'A picture is worth a thousand words' - Sony Entertainment’s digital marketing lead on why the studio is turning away from Twitter

Sony unveiled its campaign for Don't Breathe using Snapchat's 360-degree format / Sony

Following Sony Pictures Entertainment’s 360-degree Snapchat push for horror flick Don’t Breathe, The Drum caught up with the studio’s digital lead to find out more about its social strategy, and why there’s still a place for the classic movie trailer.

Like many brands, Sony Pictures Entertainment is turning to Snapchat. Just last week, the studio was first out of the gate with the messaging app’s shiny new 360-degree ad format – but far from being a gimmick the move should be seen as a solid indicator of the movie giant’s long-term social plan.

With over 10bn daily video views and counting, it’s little wonder that Snapchat is high on Sony’s agenda, but internationally the studio is also betting big on influencers, YouTube and Instagram according to its international digital marketing vice-president Aaron Wahle.

“We’ve had a great relationship with Snapchat since the early days,” Wahle told The Drum, adding that there was no formal deal for the Don’t Breath 360-degree campaign, but that the LA-based messaging app simply approached Sony with the new format and the movie giant “thought it would be a great way to do it.”

“Obviously Snapchat has our core audience on hand every single day,” added Wahle, “its eclipsing Twitter – which we don’t advertise on so much anymore – so it’s a really great way to get in front of the eyeballs we need to get in front of. Just right time, right place.”

A picture is worth a thousand words

It would appear that Sony Pictures isn’t the only company pulling ad spend from Twitter and investing it into newer platforms like Snapchat and Instagram.

But whileTwitter isn’t the main priority now, Wahle assured that it has long-term role to play. “When it comes to the big social networks - like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Weibo, we always have to change our tactics. "Right now, we’re noticing that our spend on Twitter isn't as high as other periods but we know that will change. We know that in order to deliver great content, we need to be firing across all platforms across the web - it's not just about delivering on one channel."

“Our approach to social content is seasonal - our focus changes, and whilst right now Twitter isn’t at the top of the list, it’s still a crucial platform for us. We’re just exploring new ways to connect with fans there.”

While Twitter’s ad revenue for the most recent quarter increased by 20 per cent, the overall figure of $602m marked its smallest quarterly surge since 2013 and the company’s growth has now been in decline for eight consecutive quarters. Instagram’s global mobile ad revenues, however, are anticipated to reach $2.81bn by 2017 according to eMarketer and Snapchat has reportedly set the ambitious target of generating $350m by the end of the year – not bad for the new kid on the block.

Wahle acknowledges that because Sony is in the movie making business most of the marketing material it produces is viewed as “entertainment rather than advertising,” but concedes that Twitter is not something the studio will be hedging its bets on.

“I just don’t think they are the kind of medium that makes sense for a lot of what we do,” he mused, “we’re in a special position and I’m not throwing shade at Twitter, but to translate all of the things that we have into language is hard to do.”

Pointing to Twitters 140-character USP, which has been criticised in the past for failing to keep up with more image-centric platforms, Wale added that it takes “a lot of time and energy” to create content for Twitter, making it at odds with Sony’s ultimate goal of being “an audio visual spectacle always."

Twitter's struggle to court new subscribers has been well documented, its average count of 313 million monthly active users (MAUs) has barely budged over the past 18 months. When it comes to daily active users (DAUs) Snapchat has already leapfrogged Twitter – with 150 million people using the service each day compared to Twitter’s 140 million.

Wahle noted that while Twitter chief Jack Dorsey has been making changes to improve Twitter, that for Sony it just doesn’t have the reach of its rivals – “it’s just evolving, it’s not moving fast enough.”

The digital lead finds Facebook and Instagram “much, much” better for Sony’s ubiquitous marketing efforts, “iiternationally there’s a lot of people out there for whom literacy is any issue,” he continued, “and everybody can understand a picture, and that old adage that 'a picture is worth a thousand words' – nothing is truer today than that."

Influencers aren't a media buy

As well harnessing the power of Snapchat for its Don’t Breathe campaign, Sony Pictures turned to another hot commodity, influencers, to promote the movie – something it has done for the past four or five titles on the international side according to Wahle.

Influencers from around the world were flown to Spain to take part in an oppressive experiential push in which they were walked through a recreation of the horror movie from the perspective of the blind protagonist using night vision and GoPro cameras.

Wahle said that teaming up with influencers is something that’s been “paying off” quite well for the studio, but warned that they shouldn’t be viewed as a media buy, but rather “a relationship.”

“Just like we have talent relationships with the actors that are in our movies or the directors that make them, we’ve got to develop relationships with influencers,” he noted.

“We don’t give influencers to money to roll out our content – we give them our opportunities to create content. Just like journalists would be flown to a junket we pay for them to get there, but yeah we don’t pay for them to roll out this media.”

This idea of creating a "personal" experience for influencers to share with their followers was designed to fit neatly with the wider Snapchat campaign.

"The personal nature of your own phone is just something that’s intimate," asserted Wahle, "it’s not the same experience as the theatre, which is a great experience too, but we reach people in their moments of decisions."

Coming to a cinema near you...

So, in a world where audiences can be immersed in the 360-degree drama of it all, buy movie tickets via Snapchat or fight ghosts via virtual reality, does Sony think there's still a place for the traditional movie trailer?

Absolutely believes Wahle: "There is always going to be a place for a trailer, that’s my favourite part of the movie going experience is to watch trailers early in the theatre, I watch them online all the time."

"I think it really comes down to how they are presented – you need a modern view of what a trailer is," he continued, "so when we cut them for Facebook we know that must people listen with the sound off so we put the words on there."

"But again that’s still a trailer it’s just a new form of a trailer. And the long form, at two-minutes and thirty seconds, I still think is a great way to get your movie across and we lean on our creative departments to make amazing trailers for us that we then run online."

"Digital augments that, and gives it a bit more depth and the two play very well together in the same box."

He also credited digital for increasing the marketing cycle of movies, but admits that it is a lot more "surgical" than broadcast which can give releases "a certain weight and gravitas too which frankly online doesn’t usually have."

So, while Sony is keen to get into audiences handsets, it doesn't look like Sony has plans to dramatically cut broadcast or cinema spend anytime soon, but when it comes to Twitter – moviegoers shouldn't hold their breath.

This article was updated on the 25.09.16 after Sony Pictures clarified earlier points around the role of Twitter in its digital marketing strategy.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.