Social media platforms and the way people are using them is such an interesting phenomenon to research. One of the aspects of social media that always interested me is backlashes and PR crises that are arising every once in a while.
One of the positive sides of social media platforms is the power that regular consumers now have, and the higher accountability demanded from brands. Nowadays, brands can not allow themselves to ignore a customer or treat him/her badly. Chances are that the word will spread, and you’ll end up losing customers and your reputation. Neil Patel even wrote a blog about 50 ways social media can destroy your business.
What interests me is whether the same rules apply to the entertainment industry? To be specific, how does the entertainment industry handle social media in general, social media backlashes and where do streaming services come in all of this.
Sonic the Hedgehog
I recently came across an interesting opinion piece on AdAge titled “Why Sonic the Hedgehog (and porn) represents the future of content”. The premise of the piece is that consumers are starting to use social media to demand content not made for people like them, but for them specifically.
The piece struck me because until now, we’ve seen actors backing out of roles due to backlash, but never have we seen an entire (already filmed) movie changed because fans demanded it to be.
In the Sonic the Hedgehog case, after the first movie trailer came out, people started to complain about the new character’s look on social media – he had human teeth, different eyes, and shoes, and so on.
The trailer came out in April, and in May the movie director, Jeff Fowler tweeted that the message is received and that there will be changes made in the design.
That’s something that was never seen before. If we’re to judge from the responses, fans were shocked as well, but appreciative of the gesture. Basically, a giant studio spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a movie, and now they’re spending the extra money to make corrections.
Stephen Kelly, in his article on BBC, mentions the term fan entitlement and argues that – “After all, when you buy a product – when you spend your hard-earned attention, dedication and time – why should it not be exactly what you wanted?”.
The Iron Throne debacle
Remember what happened after the Game of Thrones finale aired? All hell broke loose on social media platforms. Actual petitions were going around demanding a remake of the whole Season 8.
After a while, HBO released a statement saying that there will be no reshoots, but people are still not okay with it.
I just checked the petition on Change.org and to this day, a year later, people are signing it.
Now, I’m no expert, but I assume it’s much easier to change animated movies like Sonic the Hedgehog than to reshoot a whole season of Game of Thrones that requires over 3000 crew members. That’s why it would be truly unbelievable if HBO decided to do the reshoots.
But, if we look at the amount of attention Game of Thrones fans have attracted with their efforts to make a difference, it’s kinda impossible to mention Season 8 and not to mention the battle of the social media that happened (pun intended).
For some, previously mentioned backlashes could be described as superficial and fans as entitled. But, what about the examples of backlash when the goal is to make social changes and promote diversity?
For a long time now, Hollywood has a track record of whitewashing, especially when it comes to Asian characters. Back in 2017, there were two instances of Caucasian actors being cast to play Asian characters.
In the first case, the backlash was aimed at the movie Hellboy. The problem was that the character Ed Skrein was supposed to play is Asian, and Skrein is British. Fans took to Twitter to express their dissatisfaction with this casting choice.
The backlash was so strong that Ed Skrein voluntarily backed out of the role and agreed with what the fans were writing online. His action was met with praise and approval. Ultimately, the role went to the South Korean actor Daniel Dae Kim.
The other case was casting Scarlett Johanson in the movie Ghost in the Shell. As Time reports, this backlash started two years prior, when the casting was announced. Again, the petition started circulating, demanding a Japanese actress to be cast for the role. Since Ghost in the Shell originated as Japanese manga series, and all the other cast members were Japanese, the choice of Johanson for the role seemed ridiculous. But, this time the director defended his casting and decided to continue filming with Johanson.
Examples of solidarity
The first example is Jojo Rabbit and the support of Ava Duvernay. Duvernay is a director of an Oscar-nominated movie as well, and she encouraged her Twitter followers (over 2 million of them) to watch Jojo Rabbit.
That’s huge exposure for a movie whose plot made everyone scratch their heads in the beginning!
The second example is of this year’s Best Picture winner – Korean movie Parasite. The authors say that the movie didn’t have the A-list celebrities to put on late-night couches, but they utilized the power of social media to create a lot of buzz about the movie, which ultimately led to victory.
