ByPhil Waldenserio, writer at
Social Media | Prince of the Iron Islands | @waldenserio
Phil Waldenserio

This All Hallows Eve moviepilot inc presents the blow by blow Horror playbook to make your low budget screamer a box office killer.

The 2013 box office has been cleaved limb from limb by a series of blood soaked spine-chillers, from the not so Christmassy Texas Chainsaw 3D, past Mama and The Evil Dead, through this summer’s The Purge and The Conjuring to September’s Insidious: Chapter 2.

“$40 million!?!?!?!?!?!?”

What do all these movies have in common apart from reasonable production costs, $20mil+ opening weekends and pretty predictable plots? They all maximize the potential of social media to reach their target audiences and scare them into the cinema. And this is how they do it.

Girl, you on Facebook again?

The key demographic to activate in order for a horror movie to succeed is females under the age of 25: first weekenders who turned out for TC3D, The Purge and Mama were all majority female and up to 64% under the age of 25. Young women’s penchant for horror makes social media the perfect marketplace for studios to display their grisly wares - in the US, the most active demographic on Facebook is women between the ages of 18-24. Facebook allows advertisers to reach this huge swathe of the population who are highly likely to buy a ticket with content specifically tailored to them.

_Carrie’s Instagram moment

Hispanics love Horror

Apart from young females another key target audience for horror movie marketers is the Hispanic market. Hispanics typically get to the movies 9.5x per year and over index in the horror genre. This contributed to Mama’s success in January - 35% of moviegoers caught in that web were Hispanic (likely drawn in by Del Toro’s name), despite Hispanics making up only 18% of the movie going population. Mama’s was also the first trailer ever to debut in Spanish.

Y Tu Mamá También

Damn, I’ve got no signal

The way marketers can dig into this goldmine of dollar bills is through mobile - Hispanics are statistically avid users of mobile devices and voracious consumers of video content. Over the last 12 months Facebook has put a huge emphasis on polishing the experience for mobile users (the Mobile-First strategy) and mobile use of Facebook has grown massively - now over 78% of US users access Facebook through their mobile device. Along with the improved delivery and performance of video content Facebook has become a pretty efficient place to reach moviegoers with movie content in 2013.

Improvements in mobile technology have saved many lives

Virality ≠ zombie outbreak

Advances in video and mobile technology have cleared the creative pathways for horrific marketing ideas. The Blair Witch Project kicked things off way back when and opened the gory floodgates: no horror title is complete these days without a tide of gifs, a tumblr, hashtags, billboards, posters, stunts and viral videos. The line between ads and content is increasingly thin, and a successful piece of content can reach much further and be much more engaging than a traditional ad. The Paranormal Activity franchise has become the blueprint for mini-budget massive-return horrors and its virulent marketing strategy has seen PA become a massive hit, while this summer Sony scored big time with Carrie’s coffee shop freakout vid, which hit over 30mil. views before Carrie returned to theaters. (More than the trailer! Trailer count shown in the table below). The indomitable rise of YouTube has helped fuel video discovery and sharing across the web. The video network is the primary place for movie’s to share and promote their video content to users. YouTube’s TrueView ad targeting allows for the right users to be reached at incredibly efficient CPVs and the opt-out/skippable nature of placed ads reduces potential wastage and improves the user experience.


Scaring is sharing

Finding the right way to reach possible moviegoers with the right content is key: driving social engagement is a sure fire way of encouraging fans to hand over their money in theaters, since those sharers are 6x more likely to buy a movie ticket. Horror movies drive much more social engagement than fans of other genres (eg. action movies or sci-fi), which makes social a key killing field for marketers to lure them in. Content is now optimized for social sharing, with short videos, clips and shareable graphics being transported across platforms (for example this shareable TC3D image below). The beauty of social is being able to deliver content in a shareable environment to an audience more targeted than TV at scale.

_Leatherface didn’t quite grasp the real meaning of Facebook_

Social killed the TV star

TV used to be the only option for reaching moviegoers en masse, but now social offers great reach plus targeting at almost any time of day, especially through mobile. While we wait for that pitching change to happen (next year, Clayton) or when our favorite shows are interrupted by ads we reach for our phones, with mobiles increasingly becoming the primary attention grabbing screen and providing a captive audience ready to lap up content. Twitter has sought to take advantage of this by introducing ad targeting based around what users are watching on TV and the introduction of the See It button increases the possibility of Twitter becoming a place to actively drive ticket sales.

Facebook however offers mass reach ads called Target Blocks which guarantee advertisers that millions of users will see sponsored content at the top of their newsfeeds, which can be mirrored at a smaller scale by Promoted Page Posts (PPP). Target blocks and PPPs can be employed in conjunction with other ad units to great effect as demonstrated by The Purge’s excellent Facebook campaign. Allying the target blocks and PPPs with good content and horror’s naturally active fans drove The Purge to a huge 121% PTAT on release.

