The Little Studio Campaign That Could: How Lionsgate Hunger Games Campaign KO’ed the Best

Posted: November 27, 2014 in Movies

A Lionsgate photo shoot- Gregory Zabilski NY Times

The Lionsgate marketing department only has 27 staffers. Tiny in comparison to other studios who usually devote about the same number to one big franchise film. Still with 1/3rd the resources of its Goliath counterparts it is able to out market its biggest rivals.

The secret: the Lionsgate marketeers are a scrappy, thrifty group devoted to doing everything in house. They don’t spend their money on big TV ads and campaigns, instead preferring to keep it intimate and cheap through the use of social media branding. They create content for YouTube, launch their own appropriate “fake” movie related websites and spread the word through related Facebook pages.

Also, the Lionsgate marketeers are very focus group and market research adverse. Decisions are made by funneling the most common sense ideas and just going with whatever their fine tuned movies instincts tell them is the best way.

The result is that The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, the third movie in the series grossed over $123 million during its opening weekend on an advertising budget of about $50 million. The big tent pole features for other studios usually spend twice that amount.

“It’s very easy to follow convention, and what Lionsgate has done with ‘The Hunger Games’ is an interesting case study about breaking convention,” said Ben Malbon, Google’s director of creative partnerships, in an interview with the New York Times.

Jon Feltheimer, chief executive of Lionsgate’s corporate parent, Lions Gate Entertainment, has long empowered Tim Palen, chief marketing officer, to make instinctive snap decisions. A New Yorker article called him “The Cobra”.

Palen is also a very good self-taught commercial photographer and often does the studios photo shoots and poster covers. His District Heroes posters are eloquent and beautiful and can be found here.

A Tim Palen District Heroes poster.

“Typically at a studio, you sit in marketing meetings and there are 17 proposed versions of a poster and sheets of data about how various proposed materials have tested,” said Francis Lawrence, who directed “Mockingjay” in a NY Times interview. “Decisions are data-driven and made by committee.”
He added, “You just don’t get that at Lionsgate.”

Palen’s Capitol Couture ads that pitched fake Capitol approved beauty products and fashions appeared on billboards and bus shelter through out Los Angeles and New York City earlier this year generating lots of cheap publicity for Mockingjay.

A Palen Capitol Couture ad

Lionsgate is also refreshingly free of legal advisers.

“At another studio, legal or standards or both would have stopped us 10 steps before we got any of those ideas,” Mr. Palen noted to the New York Times.

“We may be outlaws, but Jon Feltheimer is still the sheriff,” he said, referring to the chief executive of the studio. “He’s the reason I get to make moonshine.”

Another Palen Capitol Couture ad

On the social media side Palen partenered with Google to create a mock Hunger Games television network called Capitol TV, a fictional news source representing the government side of events. The series of fake Capitol documentaries called Capitol TV: District Voices were created by YouTube rising stars stars Justine Ezarik of iJustine, and Rob Czar and Corinne Leigh, of the do-it-yourself fashion channel ThreadBanger as well as Veritasium, Feast of Fiction, and fighTIPS.

The Lionsgate marketeers went full force with the documentaries, trying to blur in the viewer’s mind the line between reality and fiction in an attempt to implant a strong Mockingjay memory by using actual Mockingjay actors, sets and props.

“Lionsgate wanted to do something aggressive and pioneering, and it turned out that they actually were serious, which is not always the case,”noted Ben Malbon Google’s director of creative partnerships, in a New York Time interview.

The Hunger Games Movie Mockingjay Prop Rep Pin

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