Lessons Learned From the Successful Social Media Marketing of The Hunger Games: Why Content Is the Ultimate Strategy

As faithful readers of this blog know, I've already made a point of examining the role that social media played in the success of several recent films - including the record-shattering opening of The Hunger Games.

As it turns out, on April 24th, 2012, Geoffrey Colon, Vice President of Social@Ogilvy, published an insightful post that makes one very important point that I may not have stressed enough in my previous Hunger Games posts: Social media requires a content strategy.

In Geoffrey Colon's words: "[I]f you want a good social media marketing plan, don’t simply be interested in building a social strategy, but be interested in building the content that will ultimately become your strategy."

Geoffrey Colon is advocating for a New World kind of content marketing campaign. Unfortunately, the comments to Geoffrey Colon's post suggest that some readers are still confused about the meaning of "content marketing." "Content marketing" was a fundamental element of the success of The Hunger Games (and many other New World indie filmmaker's successes) - and it's distressing that so many smart filmmakers still don't seem to get it.

"Content marketing" does NOT mean that the film you are marketing must have good content. (Having a solid movie really helps - but that's not the "content" that we're interested in when we talk about "content marketing.")

Instead, "content marketing" refers to the specialized marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content that can be shared via social media.

In other words, content marketing doesn't refer to the content of your film: The term "content marketing" refers to the art of communicating useful and/or fun information to - and listening to the responses from - your core audience. It's about starting a conversation with the people who will help you to sell your film online - without selling to them.


The first step in content marketing is all about your potential customers. Specifically, before you can "content market," you need to identify your customers.

As a first step, many content marketing experts will sit down and write detailed bios of - and even give names to - their idealized customers.

(Maybe you've heard a political campaign strategist refer to their candidate's potential supporters as NASCAR Dads or Security Moms. That's because they've thought about - and named - their potential "customers." Identifying your audience is the first step in a successful content marketing campaign.)

The next step is to to create great content for the marketing campaign.

You want content that will spread via social media.

But remember, the goal of your content is NOT to talk about the features of your product.

Instead, you want to create content that will attract, and be shared by, an engaged and clearly-defined target audience.

Here's how many content marketers approach this second step, the content creation phase, of the campaign:

Think about your customer's problems and see if you can help to solve them. E.g., What is your NASCAR Dad worried about?

Another way of getting the NASCAR Dad's attention - What will amuse him?

Ultimately your goal is to drive profitable customer actions - but the role of content marketing is not traditional sales - instead you are delivering ongoing valuable or fun information to potential customers in the hope of starting a relationship that might translate into sales.

Sometimes this means you are simply becoming a trusted expert - helping your customers through their days. Other times, it's just creating fun stuff that you hope your audience will want to share.

In his post, Geoffrey Colon talks about some of the content that the The Hunger Games team used in their "content marketing." For even more detail, here is a link to a March 26th, 2012 post by Mike Girard, that talks about Twitter and The Hunger Games (notice that the metrics include conversations that resulted). And here's a March 20th, 2012 report from Emily Ascani - with news that The Hunger Games site had been visited by more than 800,000 fans making their own ID cards (as if they lived in the movie's futuristic society) online. According to Ms. Ascani, it was also possible to accumulate digital "puzzle pieces" for The Hunger Games movie poster online (a game that fans mastered by sharing clues on Twitter and Facebook while searching for pieces online from approximately 100 websites).

So much for our intro to one film's engaging (interactive and fun) content marketing strategy.

Finally, here (from Geoffrey Colon's blogpost) are five essential features of any smart content marketing campaign:

1) Social media is not a loudspeaker. Create content based on the channel and a clear understanding of the unique problems and goals of your potential audience member.

2) Feedback is a key part of social media. Use data to listen and respond. If you're not responding to user input - you're not really conducting a social media campaign.

3) Social means a genuine interest in engaging with fans. Evangelists and champions are made because engagement with true believers was a desired outcome.

4) People don’t want to be sold a product. That's why most of the content that was created for The Hunger Games did not look like marketing. "For a soda brand it’s talking about what teen band is all the rage right now. Not talking about your fruity flavor. For a fashion brand, it’s showing your goods and other inspirations in holographic video. Not doing New York fashion week’s main tent. Brands must be better about talking and showcasing that they are thought leaders with higher level agendas and not simply like every other brand. Self-absorbed and conceited brands don’t fly on people’s radars in an open web world."

5) Launch and leave is a thing of the past. For example, The Hunger Games "used tools and incentive to create and maintain usable content over time. In fact, the content on the social properties is still relevant now even after the film launch and will be when the Blu-Ray and On Demand formats are released."

Randy Finch's Film Blog:

Thoughts from a film producer about making and distributing films.