Does digital data offer indicators that can be used to monitor marketing effectiveness and predict box office success even before awareness turns into intent? We analyzed this weekend's new movies across Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Google (the methodology behind the numbers is below) over the seven days leading up to their release, when marketing campaigns should be at their peak.
While you could point to Summit and Lionsgate's success with "Twilight" and "The Hunger Games" as the proof that adapting a young adult book series is a guarantee of a big return, the box office gauntlet lays strewn with the corpses of those pretenders to the crown of the next big thing. Those two cultural phenomena are however absolute exceptions to the norm, which come along once in a blue moon, setting the bar incredibly high. In the last year at least half a dozen attempts have been made to replicate the "Hunger Games" model without success; but socially, "Divergent" is faring better than all of them.
"Divergent" has been bullish with its investment in a strong Facebook presence: "Divergent" was one of the first test partners for Facebook's new premium video ads, where a short video begins to play automatically and will play with sound if the user taps on it -- perfect for movie marketing. The strength of the series' fan base is also shown by the high fan count for a movie without a predecessor and strong PTAT -- last year only "Catching Fire" debuted with over 1 million fans thanks to the fan base established by the original "Hunger Games" and all the first installment of other YA releases coming in well below that mark.
The popularity of the title among young females is demonstrated by the 179,000 Twitter followers in addition to the 156,000 on Instagram, a platform most popular among women and younger users. According to Summit, "Divergent" has gathered the largest ever pre-release Instagram following for a movie. "Divergent" also lead a takeover of the Yahoo! Movies Instagram for an entire week (Miss Piggy is currently in charge of this account for the weekend's other big release, Disney's "Muppets Most Wanted"). In order to appeal to this audience "Divergent" also has a large Tumblr presence with the official site being hosted on the network, which is primarily used by young females.
The passion of "Divergent" fans is demonstrated by them making #cookiecake trend for leading man Ansel Elgort's birthday, but at 207,000 they aren't generating significantly more tweets than other YA franchises: both "Percy Jackson Sea of Monsters" and "Mortal Instruments" managed 160,000.
However "Divergent's" 34 million video views (including trailers, cast interviews, teasers and featurettes) with a very strong 0.57% Buzz are well ahead of other YA offerings which all failed to break 20 million. Summit's last YA title, "Ender's Game," had 19 million. While "Catching Fire" had the best buzz at a very strong 0.60%, other YA franchises have also hit home with their trailers: "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters" had 0.59% Buzz, followed by "Mortal Instruments" (0.54%) and "Vampire Academy" (0.52%). The total however does not include the views from the Facebook ads or clips shared on MTV.com, or coming from the exclusive trailer drop made on Buzzfeed, which was viewed almost 400,000 times. This was particularly interesting as Buzzfeed has greater resonance with "Divergent's'" core younger demographic than the more traditional platforms such as iTunes trailers or Yahoo! Movies, which appeal to a broader and older audience.
"Divergent's'" strong engagement across platforms shows that it has a large and engaged core audience. It's search volume of 167,000 is good, but signals that it won't reach "Hunger Games" heights -- the original film had a search volume over 500,000. This volume is more on a par with the 155,000 achieved by "The Vow," which targeted a similar young female audience, and opened to $40 million in 2012, suggesting "Divergent" will be looking at a higher first weekend total.
While younger women will certainly turn out in force, the question for "Divergent" will be whether it has generated enough interest outside that core audience. Looking at the volume of activity generated on YouTube, Twitter and search suggests that while "Divergent" is a much stronger contender than previous YA adaptations, it hasn't managed to break out broadly and create the universal appeal of "Hunger Games," so Tris won't be replacing Katniss in our hearts just yet.
Final Expectations: Social stats have "Divergent" winning the weekend, but don't suggest there is wide enough appeal to shoot it into "The Hunger Games" stratosphere.
"Muppets Most Wanted"
The Muppets' return to the big screen after a three-year break since the well-received "The Muppets" movie are expected to be welcomed by moviegoers. Their enduring popularity is demonstrated by a Facebook presence of 6.5 million strong and 197,000 Twitter followers, but the real beauty of the campaign has been in viral marketing.
