Happy Hashtag Hunger Games!

Hunger Games digital marketing

Like so many of my teenage fangirl peers, I fell in love with the books and read the trilogy within a few days. Katniss’ adventure in the world of Panem and the terrifying Arena kept dragging me into the world far past my bed time.

Hunger Games crest

One of the things that I noticed immediately was the sheer scale of the online marketing campaign for The Hunger Games. Some sources quote Lionsgate at having a budget of $45 million for marketing the film in the US alone – whilst not as large as other studios, a sizeable chunk no less.

For me, the single most impressive aspect of The Hunger Games marketing campaign was its focus on social media and genuine interaction with fans. And with a reported $211.8 million opening weekend worldwide box office takings it would be hard to argue against the effectiveness of the marketing campaign.

For the purpose of this blog, I am going to be analysing The Hunger Games online marketing presence against that of Avengers Assemble. I appreciate that the films have quite different core demographics and target audiences but the new Avengers movie is the most recent film I can think of that generated such a huge box office taking (in truth, its opening worldwide box office takings of $392.5 far eclipses that of The Hunger Games’).

The Hunger Games audience

One of The Hunger Games’ strengths was its established audience and fans. Already an extremely successful book franchise, the largely teenage following is social media savvy and at the perfect age for online marketing to utilise the teenager’s love of sharing and self expression.  Showing that you are a fan of The Hunger Games by liking, tweeting, blogging and sharing about it is something young fans will take part in.

This isn’t to denigrate the intelligence of Lionsgate’s marketing campaign and instead they should be commended for identifying the best ways to talk to their target audience, engage with them and most importantly, get them to engage with each other.

Whilst most blockbuster films may require a significant budget for television or magazine advertising, Lionsgate opted to focus on spreading the world of Panem through social media and sharing.

Online social media marketing resources

I’ve identified four resources that Liongate used extremely effectively during the marketing of The Hunger Games:

Facebook social marketing campaigns

Facebook has been a fantastic tool at engaging with The Hunger Games fans. With almost 6 and a half million Facebook fans, The Hunger Games’ Facebook page dwarves Avengers Assembles’ paltry (in comparison) 3.3 million fans. This also doesn’t include the hundreds of thousands of fans of the Capitol Facebook page or the several thousand on the different District pages.  Both movie’s pages regularly have updates and shares that top nearly 20,0000 likes although The Hunger Games’ activity longevity is perhaps most impressive.

One of the things that is most interesting about The Hunger Games marketing strategy is its focus on fan created content. Any 30 second visit to the page will have you looking at homemade posters, cover versions of official songs and candid pictures of celebrities reading the book.

The focus is very much on utilising the fans that they have as not only a objective but also a resource. There’s no doubt countless YouTube videos, Tumblr blogs full of animated gifs and Deviant Art accounts full of Panem inspired digital art – some that is beautiful, engaging and definitely pinworthy.

By engaging with fans’ content so directly, you are able to make it work on three levels:

  • On a purely monetary sense, sharing fan created content is free. If you are not worried about earning money from every trademark or copyright infringement then you can have a stupendous amount of content to share.  With Google’s most recent algorithm updates and Pinterest’s meteoric rise to popularity, share-worthy content has become as priceless as meat in District 12.
  • Sharing something of a fan, will make them a fan for life – lifelong brand ambassadors.  They will be more likely to share your content, tell all their friends about you and may generate an infinite amount of positive publicity for free!

For anyone who has met one of their idols, heroes or someone that they look up to, having a positive interaction only serves to reinforce their fandom.

  • This also encourages competition amongst fans. There’s no greater bragging rights than being the officially recognised fan of the week of The Hunger Games! This in turn encourages greater engagement.

I think there is a general reluctance for many companies to directly engage with and share fan content as this may break the ‘official’ distinction. However, I think The Hunger Games clearly shows that when used well, its value is limitless.

Twitter social marketing campaigns

The official Hunger Games movie Twitter account has over 550,000 followers – a staggering 300% more than the official Avengers movie Twitter account (almost 138,000 followers). What’s interesting is that they both have comparatively similar tweet numbers, 1,195 for The Avengers and 1,597 for The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games Twitter account makes extensive use of fan created content as well as their own marketing material. What is interesting though is the apparent lack of direct 1-to-1 engagement with fans. For an account with over half a million followers, there is a surprisingly small amount of tweets.

I think they could have utilised their following much more strongly. By engaging with mentions and replies they would have been able to reinforce marketing messages and increasing reach exponentially. Of course, this level of engagement takes  a significant amount of time and is labour intensive but I have no doubt that it would have paid dividends for The Hunger Games.

This is something that I think The Avengers Twitter account is doing extremely well. By interacting with fans they are increasing their reach whilst the fans will then want to boast about the fact that they received a tweet from The Avengers (which one of the assembly is manning the Twitter account is anyone’s guess – mine would be Iron Man).

They are also using in-jokes with their fans and really creating a positive communication experience that is great for PR.

However, one of the strategies that The Hunger Games has spot on is their communication style and approach. They are not merely disseminating information but they are instigating conversations.  They are asking questions, utilising popular Hunger Games related hashtags and whilst they don’t actively engage with individual users, you always get the sense that the account is used by an individual rather than a corporation.

