Outlook: Data Driven Film Marketing for specific target audiences

Outlook is a series of case studies and presentations during Berlinale 2018, presented by The FilmTech Office and the German Film Producers Association (VDFP).

Ben Johnsen from Gruvi talks about data-driven marketing for films.

Gruvi is a marketing technology platform that helps entertainment companies reach and engage online audiences prior to and during a film’s release. Their customers include Disney, Odeon as well as many independent distributors.


The third talk in our Outlook Series was presented by Ben Johnson, Co-Founder and CEO of Gruvi. In his talk he brought up the importance of data to drive marketing decisions around the promotion and distribution of films.

Ben introduced Gruvi as a technology media company that helps with advertising campaigns for distributors, cinemas, and also television. They are firmly embedded in the media space.

His presentation focused on the direction of where the market is going and why, outlined in detail in a free e-book titled “Winning Your Audiences” available for download on Gruvi’s website. In it they talk about some of the challenges that producers and distributors are facing and where the film business is headed over the next 10 years.

Painting a picture of what’s happening in the film market today, he described how people are getting busier, with less time to concentrate. When it comes to film marketing, if the messaging isn’t reaching people, it will get lost in the overwhelming sea of content that the public is bombarded with on a daily basis.

One trend he sees is latent demand, meaning that audiences might hear about a film, but until they decide to watch it, often the film is no longer available in cinemas and not yet available anywhere else.

In order for any data driven marketing campaign to be successful, the need for appropriate time to identify target audiences and test campaign assets (message, images, poster, trailer) in order to build demand is crucial.

“No one is thinking about the audience.”

In an example Ben shared about working with distributors as a client, he said the worst kind of job is to get the creative assets only a few days before a film is released, forcing them to test at the same time as deploying.

Touching on piracy data, a topic covered in our second Outlook talk with Chris Anderson from MUSO, Ben commented about how soul crushing it is to have an interesting movie, then release it, and become aware that nearly 1 million people in your target market have already seen it.

Reasons for this include complex release strategies along the distribution chain and across different territories. Producers should be paying attention to these piracy numbers for finding audience intent in the market and see where pick up is happening. He repeated a claim from Chris at MUSO that it’s important to pay attention to piracy data as it is a market that can be reapproached. A lot of people who pirate a film can and would pay for it if they had the option to download or stream it legally.

While piracy is generally thought to mostly affect major studio releases, independents are still at risk as piracy affects them more meaningfully, since they often have mainly unprotected digital files going around a lot more and the release strategies are not synchronized between the major territories.

Next, Ben touched on the rise of Silicon Valley, with tech giants like Netflix, Amazon, and now Apple entering the content production space. Market dynamics are changing: these companies are now able to control the whole pipeline from production to distribution and audience engagement, not being governed by cinematic releases anymore.

Continuing on the topic of tech disrupting film, Ben shared an anecdote about Moviepass. He was at a cinema convention recently where he heard everyone speaking unfavourably about the subscription-based movie ticketing service as a money-losing enterprise. But what Moviepass is doing is making a data play: they’re not covering their costs with subscriptions, but by selling the data their users create to major distribution companies and studios. Cinemas see a three times increase in sales when Moviepass pushes a film on their platform. Data, he pressed, is going to be hitting us all very soon and Gruvi plans to be at the center of this trend.

When it comes to generating interest for a film during launch, Ben described how the system is set up like a blockbuster approach, where 80% of the marketing budget is allocated to a short period of time (mostly a week) prior to a film’s release. But with independent film this model doesn’t do the productions any favours, because it doesn’t give the audiences enough time to pick up on the content. This results in independent films not reaching audiences and low ticket sales in the crucial first week, after which cinemas will cut down screenings when they find it doesn’t have an audience.

Ben offers some advice for reaching target audiences through various channels. Besides their free e-book on the topic, Gruvi also has a free tool on their website to help Find Your Audience, which uses Facebook and Twitter algorithms to help with identifying an audience in a certain location and age group. The tool is useful for producers and distributors alike.

He mentioned that Netflix is the gold standard in content marketing, and their tech blog is worth following for producers to get tips on how to prepare for submitting to the platform and optimize the chances of their film being discovered.

Finally, onto the Q&A session, Ben was asked at what point in a film’s production should producers be approaching Gruvi to get them involved. He answered as early as when a film starts to shoot. Further, he suggests to reserve a budget to make 40 to 50 mini clips and trailers to use in social media marketing. The key takeaway is that testing and hooking audience attention far in advance of a theatrical release is essential.

Another question was why, in his view, producers might be hesitant to embrace the data-driven marketing approach. Ben answered that it’s likely there’s simply not enough awareness about how important it is to raise interest, circling back to the example he gave about how they dramatically lowered the cost-per-click by targeting the right segment of people who were already interest in the film’s topic.

“The most expensive way to do a film marketing campaign is to do your testing while deploying.”

See here for the full Outlook Series program.