The Hunger Games:

Film on Fire.

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March 30, 2012

By: Megan Murphey, Account Coordinator

How do you take a potentially problematic movie about kids killing kids and turn it into a box office juggernaut? With genius marketing, of course.

That's exactly how Tim Palen, chief marketing officer for Lionsgate, and his small but savvy 21-person crew turned The Hunger Games from a hard sell to a pop culture phenomenon. With a relatively small budget of $45 million, they unleashed an onslaught of innovative tactics that's made the movie's buzz harder to escape than a Career Tribute.

Digital and social media have been at the campaign's core since the get-go. According to a New York Times article, the HG promo squad has been "carefully lighting online kindling" for over a year through Facebook contests, Twitter scavenger hunts, Tumblr accounts and virtual realities to pull off the marketer's Holy Grail: "persuading fans to persuade each other." What's more, they did it without showing the actual "games," thus ingeniously sidestepping potential controversy while building must-see fever.

For advertising aficionados, The Hunger Games campaign has been a real feast. Here's a rundown of a few of my favorite tactics:

The Capitol Virtual Tour
This immersive site lets fans tour the garish world of the Capitol, the depraved fictional city that hosts the Hunger Games. Lionsgate paired with Microsoft and utilized HTML5 technology to give users an individualized, cutting-edge experience full of high-tech graphics and hidden promo clips.

The Capitol Website
The authoritarian government of Panem received its own official website, complete with a ".pn" domain name. "Citizens" are required to login via Facebook or Twitter to receive exclusive content, including movie updates and a D.I.P. (District Identification Pass) assigning them to one of Panem's dozen fictional districts. Once citizens have identified themselves, they can order free ID cards through CafePress, join their district on Facebook and even become their district's Facebook "mayor."

Capitol Couture Tumblr
Book-lovers were in a frenzy to see how the futuristic fashion would look on the big screen. To fuel the fire, Lionsgate created a special, Vogue-like Tumblr account chocked with style tips to help Capitol citizens "look their best."

"Girl on Fire" iPhone/iPad Game
Lionsgate and Apple released this free i0S "teaser" game the week of the movie's release. In the retro-style 8-bit game, players help heroine Katniss shoot tracker jackers (read: mutated wasps) with her bow and arrow.

Fun fact: The domain name ".pn" may look short for Panem, but it actually belongs the Pitcairn Islands, a 50-person British territory that sells second-level domains for $100 a year (Lionsgate currently owns 36 ".pn" names).

And since we advertisers love metrics, here's some numbers to show just how successful Lionsgate's marketing games have been.

Facebook likes: 3,558,782

Panem ID cards created: 800,000+

Twitter followers:

393,372 (@TheHungerGames)

61,460 (@theCapitolPN)

Capitol TV YouTube views: 23,399,214

"Girl on Fire" ranking among iTunes "most downloaded" apps: #2

Number of GCG employees at Hunger Games premiere: 5

= $155 million domestic opening weekend (read: the third-highest film debut ever and Lionsgate's top-grossing film).

Even with this awesome ROI, Palen is now facing his own epic battle: the fight for his job. Given Lionsgate's recent merger with Twilight-wielding Summit, there are two marketing executives in the arena - and chances are only one can survive.

But for creating a box office inferno with an ingenious marketing campaign, we salute you, Tim Palen (with 3-fingers, of course). May the odds be in your favor.

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