What I have enjoyed the most so far about my MA studies in film distribution and marketing has been the nature of the assignments - real industry scenarios and reports rather than essays and academic arguments. Here is an example of an assignment from my film marketing module, which was to draft a marketing plan for the upcoming Blade Runner 2049.
Birmingham City University
Film Distribution and Marketing
Distribution and Marketing Plan
Blade Runner 2049
UK Release on 6th October 2017
This report introduces a plan for the UK release of Alcon Entertainment’s Blade Runner 2049 (from here on referred to as 2049 in this report) (Villeneuve, 2017). The sequel to the 1982 sci-fi Blade Runner, returns to the universe of its predecessor with a next generation plotline.
‘A new blade runner, LAPD Officer K (Ryan Gosling), unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. K’s discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing for 30 years' (Bladerunnermovie.com, 2016).
The following details a plan for 2049 to open in the UK on 6th October, 2017, simultaneously with the US release. The aim of the release is to reach a wide audience and to create new fans for the franchise, along with meeting the financial objectives of recouping investor money and ensuring a commercially successful release.
The marketing strategies presented in this report combine tools of inbound marketing and traditional advertising to reach out to both, existing audiences of the original film and new, younger audiences, yet to be introduced to the franchise. The later challenge will be met with an array of creative marketing tactics, exploiting present-day marketing tools such as influencer marketing and stunt advertising.
2049 has the advantage of being based on one of the most influential pop-culture creations of the modern age – Blade Runner, the 1982 cult-classic from Ridley Scott starring Harrison Ford (Dalton, 2016). Although the original film was not an immediate box office success, it has since generated a cult-like following around the world (The Numbers, 2017) (Dalton, 2016)
The existing awareness of the original title creates huge marketing potential for its successor. Box office data supports this claim; out of the 20 best performing films of all time, 17 were sequels (BFI, 2016).
Equally, 2049 has great potential to be presented as a stand-alone, quality sci-fi film. New audiences will be drawn by leading A-list actor Ryan Gosling and the acclaimed director Denise Villeneuve. The involvement of these contemporary stars will help to steer the film away from being profiled as a nostalgic tribute to the original film.
However, the reactions of the original fans can be a powerful source of word-of-mouth. The sequel minimises the risks of ‘fan disapproval’ by having the original director Ridley Scott attached as an executive producer and having Harrison Ford return to his role as Rick Deckard. 2049 will therefore be profiled simultaneously as authentic by the original film, yet current, providing the audience with contemporary resonance.
Key attributes of the original film include a visually and sonically haunting atmosphere which has been actively referenced in many later films and in music. Based on the released extracts, and the involvement of top industry cinematographer Roger Deakins, the sequel continues the legacy of the original in being highly visual and including a distinct soundtrack. The unique selling point is therefore the Blade Runner aesthetics; a cyberpunk, tech-noir take on gloomy, post-apocalyptic California.
A prestigious Sci-fi set in post-apocalyptic California highlighting the threats of future technology from acclaimed director Denise Villeneuve starring Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford.
A dark, gloomy high profile sci-fi story
Humans vs machines/futuristic
Lonely male police, dark neo-noir/nostalgic
Authentic sequel; Ridley Scott & Harrison Ford attached
Contemporary; Ryan Gosling, Jared Leto & Denise Villeneuve
T2 Trainspotting – The sequel to the 1996 cult-classic Trainspotting faces similar challenges to 2049; huge audience expectations that are hard to outperform. Unlike 2049, T2 is much more oriented towards the audiences of the previous film. Having the same cast and director T2 is more nostalgia-centric compared to 2049, which instead aims at a wider audience and thus will have better potential in the box office (Smith, 2017).
Mad Max: Fury Road – a 2015 action adventure film that rebooted the Australian 1979-1985 Mad Max franchise. Even though the original franchise was a box office success in its time, 35 years later, the franchise lacked a younger audience. However, Mad Max: Fury Road managed to attract large new audiences and performed so well in the box office that a new sequel, Mad Max: The Wasteland, is currently in the making (Mendelson, 2015).