According to LAist, after the movie won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, fans started using the hashtag “#Bonghive” on social media. The buzz, ultimately, had an impact on the award ceremonies. Even Bong himself was impressed with the impact social media had. In an interview he said:
“Unfortunately, I don’t have Twitter or Instagram – or any social media – so I’ve just been hearing about these things. People would show me some of the memes. I’m just grateful for the responses, I’ve never gone through any of that.”
Social media and movie studios
Marketing Dive shared Neurostar’s study conducted on more than 70 U.S. movies across different marketing channels (TV, online, display, online video, paid Facebook ads…) that represented $1.8 billion in total marketing spend.
The results showed that digital media drove 46% of movie box office revenue, despite making up just 14% of studio marketing budgets, while TV accounted for 82% of marketing budgets and was responsible for driving just 42% of media-driven box office revenue.
Interestingly, the study suggests that shifting 6% of TV spend on digital media would boost box office revenue by 7%.
On top of that, Facebook proved to be the most lucrative channel. Every dollar spent on Facebook ads brought nearly $8 in return.
This data is not surprising if we take into account that younger people are spending most of their time on social media while spending less and less of their time watching traditional TV.
Also, since the goal is to “sell the movie tickets” social media channels are proving to be the right place to do just that.
Social media campaigns
As the article on Investing News points out, social media campaigns for movies or TV shows should be an exercise in storytelling in itself.
Building a hype about the movie long before it hits the theaters is something that is not new, but in the last couple of years, it changed quite a bit.
Spoiler alert: social media has something to do with it.
Now, marketers are not building hype for the movie so to speak, they are building hype for the movie trailer first. This strategy can often be seen in promotions of blockbuster movies.
Basically it goes something like this:
First, they’re reminding us that the teaser of a movie trailer is going to air. There are reminders, hashtags, social media posts…The teaser usually doesn’t last more than 5 seconds, and it’s building up the interest for the trailer, and eventually for the movie itself.
Then we watch the teaser of a trailer. We’re hooked. We want more.
Then eventually, the whole trailer and different variations of it come out, and it’s widely shared and discussed on social media until the movie comes out.
In a world where we’re constantly bombarded with new information every few seconds, this strategy provides a couple of waves in which movie marketers can capture our attention and sell us the movie. What’s interesting is the fact that studios are taking into account social media following a certain actor or actress before they cast them.
A battle between movie studios and streaming services has been going on for a couple of years now… Streaming services disrupted the everyday life and finances of movie studios in Hollywood.
Nowadays, people are leaning more towards staying at home and watching Netflix, than getting dressed and going out to the cinema. That’s why it’s been a challenge convincing people to watch movies (besides blockbusters) in the cinema. Since movie studios rely on getting their money from the movie tickets, it became a problem.
The argument that nothing can replace watching a movie in the cinema is simply not good enough anymore. Habits and preferences change all the time, and if something was appealing to audiences 10 years ago, chances are it may not appeal to audiences now.
Another problem for movie studios is that movies produced by Netflix started getting nominated for awards (and winning) in the last couple of years.
When it comes to social media, many are applauding Netflix’s social media strategies that are focused on creating value while spending less on advertising.
Netflix had its own trial and errors on the way, but using authentic communication in opposition to formal communication used by others, proved to be the winning strategy.
Also, they understood who their target audience is and what they like. And the answer is memes.
They promote their content by creating fun and relatable memes, and it seems that fans are appreciating it. User-generated content is strong in the Netflix community since fans themselves started creating memes.
Social media platforms impacted the entertainment industry in many ways.
They proved to be powerful tools for initiating change. As seen in some examples in the text, it does not mean that every social media movement will eventually succeed, but it generates a standard of what’s acceptable and what’s not for the future.
That especially comes to light when people are demanding diversity. Hollywood has been getting away with the status quo for a long time now, and people finally have the tools to demand the overdue change.
What I’m interested to see is will the situation with Sonic the Hedgehog happen again. To be precise, will the studios start changing their movies just to please the audience. Is that even a good strategy?
The one thing that’s sure is that the entertainment industry will have to pay even more attention and more resources toward social media platforms in order to attract their target audiences.
As seen from the Netflix example, creativity and authenticity can produce a great response from social media users that show in the rise of subscriptions as well.
The sooner movie marketers turn more of their focus on creating innovative and productive social media campaigns, the better for them.
To paraphrase Thanos: “Social media is inevitable!”