Making a 'day' of movie marketing efforts

Tom Cruise in The Mummy / Universal Pictures

Most movie marketing efforts are single-mindedly focused on getting people out for opening weekend. That’s the make-or-break moment for many movies, particularly large-scale tentpole releases from major studios.

Smaller movies, assuming they’re not going straight to Netflix or other VOD platforms, may roll out slowly from a couple markets - usually LA and New York - to other cities over the course of a few months as word-of-mouth builds.

Recently, though, those studio marketing teams have focused efforts on some sort of “Day” that helps to promote the movie as well. These events usually have a few things in common: They take place in or around Los Angeles, they’re streamed live on YouTube, Facebook or both, they involve some sort of big stunt involving the cast and activities for those who are watching from elsewhere around the world.

The idea is to celebrate the property that has a movie about to hit theaters. The studios want to turn the upcoming release into something so huge it must be celebrated. By doing so they hope to create fan buzz and excitement as well as entertainment industry press coverage, all of which combines to more awareness and, hopefully, interest for the movie being promoted. These “Days” are stunts just like those pulled off by countless consumer products brands over the years when they have, to much fanfare, bought William Shatner’s kidney stone, announced Barbie had broken up with Ken and many, many more.

The latest studio to adopt this approach is Universal to promote its upcoming Tom Cruise-starring The Mummy, which makes it a good time to look at it as well as other recent full-day events that have been executed to help drive people to the theater.

The Mummy

The latest execution of this idea happened this month as Universal Pictures created a huge event in Los Angeles for “Mummy Day.” With a lot riding on this release, Universal wanted to pull out all the stops and so had Cruise work the rope line of fans seeking selfies and autographs, all with a 75-foot recreation of the sarcophagus that, in the film, houses the ancient evil that’s unleashed in the background. The early marketing has worked hard to make it clear this is just the start and that Dr. Jekyll, played by Russell Crowe, is the focal point of a bigger world that will take us deeper into the world of “gods and monsters.” That means Universal needs this to succeed so it can have the same kind of reliable stable of characters that can be rolled out year after year.

Alien Day

Last year 20th Century Fox celebrated “Alien Day” for the first time to mark the 30th anniversary of Aliens, the James Cameron-directed sequel to the original Alien. The 4/26 date was chosen as an homage to LV-426, the designation given to the moon where the action of the 1979 original takes place. There were trivia contests and other events and lots of prizes given out.

This year, Fox had an even bigger reason to mark the occasion, the release of Alien: Covenant, which continues the story begun in Prometheus that takes place before the events involving Ellen Ripley. Because it wasn’t just the franchise generally but a very specific upcoming (at the time) release, the efforts were more focused on Covenant. So, in addition to sweepstakes and online trivia quizzes, there was a live-streamed Q&A with members of the cast, the release of Alien: Covenant in Utero, an Oculus-based VR experience told from the perspective of a growing Neomorph and more.

Wonder Woman Day

For the last few years Warner Bros./DC Entertainment have marked “Man of Steel Day” in 2013 to promote Man of Steel’s release and the 75th anniversary of Superman’s debut and “Batman Day” in 2014 (and subsequent years) to celebrate the 75th year since the Dark Knight’s debut. Now with both a 75th anniversary and a new movie about to hit theaters they’ve declared June 3rd, the day after the movie’s release, to be “Wonder Woman Day.”

On that day, DC Comics will release two special edition comics featuring Wonder Woman that will be free at select comics retailers. Libraries, bookstores and other locations will have unique activities and promotions. The day will feature events and celebrations at Six Flags theme parks (which is launching a new Wonder Woman ride) and writers and artists who have worked on the comic will be doing signings and appearances around the country.

Transformers: The Last Knight

One day isn’t enough to contain Michael Bay’s big freaking robots and so last month ran “Reveal Your Shield Week” asking fans to publicly declare whether they were an Autobot or Decepticon. The campaign was timed to coincided with the release of new toys and other consumer products tied into the upcoming sequel. In that way it was similar to “Force Friday,” part of the campaign for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi that involves the midnight release of toys and other merchandise.

Do these sorts of day-long celebrations move the needle on box-office? It’s hard to tell since these are the kinds of movies that have so much built-in brand awareness to begin with and are supported with massive publicity and marketing efforts in other ways. While the actual impact on fan perception and interest may be questionable, the main goal seems to be press coverage. Media loves covering and talking about big events, from announcement through execution. So, it seems the primary purpose is to generate headlines that can be used to show the studio is doing everything it can to promote its upcoming release, leaving no tactic unused.

With big stars with egos to massage and major financial investments to justify, that justification may be enough, even if it doesn’t substantively change the level of audience awareness.

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