Due to the high profile of the title and its cast, the release aims to reach a wide audience nationally. The campaign will actively pursue audiences who are new to the franchise in aim of growing the film’s audience and laying down the foundations for further sequels.
Being a science fiction title, 2049 will primarily target male audiences; research shows that sci-fi is most popular within men aged 35-44 and subsequently men 25-34 and 45-54 (Redfern, 2012). Nevertheless, female audiences, who are increasingly being considered as a target audience for sci-fi, will not be alienated (Sherman, 2014).
2049 will have a 15 certificate in the UK (Grater, 2016).
The primary audience of 2049 are male audiences aged 20-35. Within this group there are likely to be many people familiar with – but not fans of - the original film. Marketing material is therefore used to remind the viewers of the Blade Runner universe, while using the sequel’s stars and story as a selling point.
This target group consists of B, C1 and C2 audiences, middle class, higher skilled working class and lower skilled working class audiences that together form 73% of the total UK population (Ipsos MediaCT, 2017). This target group consists of fun lovers, who consume films without being film literate (Buckingham, 2010). They have previously enjoyed films like Star Wars, Mad Max – Fury Road and Ridley Scott’s film’s like Prometheus and The Martian. Also targeted are impulsive materialists, known to be affluent viewers who combine their cinema visits with dining out and rely on word-of-mouth (Buckingham, 2010).
The title’s secondary audience is an exclusive interpretation of the primary audience. For 2049 this comprises of female audiences and younger audiences, aged 15-25, who tend to visit cinema on the opening weekend (Buckingham, 2010). Also, impressionable socialites, male and female students under 25 who like blockbusters will be targeted. Both audiences are advertisement led and will be heavily targeted 2-3 weeks before the premiere and through YouTube in an early awareness campaign (Buckingham, 2010).
Tertiary audiences comprise of fans of the original film, 35-55-year-old-men within the ABC1 social class, who are interested in movies and consume media such as The Guardian and Empire (Ipsos MediaCT, 2017) (YouGov, 2017). They will be targeted mainly through traditional advertising. The tertiary audience also includes fans of Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford and Denise Villeneuve.
Distribution and Marketing Strategy
The key aim of the campaign is financial success determined by maximising revenues and recouping investor money. An additional aim is to generate a large fan base for the franchise on which sequels can be created and the Blade Runner universe can be extended for further monetisation. Financial success is nevertheless the primary aim. The objective is to benefit from a strong theatrical opening and a long theatrical run, ruling out any loss leader strategy of mainly using theatrical to create awareness for ancillary rights (Sparviero, 2013).
2049 will open theatrically, skipping a festival premiere, due to huge commercial appeal and non-film literate target audience. The release will apply traditional, yet shortened windows, to maximise monetisation while combining marketing efforts (Miller, 2015). The film will have a shortened 60-day theatrical window followed with a combined DVD and VOD release.
In the UK 2049 will open as a wide release nationally and be screened in both 2D and 3D. The opening comprises of around 400 screens with an emphasis first on centrally located mid-size cinemas and outer city multiplexes (BFI, 2016). The width of the release is backed by research that shows that 400 screen is most popular approach for all wider releases (BFI, 2016).
The marketing strategy for 2049 will begin 10-months prior to the premiere. The campaign will use a mixture of inbound marketing strategies which allow audiences to find the marketing message and decide to consume it; using blogger partnerships, online videos, forums, search engine optimisation and social networks. Also, traditional push marketing will be applied with advertising focusing on the weeks leading up to the release.
The target groups consists mainly of young-adult, male audiences, as such, the strategy is to emphasise digital media in marketing. New research backs this decision as 90% of current media consumption is screen based, increasingly so amongst younger audiences (Young, 2013). More traditional means will be used in the form of outdoor advertising and in print media to reach older affluent audiences.
The marketing will begin with a teaser and first-look campaigns to build excitement and awareness of the title and to position it in the minds of the audiences as a high profile, star led, quality sci-fi. The creative content will be designed to first reach existing audiences and encourage them to spread positive word-of-mouth. The trailers will then aim to reach new audiences by introducing the world in more detail and emphasising Ryan Gosling
Premiere Dating and Competition
2049 is scheduled to premiere on the 6th October 2017 alongside the US premiere. A simultaneous premiere benefits the UK release as the US marketing material, especially star PR, is likely to spread wide online. This will allow the UK premiere to take advantage of the heightened online publicity around the release. A simultaneous opening is also a way to reduce piracy, which is most prominent within the main target audience, young C1 men (Ipsos Mori, 2007).
