Getting 'Gen Z' into movie theaters

By Dana Loberg , written on January 25, 2014

From The News Desk

Movies. Marketing. Data. Oh, My.

In a world with ever-evolving channels for people to engage via gadgets, computers, and smartphones, movie studios are struggling to find ways to make more moolah.

As technological advances lead to decreases in production costs, marketing continues to eat through budgets like one of those radiation-powered monsters on the big screen.

How much money we are talking about?

Movies worldwide cost $8 billion a year to produce and a whopping $4 billion a year to market them. In one astounding example, the Hollywood Reporter reported that Disney spent $175 million to market The Lone Ranger -- that was for one movie.

The old ways of marketing a film through commercials, advertising, billboards, etc. isn't as effective today. Teenagers no longer know what a remote control is, babies are playing on iPads and swiping screens before they take their first step, and our friends have become our followers. (Thanks, Twitter!)

Technology has altered the way we live, so film marketing must also shift to adjust to this new landscape by embracing technology – much like how Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr embrace with the waves crashing around them in “From Here to Eternity.”

“One of the ongoing challenges for movie marketers is connecting with our audience in a fragmented, multi-channel world,” says Doug Neil, executive vice president of digital marketing at Universal. “Today's consumers are multi-tasking and engaged in many more forms of content, and on multiple platforms, than ever before. Our task is to find our audience among the clutter.”

With multiple devices, multiple platforms and thousands of friends and/or followers the highly-coveted Generation Z audience is composed of mobile-loving, screen-savvy individuals, leading the charge to this new world of interconnectivity. Hence, one of the biggest challenges studios face is engaging with an audience that no longer relies on one device – the TV – to consume media.

This is where movie marketers are trying to avoid stepping into quicksand, and it’s why movie-marketing campaigns have been gradually shifting large chunks of their budgets away from traditional TV commercials and more toward online ads. Studios are desperately searching for new ways to engage younger audiences who no longer watch television, let alone read print newspapers and magazines that were once packed with film ads.

“Just as films are utilizing new technologies to tell visually rich stories, marketers in the film industry need to use technology to tap into not only younger people but also people of every generation who have embraced tech devices,” says Jim Moloshok, co-founder and past president of Warner Bros. Online.

With so many movies being produced, you would think it would make it easier for studios to retarget the same or similar fans from one movie to the next. But studios tend to market each film individually, as if each were a newborn baby, often starting from scratch to build an audience, market the film, and distribute it. For example, the “Hunger Games” demographic is probably similar to those who will go out and watch the upcoming, similarly-themed film “Divergent.” Nevertheless, because of the nature of the studios and the manner in which they’ve been marketing films in the past, the studio will likely start from ground zero. And every movie, each time, is treated like its own little startup, with new people, new PR, new marketing, new everything. Talk about expensive – and tiring!

There’s a tremendous opportunity to correct this pattern and help make Hollywood movie marketing more efficient and effective, and that will be through new online tools and technologies.

Online is where people hang out. It’s where people work and consume content, where you can collect data, build direct communication and it’s where you can find friends to go to the movies with you. Online offers direct communication with your movie fan, and it’s where you can personalize the experience for each individual and reach each fan of a particular movie.

Forget about Charlie Bucket and his chocolate-fueled fantasies. Online is the studio’s golden ticket.

What's missing is the interaction and engagement online when it comes to movies. Now people want something inherently social online and on their mobile devices since the internet has become a common way for people to interact with one another. Frankly, most movie sites are outdated and stagnant with limited or no interaction with friends.

“It seems like a paradox that to attract people to the big screen in movie theaters, we need to reach out to people on smaller screens on tablets and smart phones, but that’s today’s reality,” says Jim Amos, former president of Sony Pictures’ domestic distribution. “It can be an exciting time for film marketers, but only if they recognize that they need to think outside of the box and find a way to entice potential cinephiles and their friends online.”

We just need people to start creating these technologies so that studios can focus on doing what they do best: writing, creating, producing, and entertaining. Let geeks build the pipeline so that the film industry and movie fans can engage directly with the movies they love and the friends they trust. We’re all waiting, patiently, for a new experience in movie discovery and movie marketing.

In the meantime, those Sour Patch Kids buried under my seat are mine.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for Pandodaily]