How Movie Marketing Works

Movie Marketing Basics

Press junkets such as this one for "Madagascar" are used to promote films. Jada Pinkett-Smith and Ben Stiller show off some of the tie-ins for the animated film.
Press junkets such as this one for "Madagascar" are used to promote films. Jada Pinkett-Smith and Ben Stiller show off some of the tie-ins for the animated film.
Dave Hogan/Getty Images

Movie marketing is also known as movie advertising and movie promotion. Every major Hollywood studio and movie distribution company has an internal department devoted to promotion. The promotions department is responsible for designing and implementing an effective, cohesive advertising campaign across several different media platforms, including theatrical movie trailers, newspapers, magazines, television, radio, the Internet andĀ billboards.

The movie business is cyclical and seasonal by nature [source: Vogel]. Major studio releases are clustered during the summer, Christmas and long holiday weekends like Thanksgiving, Memorial Day and Labor Day. With so many high profile movies fighting for the same audience, movie marketers need to figure out how to make their films stand out from the pack.

In recent years, the general tactic has been to "go big." For expensive, blockbuster movies, the marketing campaign alone can cost as much as half of the total production budget [source: Vogel]. So if a film costs $80 million to make, the distributor might spend $40 million on advertising and promotion. In 2007, the average marketing budget for a theatrical release from a major Hollywood studio was $35.9 million [source: Motion Picture Association of America].

The hope, of course, is that all of this marketing money will pay off in ticket sales. One of the most important indicators of the success of a movie marketing campaign is the gross box office sales from the first weekend of a movie's release. Opening weekend sales are a direct reflection of how much buzz and excitement has been generated by the promotional campaign.

Even if a movie stinks, strong opening weekend numbers can be enough to break even or earn a small profit for the studio. It's not uncommon for large Hollywood movies to make over 40 percent of their gross profits in the first week of release. Once the word spreads that the movie isn't worth the money, some blockbusters experience huge drops from the first weekend to the second. The most notorious example is Ang Lee's "Hulk," which grossed 47 percent of its total earnings in it's opening weekend, then made 69 percent less in its second weekend [source: Box Office Mojo].

Every movie is different and the promotions department must figure out what type of campaign will be the most effective at reaching the target audience. This requires researching the tastes and media-consuming trends of the target audience. Based on this research, the movie marketers decide how much of their budget to spend on each different media outlet. According to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), here's how its member studios decided to allocate their marketing budget in 2007:

  • Newspapers: 10.1 percent
  • Network TV: 21.6 percent
  • Spot TV (purchasing commercial "spots" from individual TV stations): 13.9 percent
  • Internet: 4.4 percent
  • Theatrical trailers: 4.2 percent
  • Other media (includes cable TV, radio, magazines, billboards): 24 percent
  • Other non-media (market research, promotion/publicity, creative services): 21.8 percent

[source: Motion Picture Association of America]

In the next section, we'll look at the specific strategies that movie marketers use to convince moviegoers to fork over $8 or more for their films.