The opening weekend also aligns with the UK half-term holiday which begins on the 13th October. Opening on the 6th allows the film to gather positive word-of-mouth to continue strongly into the holiday week, especially against titles that are counter-programmed against family films, including The Snowman, released on 13th of October (Launchingfilms.com, 2017).
The marketing campaign aims to underline and introduce the concept of replicants - synthetic biological androids who are barely distinguishable from humans and who pose a great threat to society.
One of the decade long discussions about the original Blade Runner remains, whether Harrison Ford’s character was a replicant himself – a subject that even Ford and director Ridley Scott disagree on.
The marketing will enhance this debate by creating a hashtag #ReplicantOrNot to fuel public discussion about the characters while simultaneously introducing the key element in the Blade Runner universe.
The marketing campaign will begin with a collaboration with an exclusive media partner to release first stills and first footage clips in December 2016. The campaign will partner with LADBible.com which is the 11th most visited website in the UK, outperforming all commercial media outlets (Alexa.com, 2017). LADBible is heavily consumed by male audiences aged 18-30, also by women who form a quarter of the site’s audience (Webber, 2015). The aim of the first-look campaign is to create awareness and a sense of the film’s market position.
The first teaser is released in mid-December, non-exclusively. Its key aim is to grab the attention of the most excited audience – old fans and create positive word-of-mouth. Press releases with first talent interviews will be released along the teaser.
Throughout January the collaboration with LADbible continues on social media, with a campaign to introduce more characters in the film, including promotion of the hashtag #ReplicantOrNot.
The Blade Runner universe will be thoroughly introduced by creating a YouTube channel with a library of content, including teasers and an array of best clips from the original film. The aim is to encourage viewers to keep consuming Blade Runner content by creating a bespoke YouTube channel with tailor made end cards that suggest more content. Similar methods are used widely on YouTube and in film marketing. Examples include Logan with specific end cards and the Fifty Shades -series with a dedicated YouTube channel (Think Jam, 2017) (YouTube, 2017). The aim is to create highly shareable content; sharing acts as a form of social buzz and peer advocacy and research shows that it directly correlates with BO success (Unruly, 2014).
In addition to the teasers, 2049 will have 3 trailers. The first one will be released early Spring and emphasise the story, to reach new audiences. The second trailer will be R-rated and delivered online. The third trailer will be more action driven, released closer to the release, with all CGI completed. The third trailer will play in cinemas and on TV and feature the most cinematic scenes, heightened action as well as a speaking female character to appeal to female viewers
Influencer marketing will be applied in the opening week using Instagram, blogger and vlogger-partnerships to create personalised, insightful content in-keeping with the aesthetic of the release. Influencer collaborations are lucrative additions to film marketing, research shows that consumers trust influencer’s recommendations almost as much as recommendations from their friends (Oppenheim, 2016). Influencer advertising has recently grown in popularity in the entertainment industry, with successful examples including the UK release of The Girl on The Train, US release of La La Land and Italian release of Big Hero 6 (Think Jam, 2017) (Coffee, 2014)
Possible partners include an Edinburgh-based photographer Liam Wong who creates cyberpunk style photography and has over 40K followers on Instagram (Instagram.com, 2017). Additionally, Humans of London Facebook page will be partnered with to introduce characteristic night-time workers: shopkeepers, food servers, night barbers and bouncers, all photographed in a cyberpunk style with the promotion of a hashtag #ReplicantOrNot (Facebook.com, 2017).
Liam Wong photography.
Additionally, Blade Runner music will be used in the marketing. The original soundtrack has been influential and has been sampled widely in electronic and psychedelic music. In a campaign with Radio X, samples from the sequel's soundtrack will be released as part of a sampling contest called ‘Benefit or Hazard’. Upcoming producers will create songs using the Blade Runner samples and listeners will vote for the best 3 tracks. Campaign benefits include heavy sharing on social media. In addition, top UK DJs will be given samples prior to the release as part of the influencer campaign. The aim is to reach audiences aged 25-40.
