Marketing your blockbuster product or service

(This article originally appeared on the Creatonomy Blog.)

The Hollywood studios have become masters of successful marketing. Even in a bad economic environment, they create extensive campaigns that reach prospective customers in almost every facet of their lives. (And most importantly, they get those people into the theater.) By looking at what those studios do that works, you can find marketing lessons to apply when you want to turn your product or service into a blockbuster.

One great current example is the marketing campaign for the new film Star Trek.1 Producer J.J. Abrams2 and the Paramount marketing team have put together an extensive, integrated campaign which is already generating awareness of — and excitement about — the upcoming film.

Components of the marketing campaign include:

Star Trek 2009 Movie PosterTheater Advertising — The campaign kicked off in January 2008 (17 months before the première) with the first Star Trek movie trailer shown in theaters (and then during the 2008 Super Bowl). The second theatrical trailer (November 2008) ran before the Bond film Quantum of Solace. Daniel Craig’s second Bond film was highly anticipated and thus almost guaranteed a blockbuster opening weekend, so Paramount’s choice to attach a Star Trek trailer before that film was a great way to get it in front of a large audience and start building awareness.

Publicity Tour / Interviews (PR) — After the first theatrical trailer, the actors, producers and writers from Star Trek traveled the interview circuit. Initially interviews were given to very targeted publications and websites, so the messages could be tailored for specific audiences. For example, when talking to magazines and websites targeted at Trekkies, the message focused on how the film “respected” the 40 years of Trek that had come before.3

Television Advertising — Paramount followed up with a Super Bowl ad in February 2009. This particular ad played up the action aspects of the movie, clearly targeting the Super Bowl audience and avoiding the techno/nerd factor normally associated with Star Trek.

Online Content — Paramount rolled out several new websites4 to promote the film and has been posting new content on a regular basis. In addition, webmasters of Star Trek fan sites and science fiction websites were solicited early on to become part of the web campaign. Paramount provides those webmasters with exclusive photos, videos and other content connected to the film in exchange for repeated coverage on those websites.

Social Media —Almost as soon as production began on the film, Paramount set up official Facebook and MySpace pages for Star Trek, and using those social networking sites to provide special items (i.e., computer screen savers and wallpaper) to individuals who sign up as friends.

Special Events and Word‐of‐Mouth —One of the most effective marketing moves thus far was a surprise showing of the film to an audience of unsuspecting Trekkies on April 6 in Austin, TX.5 This event accomplished two things for Paramount. It generated publicity simply for successfully pulling off such a stunt. But more imporantly, those hundreds of rabid Trek fans6 who saw the surprise sneak preview have been blogging and instant messaging and phoning and Tweeting and just generally telling everyone about their experience and how great the film was.

Alternate Reality Game (ARG) — Perhaps the most unique marketing initiative for Star Trek has been the Alternate Reality Game, or ARG. The ARG (which continues to unfold) has players around the world hunting down clues to solve a complex puzzle created by the filmmakers. Clues can be found buried within static on secret websites, in graffiti seen at international Star Trek parties, and even embedded in a piece of futuristic technology dropped on a Paris street corner.

Nontraditional Media — Tired of people making fun of your Trek obsession? Download the iPhone Phaser App and stun them, complete with authentic Star Trek sound effects and movie trailers for your iPhone. Well, you get the idea …

So what does this tell you about your marketing efforts?

  • Plan ahead: Make sure you’re working on marketing well before your product or service is released. Star Trek doesn’t even première until May 8, but the marketing plan has been in place since almost before the movie began production.
  • Use all of the channels at your disposal: If your customers are on Facebook, then you should be on Facebook. If your customers are attending Bluegrass‐Palooza, then you need to be there too.
  • Have all your marketing activities across all channels work together: Advertising, online, word‐of‐mouth — they should all compliment and build on each other. You no longer can afford to think separately about each channel.
  • Do something different that will grab people’s attention and be remembered: What is your “surprise première” for your most dedicated customers?

Full Disclosure: Kevin recently won tickets to the May 6 Milwaukee première of Star Trek. And he’s also seen Wrath of Khan a couple dozen times. But he’s not a Trekkie.7

  1. Yes, there is another Star Trek film coming out. This one, however, is considered something of a “reboot” with the roles having been recast with younger actors and the overall look updated for today’s audiences. []
  2. Abrams is also behind the TV hits Lost and Alias, as well as such recent films as TransformersCloverfield and Mission Impossible III. []
  3. For example, one common theme in these interviews was how  Zachary Quinto, the actor playing Spock in the new film, sought out guidance from Leonard Nimoy, the actor who originated the role. []
  4. startrekmovie.com, ncc1701shipyard.com []
  5. The audience had thought they were going to see Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. A few moments into the title sequence, the film appeared to overheat and burn through, at which point Leonard Nimoy came onstage with a film canister and informed the audience that they instead would see the new Star Trek. []
  6. Trust me. Anyone who goes to see Wrath of Khan in the theater 27 years after its release is either a rabid Star Trek fan, or being dragged on a date by a rabid Star Trek fan. []
  7. Priya has a slightly different opinion about that. []

About the author

I am a writer, marketing practitioner and astronomer-in-training. My interests include science, technology and the future of just about everything. You can learn more from my Bio page.