Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Looking for a good movie this weekend?

It's getting to be that time of year again in Ottawa. Cold November rain creeps over the nation's capital mixed with wet snow. A bleak month before the Yuletide feeling begins to swell.

Nevertheless, it is an optimistic time for any film buff. Hollywood is eager to get its best material in the minds of Oscar judges and some quality flicks will soon hit theatres. What better excuse to get out of the Ottawa rain?

Ottawa certainly has a dearth of options for the moviegoer. There's the big name chains across the city for the latest blockbusters or specialty theatres such as the Mayfair and Bytowne for more artsy fare. But how do you decide what film to see?

Such a simple question keeps Hollywood producers up at night. That's why before a movie is released, we are bombarded with movie previews, stars chatting with our favourite late-night hosts, and various profiles of actors/actresses/directors. All of this is intended to create a "buzz" to get us excited about the "Upcoming Movie Event of the Decade!"

However, according to author Jonah Lehrer in an article in the Wall Stree Journal, it is difficult to gage how effective all of this supposed "pre-release buzz" actually is. He cites work by Brian Uzzi, a sociologist from Northwestern University, who specializes in buzz:

The question, of course, is what generates buzz in the first place. Mr. Uzzi's answer should strike fear into studio executives' hearts: He found virtually no relationship between levels of pre-release buzz and the ad budget of the movie or the presence of highly paid actors, even if millions of dollars were spent. The data suggest that pre-release buzz is mostly unpredictable, driven by intangible factors like the originality of the premise, the title of the film, or even a throwaway line in the trailer.

In other words, effective movie marketing - like other marketing - requires getting people talking. Our movie decisions are based on word of mouth and we trust the advice of our friend's judgement over what makes a good movie. Social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook expand this discussion to a larger audience in real-time and we learn quickly what could be a good movie versus what is a very, very bad movie.

Like any other product, finding out how to start a positive conversation about a movie is key to effective marketing. Get enough people talking and you surpass the tipping point, making a good movie a box-office smash hit.


Jonah Lehrer spoke with Terry O'Reilly from CBC Radio's advertising/marketing program The Age of Persuasion who was sitting in as guest host on Q with Jian Ghomeshi. To find the interview, click here and scroll down to the episode on October 26, 2010.