Outdoor and Onsite Advertising
Outdoor advertising will entail billboards, transit advertising and commuter displays and run 3-weeks prior the release. It will focus on key cities and locations in proximity to big cinemas.
Onsite exhibitor advertisement will take place 2 weeks prior to the release with posters, early booking endorsements and decorations, e.g. bathroom mirror signs promoting the ‘Replicant or Not’ concept.
In addition, stunt advertising will be used in London. Neon lights and the iconic Off-World Colony Ad seen in the original film will be projected on the wall of ‘The Gherkin’, 30 St Mary Axe, in the City in London. The aim is to spark press coverage as well as sharable online coverage.
Off-world Colony Ad – Blade Runner (1982)
TV advertising will peak 2 weeks prior to the release. Older male audiences will be targeted via channels like DAVE, Channel 5 and Film 4 (YouGov, 2017). Adverts will run on primetime slots from 8-10 pm to reach a wide working audience. Female audiences will be targeted on ITV during prime-time crime series. Younger audiences will be targeted via Channel 4 primetime advertisement.
Print media choices include The Guardian, Empire and Q Magazine. Advertising also includes in-banner video ads on media websites, including The Guardian, Empire, Huffington Post and LADBible. Also in-stream video ads and social media advertising will be applied to reach younger audience.
Simultaneous release with the US is likely to propose problems for cast availability for a UK publicity tour. However, an interview will be held on Facebook-live with an aim to reach fans of Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford and Denise Villeneuve. Other PR includes producer and director interviews for industry magazines.
Press screenings are organised in advance of the premiere across the UK to excite both national and regional media.
Global release context
The film will open in the UK and US simultaneously, along with markets like Canada, Germany and France, and expanding from there to Europe, Middle East, Asia, Australia and South America. The global strategy for 2049 will be a Modified Wide Release, where the film will open in a selection of major markets simultaneously and expand to other territories on a week by week basis to allow positive word-of-mouth and reviews to develop and to allow the key cast to travel in promotion of the title.
The film will not aim for festivals, yet it is likely to aim for the major awards. The film’s release date works well for the award season as heavy advertising in the autumn will keep the film on the Academy voters’ radar for the December nominations (Oscars.org, 2017).
Blade Runner 2049 is distributed in the US by Warner Bros Entertainment and Sony’s Columbia Pictures internationally.
Key risks in the release include negative word-of-mouth spreading from the fans of the original film. The campaign aims to reduce the risk by reaching out to those audiences via early marketing to convince them that the much-awaited sequel is in good hands. Secondly, risks include the turbulent international socio-political climate, especially in regards to the United States. The unpredictability of US foreign policy can quickly form a hostile attitude towards US products and cultural domination. Yet, considering the mainstream appeal and the subtle anti-establishment posturing of the film, risks of any boycott seem minimal.
2049 has a budget of roughly $200M (Grater, 2016). The UK P&A budget will be approximately £2M. This is in line with the average release costs in the UK for studio-backed films and films with over £10M budget as well as films released in 400 screen at their widest point (BFI, 2016).
The campaign aims for a long theatrical run and a strong theatrical opening, with an aim to create 30% of BO revenues in the opening weekend (BFI, 2016). 15% of the P&A budget will be reserved for continuing marketing efforts after the premiere.
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Blade Runner. (1982). [film] USA: Ridley Scott.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017). USA: Denise Villeneuve
Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner. (2007). [DVD] USA: Charles de Lauzirika.
The Martian. [film] USA: Ridley Scott.
Mad Max – Fury Road. (2015). [film] Australia/USA: George Miller
Prometheus. [film] USA: Ridley Scott.
Star Wars. [franchise] USA: Disney
Logan [film] USA: James Mangold
Fifty Shades Darker [film] USA: James Foley
The Girl on the train [film] USA: Tate Taylor
La La Land [film] USA: Damien Chazelle
Big Hero 6 [film] USA: Don Hall, Chris Williams
Searching for Sugar Man: Cross-Nordic distribution and lessons from the success of Nordic TV drama