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ADVENTURES IN CREATIVE DISTRIBUTION: Digital Marketing

by Katherine Boehrer

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These days, your online presence can make a huge difference for your brand, whether you are marketing a store, restaurant, hotel, or, yes, a film. Social media plays a huge part in this, as Thin Pig Media’s Ben Rapson wrote about earlier this year. But there are other ways to spread the word about your film online as well. I’m here to talk about the other side of our digital efforts —digital advertising, SEO, and email marketing—and how other films can take advantage of them as well.

Start with Your Website

Your website is the heart of your film’s presence online. It’s where we want users to go when they search for you on Google, where we want to send them from our advertising and social media efforts, and where they will end up once they click on a link in one of our emails. We want your website to be easy to use, have all the relevant information about your film — trailer, screenings, and later links to watch online — and be findable by search engines. To make sure it’s findable, it’s important to do an SEO audit and make sure your website has the proper page titles, meta descriptions, and text with the right keywords on your web pages. This also helps your website’s page titles and descriptions show up properly in link previews on social media. SADIE’s website was already built on Squarespace, so all we needed to do was optimize for search and social. After optimization, it’s essential to make sure your website is up to date with all the latest news, screenings, and contact information.

Engaging Fans Through Email Updates

You’ll want a simple form to allow website visitors to sign up for your newsletter. Having a newsletter is a great way to keep in touch with your film’s best fans, let them know first about news and releases, and provide valuable content (like this blog). For SADIE, we used Squarespace’s new email marketing feature. This allowed us to seamlessly set up a sign-up form and keep our campaigns all in one place. For email marketing, your number of subscribers, open rates, and click rates are used to measure success. We boosted the initial subscriber list by asking SADIE fans to subscribe through personal requests, social media, and a website pop-up. Open rates are largely dictated by the email subject line and the time and day the message is sent (weekday mornings are best). Click rates are typically determined by how strong your calls-to-action (CTAs) are in the body of your email, and also how engaging your copy is. Having clear CTAs is important for users to easily understand what you’d like them to do next, whether it’s read your blog post or watch a new trailer.

Promote Your Theatrical Release Through Digital Ads

Digital advertising allows you to reach a highly targeted audience that you choose with video, image, and text ads. Just like social media ads, you can even place these orders yourself and set a budget that is right for you.

For SADIE, we wanted to boost attendance at theatrical releases and screenings across the country. Alongside targeted advertising on Facebook and Instagram, we utilized YouTube and display advertising to reach key audiences in our target cities. YouTube pre-roll advertising is a great way to promote a film because you only end up paying for actual video views (longer than 30 seconds) or interactions (clicks) on your ad. If a viewer chooses to skip your ad before that, you don’t pay. For SADIE, we advertised the trailer and several shorter cuts of the trailer and linked back to “Find a Screening” page on the SADIE website. Video advertising is a great choice because it is so engaging, and of course, it is a natural fit for a film.

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We also used display ads to drive viewers to watch the trailer on the SADIE website. Display ads on the Google network are shown across a variety of websites and apps, reaching interest groups where they spend their time on the internet. For both our YouTube and our display ads, we targeted movie lovers, parents & family-focused individuals, art & theater aficionados, and a variety of other interest groups. Of course, we also limited our geographic targeting to those who were in cities that SADIE would be screening. We also made sure to retarget those that had been on the SADIE website to remind them to find a screening to attend in the future.

Once the film was available on demand, we changed our calls to action and drove people directly to the film’s page on iTunes, where they could purchase or rent the film. Throughout our campaigns, we refined our targeting and placements to achieve the best click-through rates and longest video views at the best price. These are all metrics available through the Google Ads platform. This is an important step for any campaign, and if you choose to run digital or social media ads, it’s important to evaluate your success and make edits accordingly throughout your campaign.

(These are examples of just a few SADIE display ads. We created a variety of these in three sizes—250x250, 300x600, 728x90—and continually tested which generated the most traffic to ensure we were spending our limited budget efficiently.)

Benefits of Digital Advertising

The great thing about digital and social media advertising is its target-ability and its scalability. You can target very specific audiences that you define based on your knowledge about your film and your goals. If you have a limited budget, you could choose to target only your primary release cities and only target those individuals who are most likely to attend a live event. Or you could focus exclusively on a retargeting audience to drive conversions. Whatever your budget, there are strategies you can use to reach new audiences and engage with your current fans.

Growth in website traffic leading up to the theatrical release.

Growth in website traffic leading up to the theatrical release.

Your film’s presence online—your website, blog, digital ads, email blasts, and social media—is an important component of building your brand and telling a story about your film. By taking an active role in all of these areas, you can help connect your film with an audience with whom it will resonate most strongly. Digital advertising is becoming more accessible every year, so don’t be afraid to give it a try to help expand the reach of your film!


Katherine Boehrer works as Digital Advertising Manager at Thin Pig Media and loves geeking out about all things marketing.

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