Box Office Boost

Conversant knows moviegoers. And they also want studios to know that they know them.

Earlier this year, Epsilon Conversant released a best practices report, “The New Era of Box Office Digital Marketing.” Such a new era has to with data, judging from the presenters of the report. Also, this new era would be applying the same data-driven marketing tech principle to an industry known historically for its big spending. To marketers in other industries, efficiency might traditionally be a higher priority. The big Hollywood release, on the other hand, is the definition of “spray and pray.” Entertainment is built on buzz, mystique, fame. For movies at theaters though, ultimately, a ticket has to be purchased to create revenue.

According to Matt Weisbecker, SVP, Sports and Entertainment Partnerships, Conversant, movie trailers, TV presence, talk show appearances and other earned media opportunities are all important ways to grow awareness through traditional media saturation. To make the most of this expensive media investment, individual ticket buyers need to be contacted through more personal digital channels in a way that is valuable and relevant to the customer. (The best practices report recommends a minimum of 3.5 contacts with the moviegoer during the buying cycle.)

Smart communications through digital channels lead movie fans to the box office, resulting in a high return on investment for marketers through less-expensive avenues, with customized content and messaging drawn from existing data. An offering like Conversant Box Office accomplishes this, according to the company, in a privacy-protected manner, without any personally-identifiable information (social security number, place of birth, or any of that kind of personal data), using assigned privacy-protected “Core ID” profiles that allow marketers to recognize an individual across devices.

This kind of personalized marketing is inexpensive and highly-targeted, allowing a studio or an exhibitor (movie theater) to reach a customer who has already bought tickets to similar movies in the past. The inventory is low cost because the TV ads and Internet video trailers have already been purchased, and the customer has seen them, at times ad nauseam, depending on the budget. But they haven’t been taken further down the sales funnel.

So much of the industry’s marketing resources and budget go into summer blockbusters, but a studio’s efforts are never one-size-fits-all. Personalized data-informed messaging fits in with movie marketing budgets of all sizes, yet this opportunity appears to be under-utilized, based on the numbers. One recent study concludes that digital represents only 14 percent of a studio’s marketing investment, but that it drives 46 percent of revenue. If only six percent of the TV spend was shifted to digital, the study suggested, the overall box office receipts could be increased by seven percent.

The specific timing and relevance of digital channel marketing to moviegoers is crucial, and much of the opportunity extends beyond the opening weekend. A great deal of attention – and rightfully so – is directed at a movie’s opening weekend.

But what if there are well-intentioned fans out there who were planning to see the movie, but who got sidetracked by another activity or a last-minute change of plans? What if it was rainy the day that people in a particular market were planning to see the movie, and instead they stayed home and watched Netflix?

“Opening weekend ticket sales have typically been critical to a film’s success or failure, so marketing campaigns tend to focus on driving movie buyers in for that 72-hour timeframe,” Matt Weisbecker said. “That stems partly from the revenue split on grosses; studios receive the highest percentage of ticket sales at the start of release and their share tends to decrease over time. Also, it still means something when a film has buzz as the ‘number 1 movie.’ Moreover, it has been difficult to know what could move the needle after the opening weekend. However, with better measurement capabilities, the real impact of additional promotion is becoming better understood.”

Weisbecker explained, “If I’m being messaged throughout the weekend, reminding me in a subtle way not to forget to buy tickets, then data is helping solve that gap and making it easier for studios to message those people [who are likely to buy tickets]. Marketers also have value in continuing to message that person after the opening weekend. They still have a desire to see the movie. There’s value in having that dialogue over time, reminding them that the movie is still playing at a nearby theater, that the theater has a discount night, or other promotion.”

Dynamic creative in different lines of a display ad use data points like location and previous purchases to help guide the movie fan to purchase. Because these personalized ads often don’t include video, they are extremely efficient and timed to extend purchases into and beyond the second week, known in the industry as “boost week.”

“Boost week allows really efficient marketing,” Weisbecker stated. “Studios can’t sustain the opening weekend spend for two weeks. The solution we’re offering is to take the guessing out of movie marketing. These people are already going to these exhibitors, and they’ve gone to movies just like the one you’re marketing. Don’t give up, keep messaging.”

He added, “When studios invest in a ‘week two’ push, they get noticeably larger overall returns. It takes only a nominal investment to extend digital marketing budgets through the week following opening weekend and keep messaging people who are likely to convert in that second-week period. And the data shows that the bigger the spend, the more people are reached, and the higher the conversion rate [is].”

Knowing the customer and continuing the conversation in this relevant, extended way through digital channels promises to have implications beyond theatrical releases, reinforcing the other ways that movie fans of all genres engage in the larger movie ecosystem.

“The home entertainment and electronic sell-through window, as well as numerous franchise and genre opportunities to cross promote, can be overlooked. Based on our data, I believe studios should shift away from marketing around the typical lifecycle of a single movie and focus instead on having an ongoing conversation with individual customers all year, providing entertainment options along the way based on the movies we know they have seen and the TV shows they watch on linear TV, and eventually, the specific content they stream.”

The movement between TV and the movies is fluid, when it comes to communicating with fans. According to Weisbecker, this year Conversant worked with ABC to drive movie-fan viewership to the network’s Oscars telecast.

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