Summer Blockbuster Marketing - Theater Seats
Imported Layers Created with Sketch. AdHawk Blog
Marketing Tips

7 Digital Marketing Lessons from this year’s 7 Biggest Hollywood Blockbusters

“There has been an awakening… have you felt it?”

After years of cheesy voiceover trailers and desperate ad campaigns that make the marketer inside of you cringe, Hollywood marketing efforts may be hitting their stride. 

Movies like Deadpool, Star Wars, Pitch Perfect 2, The Big Short, and more have doubled their return on investment (total production and marketing cost) within days of their opening. As we’ll cover below, Deadpool doubled its $58 million dollar investment in under 24 hours.

Big or small, your brand deserves the blockbuster treatment.

While you might not have a galactic sci-fi franchise 40 years in the making or the luxury of “Sexiest Man Alive” Ryan Reynolds in red spandex, there’s a lot to learn from these marketing efforts that you can apply to your business. 

1. The Biggest Movie Trailer of All Time – The Mystery Box

Movie: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Box Office Gross: $2.07 Billion

If you can capture your audience without telling them a word about your product, you have mastered the art of the “mystery box.” Especially in the technology era, this is virtually impossible. 80% of consumers are swayed by positive or negative online reviews. People trust the opinions of the opinions of eBay user #8675309 as much as they do their friend’s recommendation (source – MarketingLand). 

Over 93 million YouTube views sealed the deal to make this mystery box of a preview the greatest movie trailer of all-time.

JJ Abrams owes his success to the mystery box. Ever since creating the hit TV drama Lost, Abrams has built his career on teasers and subtle clues that boil audience curiosity into money-churning success. Everyone wanted to know the secrets to the island on Lost. Everyone was curious who Benedict Cumberbatch would be playing in Star Trek Into Darkness. And the palpable mystery shrouding Star Wars: The Force Awakens delivered hordes of movie-goers and box office records.


How to Market like Star Wars

On a far less grand and more humorous level, Taco Bell featured a mystery box campaign for its Super Bowl ad spot. They even included a press release with pertinent information “redacted.”

Eager to apply this technique to your marketing right now? Single Grain Digital Marketing has a great tip to help you build your mystery box:

“Instead of publishing single, one-off blog posts, create series of posts and use the end of each post to hint at the valuable content that will be coming in the next edition. The mystery of the lessons that will be found in the next installment will keep readers coming back for more.”

Via 5 Psychological Marketing Hacks to Improve Your Content Marketing Strategy

Implementing a mystery box for your own product might be the force you need to drive sales. It’s important to know the fine line between curiosity-inducing mystery and just plain frustrating lack of communication. But the right balance is sure to be a winning approach.


And now for a slick transition…

2. Rule Social Media

Movie: Deadpool
Box Office Gross: $778.16 Million

This entire article could easily be about the ridiculously clever marketing campaign for Deadpool. The movie itself would never have been made without leaked footage. Deadpool’s marketing team followed suit with a campaign that was entirely one long trolling of the media. From emoji billboards to false-romantic-drama advertising, the “merc with the mouth” image that came with Deadpool gave the marketing team a unique opportunity to introduce a character nobody knew.

Star Wars may be difficult to relate to as a brand, but Deadpool was a character with zero following outside of an extremely niche comic-book-fan market. But through the use of humor and dominating the social media game, we all know Deadpool because he was thrown in our face on a daily basis.

How to Market like Deadpool

With Twitter, for example, we recommend at least 3-4 tweets per day. Posting content from other related companies (with credit and a twitter shoutout of course) is more likely to trend higher with your followers and might even establish a relationship with the source from which you posted. Don’t be afraid to be confident in your brand and let it loose on social media in great post volume (with a touch of humor, of course).


3. Audience Interaction is Dynamite

Movie: Captain America: Civil War
Box Office Gross: $1.14 Billion

Captain America: Civil War spent $200 million for its marketing campaign. Yet the real success of this marketing campaign was built on something anybody can do with the right approach: audience interaction.


The campaign challenged the world to “Choose Your Side: Team Captain America or Team Iron Man.” This engaged potential audience members to develop an emotional connection with one or both of their main characters, making the film an irresistible ticket to the “fight of the century.” According to, in the week of April 21 to April 27, 342,765 tweets were posted about “Captain America: Civil War,” making it the most tweeted about Marvel film of all-time.

How to Market like Captain America

For an example more down to Earth, Virgin Mobile recently engaged with its audience on BuzzFeed with “Always On” Advertising by creating 190 pieces of original branded content,” according to this case study which reveals a brand lift by as high as 389%.

Online users are always looking for entertaining content. The quality of your content outweighs the frequency of mentioning your brand. If the content is strong enough, like the case is with most successful films and was specifically with Captain America and Virgin Mobile, a brief “sponsored by ‘insert brand name here’” will be all you need to boost your business’ image.

4. The Human Touch

Movie: The Nice Guys
Box Office Gross: $34.19 Million

When you have a pair like Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, and their on-screen chemistry deserves a nobel prize, any publicist will tell you to get their faces everywhere. The Nice Guys had no franchise or superheroes to back it, but you could not watch a talk show or national news program that didn’t feature an appearance by Gosling and Crowe. Furthermore, the two actors played up their off-screen friendship to great comical effect, even taking to couples counseling with BuzzFeed to work out their differences.

