How Movie Marketing Works

Movie Marketing Strategies

Press conferences are used to interest critics in films. Ralph Fienes and Keira Knightley share the stage at a conference for "The Dutchess."
Press conferences are used to interest critics in films. Ralph Fienes and Keira Knightley share the stage at a conference for "The Dutchess."
George Pimentel/WireImage/Getty Images

The theatrical trailer is often the first chance to promote a movie to its target audience. Starting up to a year before the release of a major studio movie, distributors run movie trailers that are meticulously edited and audience-tested. The idea is to give moviegoers a taste of the laughs, special effects and plot twists of the studio's upcoming releases, while leaving them wanting more. It's an art form that's usually handled by special trailer production houses.

About the same time that the first trailers hit the theaters, the movie studio will unveil an official Web site for the film. Typical movie Web sites allow visitors to view multiple versions of the trailer, watch behind-the-scenes interviews and mini-documentaries, read plot synopses, download cell-phone ringtones and desktop wallpaper, play games, chat in forums and even pre-order tickets. The official movie Web site is only the beginning of a much larger Internet marketing campaign.

As the release date of the film draws closer, movie marketers try to get early favorable press coverage in newspapers, magazines and on entertainment TV shows. The main movie publicity tactic is something called a press junket. At a press junket, journalists, entertainment reporters and movie critics are flown out to a special location for a day or weekend of interviews with the stars and creators of the film. The actors, directors and screenwriters sit in separate rooms and the reporters are brought in one by one to ask their questions.

Press junkets are highly controlled environments where interviews are often attended by a publicist, who make sure interviews never veer from positive topics [source: Rosenbaum]. If you've ever seen a TV interview with an actor sitting in front of a poster of their movie, that's from a press junket.

Weeks before the movie opens nationwide, the promotions department starts an all-out publicity blitz. The idea is to bombard the public with so many images and promos for the movie that it becomes a "can't miss" event. Movie marketers will plaster the sides of buses with huge ads, place billboards all around the city, run tons of teaser trailers on TV, place full-page ads in major newspapers and magazines, and the movie's stars will show up on all of the major talk shows.

The Internet is proving to be a prime spot for these publicity blitzes. Promoters can place rich, interactive ads on the Web sites most trafficked by their target audience. They can also release behind-the-scenes clips, bloopers and other viral videos on video-sharing sites like YouTube. Or they can release different media clips and let the fans create their own trailers.

Another popular strategy is to use highly visible product tie-ins and corporate partnerships. In the weeks leading up to the release of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," images of the green Grinch appeared on packages of Oreos, boxes of Froot Loops and cans of Sprite. Even the United States Postal Service got into the act, stamping letters with special "Happy Who-lidays!" messages [source: Finnigan]. For marketing children's movies, the Holy Grail is gettingĀ  promotional goodies in McDonald's Happy Meals.

One final movie marketing strategy is the publicity stunt, an orchestrated media event where someone does something incredibly silly, dangerous or spectacular to draw further attention to the opening of the movie. An example is when the promoters of "The Simpsons Movie" transformed dozens of nationwide 7-Eleven convenience stores into replica's of Springfield's own Kwik-E Mart [source: Keegan].

Unfortunately, movie promotion is not an exact science. Read about some common problems with movie marketing in the next section.