How has digitalisation changed the way films and TV shows are promoted? Part 1

22th May

Written by Carlotta Zorzi

How has digitalisation changed the way films and TV shows are promoted?


As the media landscape dramatically changed after the advent of the Internet and digital technologies, marketers in all industries had to review their competitive environment as well as their strategies associated to it in order to reach their target audience (Varadarajan & Yadav, 2009). This is also true for the entertainment industry, and in particular for the film and TV industry. The shift towards more digitalised promotion strategies for both films and TV shows has led the traditional entertainment agencies to add a new digital dimension to their portfolio of expertise e.g. online content management, digital campaigns, social media marketing strategies. Along with the most common practices of film and TV shows promotion such as movie trailers, ads before videos (pre-roll advertising) and interactive banners on websites, it is interesting noting how the social media dimension has now become an integrating part of the digital planning process for entertainment promotion (Armelini & VillanuevA, 2009). In particular, the concepts of social media and gamification perfectly fit into the promotional mix of TV shows and films given the correlation of the two with the idea of online community building (Kapp, 2012). To support such arguments, the author will refer to two main theoretical frameworks: The Honeycomb of Social Media (Kietzmann, 2011) and the Gamification Design of Collaborative Storytelling Websites (Hsu, Chung & Lee, 2013) due to their appropriateness in relation to the topic analysed and their flexibility in terms of application to the entertainment industry.

Purpose and Research Question

This research paper will present empirical explanations on how the digital landscape has shaped the promotion of films and TV shows that aimed at increasing word of mouth to raise brand awareness, user engagement and, ultimately, sales. To do so, the writer will investigate three main promotional media strategies (digital advertising, social media and gamification techniques) in relation to specific cases studies to provide a more insightful perspective into the film and TV shows promotional arena in a digital context.


Film and TV shows – powerful intangible brands in a digital context

The American Marketing Association defines a brand as a “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers” (American Marketing Association, n.d.), which gives films and TV shows credentials to be considered as brands given that each production has specific characteristics that allow differentiation from other ones. However, in order to grow and maintain loyalty to TV shows and film productions, media conglomerates had to develop new strategies that included fresh digital strategies aimed at creating communities that would contribute to raising the buzz around a new movie or new show season (Kaplan, 2013). According to Brooker (2001, cited in Mirrlees, 2013:237), “interactive Web structures ‘enable an immersive, participatory engagement’ with media content ‘that crosses multiple media platforms and invites active contribution; not only from fans, who after all have been engaged in participatory culture around their favored text for decades, but also, as part of the regular ‘mainstream’ viewing experience”. This particular approach to film and shows promotion differ from traditional marketing and it is referred to by Mohr (2007) as ‘buzz marketing’, which is characterised by its function to serve as a ‘connector’ between people in different circled based on common interest. Therefore, it is clear that the digital dimension has become an essential platform for the promotion of films and TV shows, which offers them the opportunity to become powerful intangible brands that can reach diverse publics on a global scale, concept that connects to the idea of the increasing globalising entertainment media phenomenon (Mirrlees, 2013). Among the main digital tools that marketers employ to engage users, the author identified; digital advertising, social media and gamification.