How to Market like The Nice Guys

Whether or not you accomplish a miracle duo like Gosling or Crowe to push your brand, you most likely see a list looking something like this on everything from “as seen on tv” products to professional, successful marketing blogs:

Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 7.55.08 AM

Via Vayner Media

Featuring publication logos like these on your website involves lots of work convincing these publications to write a piece on your business, but the rewards are plentiful: Offmap, a travel startup, experienced a 30% increase in their landing page sign-up conversion rate, immediately after adding publication logos to their website. (Allen Burt, founder of Blue Stout wrote this super helpful guide to how he got Offmap’s foot in the door with these publications).

Getting your business in the spotlight is right out of Hollywood’s playbook for building an audience.

5. Licensing is Music to Your Lawyer’s Ears

Movie: Suicide Squad
Box Office Gross: TBD

Music licensing is such a crucial step to your marketing campaign if you plan to feature any song ever written and recorded within the last 95 years. Warner Brothers, being the $12.5 billion in revenue studio that it is, managed to fork up the cash for a song and a band notoriously difficult when it comes to music rights: that band being Queen and their legendary song “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Ouya, a failed video game console company, forked up $5.4 million simply for the rights to use “Bohemian Rhapsody” in a future advertisement.

It isn’t as simple as buying song rights, either. 

Let’s say you want Bohemian Rhapsody for your next advertisement. You would need to consider and gain ownership of the following:

  1. Music Composition – The written music and lyrics are a separate copyright that needs permission to be obtained. This is owned by the author of the song, in this case, the estate of the late and great Freddie Mercury (the former lead singer of Queen). Now, if you only obtain the rights to the composition, you can pay any band you want to record a rendition of the song. So if you want to hear, say, Panic at the Disco perform an awesome version of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, you can stop right here with the music licensing. Paying another group to record their version of a song is generally more cost effective than obtaining a license to the original sound recording.
  2. Sound Recording – So you really want Freddie Mercury and Queen’s record-setting performance? Well, then you need to obtain a master-use license. Owned by the record label that paid for all the recording sessions and distribution, this license gives you the right to play the master recording. This is the path Warner Brothers took when using the master track for the trailer of Suicide Squad.

bohemian rhapsody gif

Seen above: the effects of pop music on your future customers.

How to Market with Music on a Budget

Answer: 2 buzzwords – attribution free music use protected under creative commons.  

We’ve talked about the proper use of stock images for your business. Here are 10 websites for attribution-free music

You may still be wondering, why go through all this trouble to use a song to market your brand? Think about your favorite song and why that is your favorite song. Generally, we associate music with some of our best memories. Science Daily found that 73% of its test audience created an emotional connection between a brand and the music that played for that brand’s advertisement. If a brand can tap into that emotional core by simply playing someone’s favorite song, that brand is now part of that person’s connective memory.

6. Find Your Golden Release Date

Movie: Independence Day: Resurgence
Box Office Gross: $143 Million

No film calls for a July 4th weekend release date more than one titled Independence Day. Nevertheless, Independence Day: Resurgence, the sequel to the classic action film, debuted this past weekend, a week before we would expect it to open.

The results? $41.6 million for it’s opening weekend domestic earnings. While this may seem like decent earnings for a film, this is only a small fraction of the film’s $165 million budget. While the film should be able to make back its budget and then some thanks to overseas sales, the fact that Finding Dory made $73.2 million in its second weekend shows there was a potential audience that chose to see Finding Dory over Independence Day 2.

independence day gif

The famous White House Explosion from 1994’s Independence Day. Also a representation of how Finding Dory destroyed Independence Day 2 at the box office.

Release dates are crucial because the first week or few weeks from when your product launches truly determines the success of your product. Star Wars: The Force Awakens made approximately 38% of its $2.07 billion just in the first three weeks alone.

How to Perfectly Time your Release

Whatever marketing campaign or product release you’re working on, timing is crucial. Advertising on Google AdWords is keyword driven. What people search oftentimes depends on the time of year, time of day, or relative proximity to current events.

We use Google’s Keyword Planner & Google Trends to see how search volume fluctuates. For example:

google trends ice cream

Think about the major market factors that influence demand and market behavior. Knock around Google Trends and the Keyword tool within AdWords to find when the optimal time for launch is. 

7. If it aint broke… The Worst Movie Trailer Ever

Movie: Ghostbusters
Box Office Gross: N/A

When Sony released the trailer for their upcoming reboot of the Ghostbusters franchise, they did not expect the brutally negative reactions. The YouTube video has received 800,000 dislikes, the most ever for a movie trailer.

The complaints ranged from “sexist remarks on casting an all-female team” to “it’s kind of really, incredibly racist.” Fans were generally turned-off with the idea of there being a remake in the first place, feeling the older Ghostbusters films are classics that should not be touched.

Marketing Lesson from Ghostbusters

If your company has developed a certain rapport with your customers, we caution against major changes unless inspired by some data-driven insight that came from past interactions. Keep this in mind when trying to acquire new customers or attack new markets. Like we say with Digital Advertising, test first, trim the fat, and double down on what works. 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

About the Author

The Steven Spielberg of Content Marketing at AdHawk, he is determined to find the most valuable of marketing secrets his mentors and the internet have to offer, all while scored to the Indiana Jones theme song.