Although hashtag analysis and reporting can be limited, Katniss and her trusty bow seem to be surviving against S.H.I.E.L.D.’s finest. Topsy reports the hashtag #hungergames has been used 337,000 times on Twitter compared to #avengers with 334,000. Of course, this does not taken into account that the hashtags may be used to refer to any of The Hunger Games books or the many video games, tv shows, films, comics, books and more that include the Avengers but I still think it is a fair metric to measure.

GetGlue social marketing campaigns

For those unfamiliar with the sticker loving social check-in network, GetGlue, is a smartphone based social network that allows you to unlock stickers for checking into books, films, TV shows, songs and so on. Taking gamification to the next level, GetGlue will mail you all the stickers that you unlock when you have collected 20.  I love GetGlue, it is a great example of how social networks can be utilised by companies to promote their products (in this case entertainment entities) and offer real-life rewards.

I’m happy to say that both companies here utilised GetGlue extremely well, offering unique stickers for anyone checking in.  In terms of popularity, The Hunger Games movie has so far generated 967,000 check ins, 93,000 likes and 717 reviews.  Granted, the check ins are not unique and the likes may be a more telling metric of how popular it is. The Avengers has so far generated 813,000 check ins, 92,000 likes and 767 reviews.

Chances are, The Avengers will soon overtake The Hunger Games on GetGlue but both of the campaigns are great examples of companies using social media to generate buzz. With GetGlue’s integration with Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare – it has fantastic properties at increasing awareness and exposure far beyond the app’s active userbase.

Custom websites

Lastly, The Hunger Games utilised an interesting viral marketing campaign centred around the fictitious Capitol city of Panem. The Hunger Games utilised three separate main websites and one for each of the 12 Districts, complete with their own .pn ccTLD (in truth .pn is used for the tiny British Overseas Territory of the Pitcairn Islands).

thecapitol.pn can be seen as the de facto official website for the films but is very much focused on user engagement and completely immersing fans into the world of Panem. The website doesn’t have users or accounts but citizens.  Whilst the website is built in Flash (ouch), it’s still an interesting concept compared with the laissez faire of common ‘official’ websites.

thecapitoltour.pn was an interesting joint venture with Microsoft and IE to produce a website showcasing HTML5. Whilst I appreciate there is significant resistance to IE in all its iterations, I still commend The Hunger Games for showcasing HTML5 and surely it shows their commitment for engaging with new technology and perhaps redeems it for their Flash website? Then again, maybe not…

capitolcouture.pn is the official tumblr account dedicated to the style, fashion and distinct aesthetic of the film.  Reading the books, and watching the film, the celebration of the superficial is explicit -sometimes disgustingly so.  However, two points for the Hunger Games for this one!

Firstly, they recognised that the visual nature and content of the film was going to be one of the most shareworthy resource. The visuals are striking, colourful and often ostentatious – perfect Pinterest fodder!

Secondly, using Tumblr as the platform was a fantastic choice. Tumblr’s simple integration with Facebook and Twitter, and its own social sharing mechanics of liking, re-blogging and favouriting means posts can be easily and quickly shared. I must admit, sometimes I felt that Capitol Couture got a bit messy in places. I think some of the things they shared diluted the brand and marketing message slightly but overall, I thought the approach was great.

Please note, I haven’t included The Hunger Games Facebook game here because it was launched a short while after the film and so the marketing impact will not be as powerful but you can be sure Lionsgate are utilising the game to ensure Katniss is never far from people’s minds.

What can you learn from The Hunger Games marketing strategy?

Hopefully I’ve demonstrated that The Hunger Games’ digital marketing strategy is definitely one to commend and applaud. I for one have enjoyed it from a personal level (Effie Trinket is my favourite character if anyone wanted to know) and also from a professional level. If you can take just some of the things that they have done and utilise them in your own marketing campaigns then they’ll be stronger for it.

Don’t be afraid to engage

I see this too many times and it frustrates me! Companies and organisations utilising social media but not engaging.  If you post a story or a picture or share a link, and someone takes the time to engage with it – thank them for it! Reply to them, ask them a question or just retweet what they’ve done. This is a basic but important first step. You need to create a following with social media otherwise you never really get anywhere. Once you have a dedicated and engaged following, it will naturally start to grow.

Share, share and share alike

Although this might not be applicable in every instance, I also think The Hunger Games utilised non-official content fantastically. There’s no reason why you can’t pin that picture of a competitor’s product or retweet that news story that isn’t about you. This shows a greater level of engagement within your industry and really shows that you are a thought leader.

Know your audience

This is vitally important. If you’re spending all your social media efforts on Facebook but your target audience is all on Twitter than you’re wasting time and effort. For any marketing campaign its worth identifying who your target audience is and what are your objectives? If you want to sell costumes based on your film, try Pinterest. If you want to increase online exposure of your brand, try Twitter. It’s worth considering that your target audience may not be utilising one of the major social networks and that an intelligent campaign of blog articles may see a greater ROI.

In conclusion, I think The Hunger Games online marketing campaign is a fantastic example of how to utilise social media to its truest potential. I also think it demonstrates a change in the way marketing campaigns will be created in the future. Do you still need to spend big bucks on traditional television, radio or print advertising to see the same return? Perhaps with intelligent and dedicated social media marketing you can see an even greater ROI.

Happy Hunger Games – and may the odds be ever in your favour!

You can follow me on Twitter @seocolin! Happy to discuss all things SEO and social as well as who your pick for Finnick Odair will be.

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