 Digital Advertising – it’s all about storytelling

According to Elliott & Simmons (2011) advertising has always been the engine for film and TV shows promotion as advertising expenditure can be considered itself as signal of film quality, for example through theatrical material e.g. movie posters and teasers on TV. When the digital revolution started offering new opportunities to media corporations to promote their content, entertainment agencies appreciated the potential of storytelling to drive powerful and entertaining online campaigns. Among the most common digital storytelling strategies used to promote films and TV shows it is possible identifying the use of movie trailers and teasers; these can both be published on the official production company account or as pre-roll advertising – generally on YouTube. The lack of previous research on the specific topic around movie trailers leaves room for further research in terms of their promotional effectiveness. However, based on the observable views and shares on the Internet it is possible arguing that storytelling is highly effective when it comes to short videos about an upcoming film or show releases.  Conversely, Rothman (2014) argues that movie trailers will never take a further step into the essential interactive framework e.g. through QR codes, but that they will simply remain short videos. Such view is debatable considering the highly interactive and personalised digital campaigns that included the use of interactive movie trailers such as The Social Network’s and A Dangerous Method’s: here the users become an active part of the storytelling process given that each user’s experience is personalised based on each individual’s choices based on what they click on during the trailer. In the same way, certain movie trailers even give the opportunity to the audience to choose alternative endings through clicking on ‘what to do next’, leading to powerful viral outcomes which can contribute to incentivising word of mouth (Mohr, 2007). In addition to movie trailers that go beyond the traditional storytelling format, banners and other forms of digital advertising on websites are turning into brief pieces of storytelling material. A good example can be found on Think Jam’s website, a digital entertainment agency, in relation to the release of Happy Feet 2: YouTube homepage’s top banner became a brief trailer ad, which catches the users’ attention and, therefore, a potential click.

Social Media – it’s all about interactivity

It is challenging exploring the storytelling dimension of film and TV shows promotion in a digital context without correlating it to the concept of interactivity - particularly when social media is involved (Singh & Sonnenburg, 2012). According to Akar & Topcu (2013) “social media users do not consider activities with marketing purposes in social media applications as positive”, meaning that marketers had to come up with alternative forms of communication that went beyond the traditional one-way communication in order to communicate effectively with the desired target group. In fact, social media and Web 2.0 are all about interactivity and two-way communication. If a promotional message is turned into an interactive experience, the same message can come across as a fun experience rather than a rather annoying one. Additionally, by engaging online audiences with interactive campaigns marketers also work towards building a loyal community, which can potentially lead to free publicity and buzz around the release of a new show or film e.g. through social media posts, sharings, user-generated content and vlogs e.g. fans’ forecasts on YouTube. Online interaction (conversations), communities (groups) and the sharing ability of users are all part of the Honeycomb model of social media used by Kietzmann (2011). Fig. 1 shows how such model incorporates the functionalities of social media, as well as their implications. Based on it, it is possible to identify the reasons behind the success of social media in relation to interactivity and, therefore, its appropriateness when it comes to promoting shows and film due to their storytelling nature. This is because online storytelling through social media is not as intrusive as other forms of traditional advertising e.g. TV and radio commercials, given that users most of the times have the power to skip the content they are not interested in. Furthermore, users are encouraged to interact with their community members as well as with the TV show or film brand itself, which creates a sense of community that can lead to free online buzz around the release time.

    Figure       SEQ Figure \* ARABIC    1    . The honeycomb of social media. Source: Kietzmann (2011) 


Figure 1. The honeycomb of social media. Source: Kietzmann (2011) 

According to a research conducted by Nielsen in 2013, digital channels have become important for viewers who want to share ideas about specific programming (Emarketer, 2013), which supports the idea of the importance of interactivity when it comes to promoting films and shows online. Some good examples of TV shows that managed to develop ridiculously loyal fans that spontaneously became advocates of the shows are both Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. Obviously, TV shows and films are not going to be successful without a solid and catchy plot; however, social media apps like Facebook’s Dead Yourself and Breaking Bad Name Lab incentivised the development of conversations and word of mouth among online and offline communities given that “TV watchers […] showed a predilection for talking about shows – either in person, online or over the phone […]” (Emarketer, 2013). Finally, when users enjoy the kind of interactivity offered by such online campaigns they are more likely to share them with their circle of friends, which is a way for the shows to get free publicity and exposure, as well as a way for media corporations to save valuable advertising capital. However, storytelling is to interactivity as interactivity is to gaming, which leads to the next important point in relation to film and TV shows promotion in a digital environment: gamification. 

The second part of this blog post and the bibliography will be published on 26th of May.