How has digitalisation changed the way films and TV shows are promoted? Part 2

26th May




Written by Carlotta Zorzi

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

Continuation of blog post part 1 published on 22th of May.

Gamification – it’s all about engagement

Engagement is one of the most important parts of the marketing process in order to build a supportive and loyal online community, but it is also a very challenging step to achieve. However, given the storytelling nature of film and TV shows promotion, it can be argued that the recent phenomenon of gamification can be particularly appropriate for the promotion of media content. As claimed by Hsu, Chang & Lee (2013:428), “gamification essentially functions as entertainment, which makes collaborative storytelling websites users enjoy actively participating and engaging with others [and with] the product or service [to] facilitate certain behaviours”, which highlights the engaging features offered by gamification strategies on a digital context. There can be many sociological and psychological reasons to explain the success behind gamification, but according to Hsu, Chang and Lee (2013) some of the main reasons lie in the stimulus in users of; achievement, interpersonal relationship and role playing (Fig. 2). 

    Figure 2. Designing Attractive Gamification Features for Collaborative Storytelling Websites' (Hsu, Chang & Lee, 2013)


Figure 2. Designing Attractive Gamification Features for Collaborative Storytelling Websites' (Hsu, Chang & Lee, 2013)

Despite their model refers to websites specifically, it is possible applying the same principles to the digital gamification process in particularly in relation to the promotion of films and series digitally.

Therefore, by engaging the audience through features like; rewards, reputation, competition, group-identification and self-expression, the storytelling nature of film and TV shows promotion find an ideal ground in gamification strategies when it comes to digital promotion. Not only the users are incentivised by potential rewards and ranking/badging systems, but they also become automatically part of a potentially worldwide community that share the same passion for the same show or film. Additionally, given the high interactivity that the introduction of social media brought, it may sound obvious stating how such gaming platform perfectly lends itself to the launch of new film and shows campaigns when used in a social networking environment (Moise, 2013). Some very good examples of successful film and shows-related gamification campaigns can be found in the Walking Dead Survival Test and the Hunger Games Explorer (Fig. 3). Both examples trigger the users’ adrenaline through the use of quizzes by instigating their intuition and knowledge about the show or film. This leads users to the identification of themselves with the film or show’s characters creating a sense of belonging, in addition to touching each of the three design components described by Hsu, Chang & Lee in their gamification model (2013). 

    Figure 3. The Hunger Games Explorer Visual 


Figure 3. The Hunger Games Explorer Visual 

Additionally, when film or TV shows brands grow loyal communities beneath them, it would not be uncommon to see a spontaneous development of autonomous challenges that are user-generated. For instance, when the time came for the last episode of Breaking Bad many communities around the world started challenging each other on the finale with the help of a user-generated quiz (Fig.4) to forecast all possible endings (and obviously all the potential killings and survivals). Clearly, that was only one of the reasons why 10.3 million people got stuck in front of the TV that night (Kissell, 2013). Finally, the fact that more and more TV shows and movies are becoming accustomed to having their own mobile apps aimed at either entertaining, informing or interacting with the users shows how the development of digital mobile devices has further impacted on the level of interactivity and engagement that media corporations can achieve while promoting new releases, fact that offers another point of research in terms of how digital media has changed the way films and series are promoted.

    Figure 4. Breaking Bad Pick Em Quiz. Source:


Figure 4. Breaking Bad Pick Em Quiz. Source:


While researching the topic concerning the impact that digitalisation has had on the way films and TV shows are promoted it became clear that the main aspects that changed compared to the pre-digitalisation era are the ability to interact and engage audiences in less intrusive and more affordable way. Despite many interactive and gamification campaigns are still the results of astute marketing strategies, users are now much more aware and empowered thanks to the two-way communication that is enabled, for example, by social media: once messages were simply sent out, now consumers are active contributors of content and are not afraid of giving feedback (Wind, 2008). Therefore, it is important for marketers to consider this new approach to communication when it comes to launching new productions online. This is because this kind of engagement creates a fast–moving communication environment full of threats such as the lack of control over users’ comments and behaviour, as well as opportunities such as the chance of going globally viral within a few hours. Specifically in terms of film and shows, Armelini & VillanuevA (2011) confirmed that by engaging users on social media, sales are positively affected. However, the focus on digital media for film and TV series promotion should not exclude completely the use of traditional advertising as digital media act as amplifiers of traditional advertising e.g. posters and TV commercials, which remains important in order to reach the point of sale (Armelini & VillanuevA, 2011). Despite the importance of traditional advertising, it is arguable stating that film and TV shows would reach the same level of community engagement without playing in the digital landscape. For example, the lack of interaction would impact negatively on the level of engagement. By lacking in engagement, media corporations would be likely to miss out on the opportunity to develop “brand tribes”, which are defined by Cova & Pace (2006) as “any group of people who possess a common interest in a specific brand and create a parallel social universe (subculture) rife with its own myths, values, rituals, vocabulary and hierarchy”, which was instead successfully achieved by The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad and The Hunger Games, for example. Therefore, it is possible stating that the shift towards digital platforms in terms of film and TV shows promotion has brought new opportunities for marketers and advertisers based on interaction and engagement with their audiences in a more fun and less ‘promotionally-obvious’ way, which finally creates a more reliable and enjoyable experience for the users through buzz marketing (Mohr, 2007; Varadarajan & Yadav, 2009; Armelini & VillanuevA, 2011). This can be proven by the spontaneous engagement of users with the campaigns launched for the release of specific films or shows.


The research question around the topic of how digitalisation has changed the way films and TV shows are promoted led to interesting conclusions. The discussion of the data gathered from both previous literature and observable empirical facts led to the identification of three main ways digitalisation of media changed the way films and TV shows are promoted, namely; digital advertising with its storytelling attributes, social media with its interactive attributes and gamification with its power of engagement. All these elements can be referred to as buzz marketing given that Mohr (2007:396, 398) refers to it as “the phenomenon of word of mouth” which “captures the attention of consumers and media to the point that people talk about the brand, because the message is perceived as entertaining, fascinating and/or newsworthy”. This major change from one-way to two-way communication has enabled media corporations to develop interactive and engaging plans aimed at community building, which often lead to increased global brand awareness, user engagement and, ultimately, sales – without the need to plan for expensive advertising plans with traditional media (Mohr, 2007). By engaging in different forms of digital promotion, films and TV shows have bigger chances to grow a loyal community both online and offline thanks to the power of digitalisation (Wellman, Haase, Witte & Hampton, 2001) brought by practices such as interactive storytelling and engaging gamification strategies. In particular, the theoretical framework offered by The Honeycomb of Social Media (Kietzmann, 2011) and the Gamification Design of Collaborative Storytelling Websites (Hsu, Chung & Lee, 2013) allowed to apply a theoretical perspective to a rather practical topic, which helped supporting the main reasons behind the success of TV shows and films that manage to grow loyal online communities on digital media through buzz marketing. Finally, the paper specifically focused on how the digitalisation of media has changed the way promotion of film and TV shows is done, which leaves room for further research in other areas of the entertainment industry.



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