Knight, brands who are looking to be involved with cinema and social media in the future certainly won't be bored.

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