Horror movies are getting really sick these days

140 characters to rule them all

Facebook and Twitter are currently locked in a battle to show marketers which platform can drive higher box office and TV viewership - while neither has yet been successful in proving a greater influence on fans, Twitter has the edge on predicting box office before release week for horror titles. Twitter is truly a mobile first platform, with 60% of users accessing Twitter via mobile, and the key 18-34 audience being 21% more likely to tweet using their phones, hitting the sweet spot for horror’s key demos. Since horror fans are hyper-active on social, Twitter becomes the perfect tool to measure probable box office performance: tweets in the weeks before release correlate closely with first weekend take. Successful movies drive conversation before release, and those doomed to failure go unnoticed by the Twittersphere.

_Data based on moviepilot’s Q-Insights Tool_

This year’s successes drove around 100k+ tweets in release week with the 140-160k region being the sweet spot for The Conjuring, Evil Dead and Mama. This was however blown out of the water by Insidious 2 and The Purge’s 300k and 700k respectively, huge totals for 7 days of chatter. In contrast, the dissapointing You’re Next only broke 50k despite the excellently evil tagline Fuck Yeah .

Twitter giveth and Twitter taketh away

Undisputed king of the 2013 horror marketing campaigns was Universal’s The Purge. The awesome hook “One night a year, all crime is legal,” scarily realistic billboards, catchy hashtag and a trailer that got the movie’s concept across directly led the movie to dominate on social and go on to a great first and second day take.

However, as quickly as excitement can spread on social, so can the backlash. Despite The Purge’s excellent start and Promoted Trends bought around release day, poor WOM saw it drop off quickly after the first 2 days in theaters. Horror movies can be expected to fall badly, but the 76% tumble suffered in the Purge’s second weekend can be attributed to first weekenders voicing their disappointment - the so-called “Brüno effect”, which also did for The Devil Inside after 2 days. As much as Twitter can help build a movie’s success, it can just as easily put the final nail in its coffin.

_Jehova’s Witnesses are becoming increasingly aggressive_

I really, really Like you too

Facebook Likes are a relatively ambiguous metric and can better be described as indicating awareness rather than intent to view; The Conjuring opened with half as many fans as The Purge and Carrie yet grossed over $40mil in its first weekend. A more effective measure of intent to view on Facebook is PTAT, which indicates the numbers of mentions, likes and engagements the page is receiving on release: The Conjuring, Evil Dead and Insidious: Chapter 2 had around 300k fans talking about the movie on release, while TC3D scared up over 500k and The Purge went bigger than on Twitter, with 121% of its fanbase talking about the movie, working out at nearly 800k users. However, this metric can easily be doped by investing in Facebook ads, and could reflect purchased engagement rather than genuine interest from fans. When growing an audience it is important not to harvest the low hanging fruit but to filter fans with strenuous targeting. This ensures you’re reaching the most active and engaging advocates who are likely to go and buy a ticket, not just click-fiends. Look for 2x higher engagement rates than usual and 30% lower CPEs.


_moviepilot’s Q-Insight’s tool tracks PTAT over time_

Search, but don’t go in the basement alone

Google trumpets search as a key indicator of box office performance, but that doesn’t necessarily hold true for horror titles. The nature of the young audience means they discover content and information through other channels, so low search doesn’t necessarily indicate a lack of interest - as shown by The Conjuring and Insidious: Chapter 2. However, both Mama and The Purge’s huge search numbers were portents of success.

One clap lights on, two claps lights off

Trick or Treat? We’re nearing the end: there is candy to collect, lanterns to be lit, and with some luck, beer to be drunk, at least for the older kids. What have we learned? Apart from clapping can be scary, Chloë Moretz is one angst-ridden teenager and if a distant relative bequeaths you their remote Texan home - don’t go visit?

  • Why use social? Social is the perfect platform to reach horror’s target audiences. The largest, most active and engaging social users correlate directly with Horror’s target demos - young adults, females and Hispanics.

  • Go mobile. The unholy trinity of social - mobile - content is a fantastic way of reaching the users you want to reach with the awesome content your marketing team stayed up all night creating. Facebook’s audience is increasingly mobile and both Twitter and Instagram are driven by mobile usage, and they want to share cool stuff that they like with their friends. Keep content simple, easy to understand at first glance and on message for maximum shareability - horror fans want creepiness, not Instagram treasure hunts.

  • Mass reach. Facebook Promoted Posts and Target Blocks deliver content you control to millions of users who you select by interest and demographic. Support key pieces of content heavily to maximize their impact in social and increase earned as well as paid views.

  • Grow your audience. While Likes may not be a solid currency, active fans certainly are. Users engage more readily with content of pages which they like - grow a highly targeted community of engaged fans carefully from trailer drop and retarget them using PPPs closer to release. This allows you to refine your audience and reduce wastage nearer to release. Ensure 300k+ are engaged on release.

  • Charm Twitter. Twitter is key for horror movies, so use Promoted Tweets to establish your movie’s hook/hashtag. Be proactively reactive and tie in to real life events to leverage chatter in real time. Promoted Trends on release week will increase your mindshare and help drive the Twitter chatter than could propel your title to bloodstained box office glory.


Latest from our Creators