Through Disney, the Muppets have released several TV spots that riff on current affairs, pop culture and online trends such as fans' often nonsensical and misspelled tweets and the increasing tendency of marketers to leverage positive Twitter reactions, which has become a ubiquitous part of movie marketing (CBS ran a full page ad in the New York Times featuring nothing but a critic's shortened-Tweet). These videos not only went out as TV spots, but generated millions of views on YouTube, uniting the digital and offline strategies. The inclusion of tweets in TV ads shows how digital has now firmly entered the mainstream, but is also indicative of the shifting balance between old and new media, as more of people's time and attention -- and therefore advertising dollars -- are spent online.
The Muppets went to town on awards season, with Miss Piggy live tweeting the Oscars and feuding with Joan Rivers, and Disney running ads criticizing the movie not being nominated for hundreds of awards (despite not being eligible), as well as rubbing salt into John Travolta's wounds after his Oscar blunder, attributing quotes to fictional/mis-pronounced movie critic Adele Dazeem. The Muppets appeared on several popular YouTube channels, such as AwesomenessTV which has over 1 million subscribers, and were featured in a Super Bowl commercial for Toyota, which has 9 million YouTube views, but aren't included here as the movie wasn't explicitly promoted during the spot.
The 35,000 strong Instagram account has also jumped on the recent obsession with selfies, with Miss Piggy and friends posting photos of themselves, as well as taking over the Yahoo! movies account.
The concern for the Muppets is that search and tweet volume isn't as huge as it could be for a title with an established fan base, and while the video campaign has been clever and in the Muppets' spirit, YouTube numbers have been solid but haven't gone through the roof. However, the Muppets are a household name who don't necessarily need lots of searches as proof of awareness. Their wide, cross-demographic appeal and "Peabody" heading into its third week of release should mean "Muppets Most Wanted" will attract the families and older audience not interested in "Divergent."
Final Expectations: Social performance suggests the Muppets' clever and amusing marketing campaign has hit the right note among fans.
Tobias Bauckhage (@tbauckhage) is co-founder and CEO of http://www.moviepilot.com, a social-media-driven movie community reaching over 15 million Facebook fans and 7 million monthly unique users. Based on community data, Moviepilot helps studios to optimize their social media campaigns, identifying, analyzing and activating the right audiences. The company works with studios like Sony, Twentieth Century Fox and FilmDistrict.
While individually these metrics may not mean a lot, compared to one another and in context of competition and genre benchmarks, they give a good impression of the performance of a movie's marketing campaign and the audience's appetite for the movie. Needless to say, there are limitations to these data points and the causalities they explain, but as Hollywood just enters the era of Big Data, the potential insight offered by these numbers cannot be ignored.
Facebook fan (or like) numbers are a good indicator for fan awareness for a movie, even months before the release. For mainstream movies with younger target audiences, fan counts are particularly important. However, big fan numbers can be bought and movies with older target audiences typically have lower fan counts. Fan engagement measured by PTAT (People Talking About This) is a more precise but also a fickle indicator, heavily driven by content strategy and media spending. Both numbers are global and public facing numbers from the official Facebook fanpage.
YouTube trailer counts are important for measuring early awareness about a movie. We track all English language original video content about the movie on YouTube, down to videos with 100 views, whether they are officially published by a studio or published unofficially by fans. The Buzz ratio looks at the percentage of unique viewers on YouTube that have "liked" a video and given it a "thumbs up". Movies with over 40 million views are usually mainstream and set to dominate the box office, while titles drawing 10 million to 20 million views indicate a more specific audience. If a movie does not have a solid number of trailer views on YouTube four weeks before its release, it is not promising news. But again, it is important to understand whether trailer views have been bought or grew organically. These numbers are global and public facing.
Twitter is a good real-time indicator of excitement and word of mouth, coming closer to release or following bigger PR stunts. Mainstream, comedy and horror titles all perform particularly strongly on Twitter around release. We count all tweets over the period of the last seven days before release (Friday through Thursday), that include the movie's title plus a number of search words, e.g. "movie" OR a list of movie-specific hashtags. Some titles with common words or phrases like "HER" or "LABOR DAY" are very hard to track in a meaningful way on Twitter. The numbers are global, conducted using a Twitter API partner service.
Search is a solid indicator for intent moving towards release as people actively seek out titles that they are aware of and are thinking about seeing. Search is particularly significant for fan-driven franchises and family titles as parents look for information about films they may take their children to see. We look at the last seven days (Friday through Thursday) of global Wikipedia traffic as a conclusive proxy for Google Search volume. We have to consider that big simultaneous global releases tend to have higher search results compared to domestic releases.
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