What The Hunger Games reminds us about marketing to readers

March 27, 2012 § 1 Comment

Last Thursday I read an article on adage.com entitled “Why ‘The Hunger Games’ Won’t Make $100 Million Its Opening Weekend.” It compared The Hunger Games to other movies like it–primarily Twilight: Breaking Dawn and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince–to estimate how many people would be going to The Hunger Games opening weekend. In a nutshell they tried to establish a “true reach” for Hunger Games marketing materials by looking at how many times trailers, interviews, etc. had been viewed as compared to other films with similar demographics and marketing strategies as of ten days before release.

For example, 10 days to release, the original “Twilight” film had generated 98.5 million views. It went on to bring $69.6 million at the box office its opening weekend. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” had driven more than 136.2 million views 10 days to its release. It saw $77.8 million at the box office.

Ten days to release, “The Hunger Games” had produced 89.4 million views, putting it significantly behind those films.

Ad Age basically predicted, according to this type of reasoning, that The Hunger Games would bring in around $80 million its opening weekend.

Well, if you haven’t heard, The Hunger Games did considerably better than even the most wild predictions, earning around $152 million.

Where did this huge discrepancy come from? Well, people far smarter than me (in my first draft ‘smarter’ was accidentally misspelled. True story) are sure to be weighing in on it, it seems rather obvious to me: it’s all about word-of-mouth.

In the past few weeks, it’s seemed like everyone and their brother has been talking about this movie, posting memes on Facebook (there are so many that I had trouble picking just one), and rereading the books. I can’t say why there was so much more hubbub in the past several weeks (and even months) about this movie as compared to Twilight or Harry Potter, but there was a marked difference. On a half-dozen different occasions I heard other people talking about how excited they were for the movie and how their friend/parent/coworker/whoever needed to be sure and read the book first.

This shouldn’t come as too big a surprise to anyone really. I read quite a bit (shooting for 52 books in 52 weeks this year and so far I’m right on track) and I honestly cannot remember the last time I read a book that wasn’t recommended to me by someone. Sometimes those “someones” are blogs or book lists online, but I rarely pick a book off a random shelf in the library (and I’m certainly too poor to trust to luck in blindly buying books). There are just too many good books in the world spend time reading bad ones (and Lord knows that even with recommended books you catch your fair share of those).

This is even more true for people who only read a book or two a year. They hear all the hullabaloo about a book like Harry Potter or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or The Hunger Games and want to see what all the fuss is about, so they pick up the book. Given that readers are so accustomed to being guided by word-of-mouth regarding what to read, it should come as no surprise that they’re equally willing to go to a movie without watching and rewatching the trailers on youtube and then going to watch every interview with actors and directors. Why not just spend that time rereading the book? That’s what I did.

The moral of the story is if you love reading, get out there and talk about it. Read in public, asking what the person next to you on the bus is reading, encourage friends  to read the books that resonated with you. Not only does this get more people reading (which is a good thing), it supports the authors of books you like and shows publishers what kinds of books you want to see more of (even if that means that as soon as it gets popular enough they’ll go off and make a movie about it).

As for the movie, it seems to be catching fire? It’s shooting for the stars? May the box office be ever in its favor? (sorry, I couldn’t choose which terrible world play to leave you with, so I decided “hey, why not all three?”)

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