Movie Marketing Strategies Are “Fifty Shades of Social”

The arrival of the Focus Features and Universal Pictures movie Fifty Shades of Grey this past Valentine’s Day weekend produced record-breaking box office sales. You don’t need to have seen it to know the content isn’t timid, and the same can be said of the promotion surrounding it. For weeks the Internet has been overrun with suggestive banners as the film’s marketers prime audiences for a ticket purchase. In addition to the standard fare, Universal Pictures partnered with video platform AdGreetz to deliver personalized videos to potential moviegoers, inviting them to buy their tickets online (“Jenny, Mr. Grey will see you now.”).


Not all ads came courtesy of the Fifty Shades marketing team. Among the brands that attempted to capitalize on the movie’s buzz were Audi, with a funny YouTube video; Adagio Teas, with Fifty Shades of Earl Grey (“just the thing to curl up with along with a good book. Or, you know, a not so good book”); and The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water.

Publicizing a film with a parody of another popular movie is just one of the tactics entertainment companies use to engage potential fans. We can count on them to be creative; 15 years after its release, the digital marketing campaign for The Blair Witch Project remains one of the most brilliant and renowned to date. But a newfound dependence on social media is making movie campaigns more sophisticated still, and we’re seeing some social marketing best practices emerge in the process.

Play Platforms to Their Strengths

To get people talking about Jurassic World, scheduled to release in June, marketers are blurring fact and fiction with a promotional site for the Jurassic World theme park and resort. Consumers are treated to an immersive and engaging experience that includes information about accommodations, on-site restaurants, a park cam that offers “live” footage of the vacation destination, and an online store where they can actually order Jurassic World merchandise. An accompanying Facebook page shares quotes that embody fictional Jurassic Park founder John Hammond’s vision, provides park safety tips, and offers information about its dinosaurs. The page is categorized as Travel/Leisure to keep up the façade.


Universal Pictures uses Instagram to distribute snackable content like image-based character quotes and trailer clips that drive viewers to the full-length version. It does the same with Twitter, posting images that are easy to share and that always include the #jurassicworld hashtag. Universal also leveraged the franchise’s existing following by appropriating the Jurassic Park Twitter handle for this the fourth film in the series.

In other words, Universal plays to each social media site’s strengths, delivering exactly what its users have historically shown the most interest in. Just as Facebook has become a go-to property for character marketing and the ideal place to build a real community around a fictional one, Instagram and Twitter are well suited to visual marketing efforts.

Tumblr Is the New Website

Another trend worth noting is that Tumblr is fast replacing standard movie sites. In October, Lionsgate horror feature Exists got an interactive Tumblr with a “Choose Your Own Adventure” theme. It’s far from alone. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (, Pompeii, The Maze Runner, Divergent, Boyhood, The Fault in Our Stars, Fury, and countless other films were promoted using Tumblr, many of them at the expense of a stand-alone official movie site. Why? As part of a network that attracts content-hungry consumers and video-loving Millennials, a Tumblr page is perfectly positioned to spawn near-instant interest. Not only can Tumblr rack up active followers, but it encourages content shares and a positive perception of a promotion (according to Adobe research Tumblr ranks “number one in social sentiment toward brands”).


Enhance and Repackage YouTube Videos for More Views

One of the ways that Fifty Shades of Greysold so many tickets was by captivating audiences with video content online. Instead of simply releasing a teaser and subsequent full-length trailer, though, Universal Pictures has also been offering movie highlights in the form of YouTube featurettes that couple film footage with cast and crew interviews.

Take the featurette “Ana’s Transformation.” At just more than two minutes in length, it addresses the female protagonist’s character arc, incorporating reflections from the movie’s director as well as actress Dakota Johnson. It’s a departure from the provocative trailer, focusing on the story rather than the scandalous theme, but the exclusive insight and newly available video content really draws audiences in.

There’s a lot to be learned from movie marketing in a digital world. We can always count on the entertainment industry to push the boundaries of promotion.

Related reading