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Movie marketing, reinvented for the social age

With just days until the 92nd Academy Awards, we’ve been mulling over what an enormous year of change it has been in movie marketing.

As you settle in to see whether Adam Driver’s divorcee in Marriage Story beats Joaquin Phoenix’s creepy Joker to Best Actor, take a moment to reflect on how you discovered your fave films this year.

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Preparations continue for the 92nd Oscars® on Thursday.

The level of access we, average fans, get to movie information ahead of release is changing rapidly. Where once it was the most ardent, some say nerdy, of fans who’d know the juicy who/what/why’s of a movie on pre-release, today the movie industry is operating in a transparent eco-system.

That’s presenting a batch of new issues. For one, new entertainment models mean films can be released straight to platforms like Amazon Prime and Netflix, bypassing the traditional box office routes. Then there are the fan social sites which spread leaked info or plot lines very quickly. This instant feedback from audiences can make or break a film on trailer release alone.

At the more troubling end of the scale, there are cyber attacks and malware targeting film fans searching online, as was the case with the latest Star Wars release, where over 30 fraudulent websites and social profiles were posing as official movie accounts to defraud visitors.

Let’s take a look at how some of the best in the game embraced new strategies to get their films ahead this year.

Ryan Reynolds got free reign for Pokémon: Detective Pikachu

If there was a prize for Most Bonkers Film Marketing, it’d go to Ryan Reynolds. The actor known to troll his own wife was given carte blanche by Warner Bros for marketing the latest Pokémon movie, in which he voiced the small yellow one.

Viral amusement was found in a video interview of the actor discussing how he went Method for the role, with a cameo from Blake Lively. “I tried to lose 182 pounds to match his weight, until doctors intervened,” Reynolds deadpanned.

But maybe the best trick up his sleeve was his tweet ‘alerting’ Warner Bros to a leaked full-length YouTube of the film, days ahead of release.

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The video, which has close to thirty million views, features the first 60 seconds of what looks just like the leaked movie, albeit watermarked ‘R. Reynolds’. The remaining 100 minutes show Pikachu performing aerobics to music. To sum it up: sucked in!

Sonic the Hedgehog got a redesign thanks to fan feedback

Fierce fan feedback on the first trailer of the new Sonic the Hedgehog movie led to a dramatic reworking by Paramount Pictures, pushing the release back three months. Their criticism? Sonic’s human-looking teeth.

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The first take of Sonic, on the left, with his offending human features, and the reworked Sonic.

The studio completely redesigned Sonic, widening his eyes, making his fur less realistic and getting rid of those, frankly, offensive teeth. The new Sonic has been met with enormous praise and is positioned to do well on release, this Valentine’s Day. This is an incredible example of fan feedback directly impacting a film post-production.

One ill-fated film should have taken a similar approach – Cats. The trailer was met with outright horror, but the movie release went ahead, unchanged. Its 20% Rotten Tomatoes score speaks volumes. Listen to the fans!

Captain Marvel remembered its firsts

For the latest from the powerhouse that is Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain Marvel focused its release campaign around ‘firsts’. Cast members, including Samual Jackson and Brie Larson, were asked to reminisce on things like first time reading the script, first day on set

The ‘beginner’ tone to this campaign is really novel from such a behemoth in the movie industry, and highlights the human side of those involved in the film, rather than hyping the characters in the movie.

The naive approach didn’t impact the film’s performance – it scored a 78% on Rotten Tomatoes.

John Wick 3 handed it over to fanfiction

Keanu has no shortage of stans. For the release of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, Lionsgate weren’t afraid to lean into the actor’s most fanatic (and critical) of superfans. From the official movie website, they linked off to an official John Wick 3 sub-Reddit allowing for  fan theories, movie criticism and fan art.

movie marketing

The sub-Reddit has nearly 22,000 members sharing theories, fan art and memes.

Reddit has been long-feared by the movie industry for unveiling plot flaws and continuity errors, bloopers, harsh criticism and spoilers. Handing the keys over to the super-fans, letting them lead the narrative and create their own content is a pretty cool way for Lionsgate to market to the new internet. Reviewers agreed, with a 90% score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Joker pitched itself as dangerous from the off

The most nominated film at this year’s Oscars marketed itself as a ‘dangerous’ movie right from first viewings at the Toronto International Film Festival. Director Todd Phillips told audiences there ahead of the screening, “I’ll warn you, it’s f—ing bonkers.”

But when the heated discussion around the film became mainstream, and critique referenced shady alt-right ‘incel’ communities, Phillips took a different line saying, “I didn’t imagine the level of discourse that it’s reached in the world, honestly.”

Yet the film never steered away from its disturbing qualities, and was even rumoured to have planted stories about increased security and police presence at movie theatres in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Notoriously quirky lead Joaquin Phoenix has given outspoken and much-lauded speeches in recent weeks against racism and diversity (when accepting his BAFTAs win for the Joker) and factory farming.

He may be primed for the golden spot on Sunday night, but it’s not a done deal. Time’s film critic Stephanie Zacharek gave a scathing review, saying the film “doesn’t have a plot; it’s more like a bunch of reaction GIFs strung together.” That may just be what audiences want in today’s digital landscape.

Despite a score of just 68% on Rotten Tomatoes, Joker is the highest grossing R-rated movie of all time and is set to clean up at the Oscars.

At Linktree we’re ready for the future of movie marketing

We’ll be tuned to the Oscars from 8pm ET, but even more exciting to us is the future of movie marketing. Studios will continue to innovate in order to maintain the value of paying to see a movie in a theatre, over the Netflix option.

We see ahead more complex journeys of discovery for fans and prospective audience members that generate fan-led narratives. We’ll be seeing more of blended of realities and characters, hidden Easter eggs within films for the superfans and cleverly guarded secrets. Pass the popcorn!