Does Social Engagement Equal Box Office Success?

This summer is sure to be one of the most profitable in Hollywood’s history. Kicked off by the Avengers, which had the highest-grossing weekend of all time and currently tracking to shatter numerous other box office records, this summer still promises a handful tent-poles that aim to challenge these numbers.

From Ridley Scott’s long overdue return to science fiction with “Prometheus,” Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” finale, or our friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man’s return to the big screen, all three have the potential to surpass the “Avengers”. The anticipation amongst fans for these films is at a boiling point, thanks in part to the tremendous use of social media by the studios’ marketing teams.

Perfected back in 2008 by Warner Brothers’ “The Dark Knight,” viral marketing has been a guilty pleasure for movie geeks (myself included). Using a handful of fictional websites, Warner Brothers’ took advantage of their enthusiastic fans in a unique way. By engaging their fans via scavenger hunts, hidden messages, and original content independent of the film, the studio rewarded them with exclusive first looks at photos and trailers. Fast forward to 2012, the sequel to “The Dark Knight” has picked up where the other left off, except this time around Twitter has become a major force is social, and Hollywood has noticed.

“The Dark Knight Rises” has used Twitter as the primary platform for its viral marketing. Utilizing a handful of hashtags, fans have collaborated to reveal the film’s first official image, contributed their own voices to the film’s soundtrack, and unlocked all three trailers. It is truly an example of how powerful social media is in this day and age.

Most recently, via fictional arrest warrants leaked from the Gotham Police Department, fans broke out their smartphones and scoured the globe searching for the Batman. Hundreds of locations where graffiti supporting the Batman existed were disclosed. The task? Get photographic evidence and tweet it with the hashtag #tdkr07202012. As it turns out, each new photo revealed a frame of the new trailer, and in a matter of hours (not days) the new trailer was released.

Now lets do some math here. The trailer was 2 minutes and 20 seconds long. Let’s say it was shot at 24 frames per second (though it’s probably higher). That is over 3,300 stills! Now before you say that’s not a huge number, consider that these people needed to actually get up off their chairs and search for a special marking in a generic location (not the easiest thing to do).  Also, while only 3,000 people actually got credit for their photos, I think it is safe to assume the number of participants is much, much higher.

The “Dark Knight” films are clearly the thought-leaders in this style of promotion, and, given their success, it makes sense that other highly anticipated features are following in their steps. “The Amazing Spider-Man” has utilized similar twitter-based scavenger hunts in their promotion, while “Prometheus,” a film set only a few decades in the future, takes advantage of YouTube’s popularity by posting fictional TED talks and documentary style shorts. One thing these films do very well is creating engaging and original content, independent from the film, and use it to draw in an audience thanks to word-of-mouth from their diehard fans.

As we saw at this year’s Super Bowl, 2012 is the year of the hashtag. This trend not only continues into the summer blockbuster season, but it takes it a step further. While “The Avengers” continues to clean up at the box office, I expect one, if not all of these films, to come charging of the gate to challenge it, thanks in part to their innovative social strategies.

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