5 marketing lessons from independent film company A24

If you used the Tinder dating app in Austin, Texas during the 2015 SXSW Film Festival, you may have been tricked into a movie studio.

Some people there corresponded with a woman named Ava, whose profile listed her as a 25-year-old from New York. But it became clear Ava wasn’t who she claimed to be when, after a text conversation, she directed people to an Instagram page promoting Ex-Machina – a sci-fi movie about an AI robot so realistic it passes for a human named (you guessed it) Ava.

Turns out the person behind the account worked for A24, the startup movie distributor responsible for promoting Ex-Machina.

5 Breakthrough Marketing Lessons from A24

  • Experiment with new channels.
  • Collaborate with other brands.
  • Delight influencers and the press.
  • Focus on what resonates with early adopters.
  • Take advantage of experiential marketing.

The stunt exemplifies the buzz-building, boundary-pushing marketing that has helped A24 rise above its weight and infiltrate the zeitgeist, helping smaller films stand out in an increasingly content-saturated marketplace.

When you don’t have a big budget, make some noise

Since 2013, A24 has released over 100 films, including titles like Clair De Lune, Lady Bird, Hereditary, The Witch and Uncut Gems – many of which have garnered significant critical acclaim and cultural attention, despite having far less marketing budgets than major studios.

Loren Schwartz, a marketing executive who has held executive positions at Warner Bros., Columbia Pictures, Screen Gems and Open Road Films, told Built In that because A24 has fewer marketing dollars than its competitors, it must spend money much more strategically to be competitive. for visibility.

“When you don’t have a lot of money, you have to make more noise somehow.”

“When you don’t have a lot of money, you have to make more noise somehow,” Schwartz said. “Or [A24 does] is very good at publicity, attracting articles and attention for the marketing that he does.

Tearing a page out of A24’s playbook could be useful for marketers working at seeded startups that compete with larger companies.

Of course, just because one campaign worked for A24 doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. Even so, the five lessons below might inspire marketers to think outside the box and turn their businesses into brands people love.

5 marketing lessons from A24

Experiment with new strings

A24 released the movie spring breakers in theaters in March 2013, where it grossed over $30 million on a $5 million budget — a massive hit by indie film standards.

And it’s not because spring breakers had mainstream appeal or because A24 had a lot of money to spend on TV commercials and freeway billboards. That’s because A24 has found a way to break through the noise by creating eye-catching and highly shareable social media content.

At the beginning of 2013, A24 posted on its Facebook page an image of spring breakers James Franco, his hair braided in cornrows and seated next to the rest of the film’s cast in a manner that evoked Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” The pic got 600,000 likes and the movie got 174 million impressions in the weeks leading up to its release, nearly half of which were organic.

Taking a targeted, social-focused approach to marketing seems pretty common now. But at the start of 2013, directing with organic social wasn’t something other distribution studios were considering.

“I’m not sure they get enough credit, but spring breakers was really the first movie promoted on social media,” Gary Faber, co-founder of a marketing strategy firm specializing in film and theater, told Yahoo. “[A24] found a way to use social media to speak directly to their customers – in their language.

John Hodges, then head of acquisitions at A24, told the Los Angeles Times that, for most studios, digital campaigns were usually offshoots of the main campaigns. But for them, “it was the backbone of the campaign”.

A few years later, in view of its release in 2015 of The end of the tour, A24 launched a pop-up magazine on Medium, publishing articles and essays about the life and work of author David Foster Wallace, the subject of the film. The niche publication likely reached literature enthusiasts in a way that a Super Bowl ad or roadside billboard never could – and at a fraction of the cost.

Facebook and Medium were newer at the time, but the principle remains stable, even if the channels have changed. To stretch a dollar and have an outsized impact, experiment with channels where your audience already lives but where your competitors haven’t yet invested.

Collaborate with other brands

Before the release in 2014 of the little horror film DefenseA24 has teamed up with a Los Angeles cannabis retailer to create two specially marked marijuana strains for cross-promotion.

Collaborations like this are among the cheapest ways for brands to reach new audiences, helping both parties gain access to a different, yet relevant set of fans.

A24 marketing strategist Graham Retzik told the New York Times this Defense was “right at the intersection of art and stoner culture”, so the brand crossover made sense.

That’s why, for example, Uber worked with Spotify to offer passengers personalized playlists, why hemp-infused seltzer company Recess made CBD dog treats in collaboration with the pet food supplier Maxbone and why rapper Travis Scott teamed up with McDonald’s for a meal named after him.

Collaborations allow one brand to drive their fans towards the other, with both parties gaining additional exposure.

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Delight influencers and the press

To convince spring breakers producer Megan Ellison to sell A24 the distribution rights to the film, the team sent her a gun-shaped glass bong with the film’s logo engraved on it. The gesture was intended to demonstrate that they were the ones who best understood the outrageous film’s philosophy on guns and drugs. It worked.

A24 has a history of sending swag to bloggers, journalists, and fans, not just potential business partners. This includes things like a lady bird gift set full of nostalgic stickers, buttons and lighters, and a haunting greeting card teasing her horror movie It comes at night.

These gestures created conversation and attention where there was none before. This is the essence of word of mouth marketing: giving people reasons to talk about your brand and facilitating conversation.

Because chances are that when people get gifts, they’ll share their excitement on social media. It’s free advertising – and effective advertising too, since it’s genuinely coming from an ordinary person’s account, rather than a brand account.

Focus on what pierces

Movies are usually tested with sample audiences before release so that studios can make any necessary changes before theatrical rollout.

When he worked on marketing for teen comedy super bad, Schwartz said McLovin’s character – a tertiary character in the film – was an even bigger hit with test audiences than the filmmakers had anticipated. Since the character resonated with audiences, they decided to focus the film’s marketing more on McLovin and inject the character into the cultural conversation whenever possible.

The same logic may have been at work in A24’s decision to play the over-the-top character of James Franco in Spring breakers, or create an irony Twitter profile for Black Phillip, the name of an evil goat featured in the 17th century horror film The witchbefore even releasing the trailer for the film.

When marketers pay close attention to their early audiences and solicit their feedback, they can double down on what resonates, whether it’s a memorable movie character or an unassuming software feature.

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Take advantage of experiential marketing

To promote his 2017 supernatural drama A ghost story, A24 has opened a pop-up store in Manhattan called A Ghost Store. There, patrons were draped in thick white sheets before being led into a room playing ethereal music and invited to have “meaningful reflection”.

And to market his 2019 film Uncut Gems, A24 opened another pop-up in New York’s Diamond District. The weekend-long event, where the film’s soundtrack went on sale and a zine edited by the film’s filmmakers was given away, was promoted on social media by Adam Sandler’s character from the film.

“Companies are trying to find ways other than just doing a poster and a trailer and buying media…”[They’ll ask:] “What else can we do that fits the current definition of a marketing campaign?”

These temporary stores are not used as serious revenue generators for A24. Instead, they’re used to get the press talking and people talking.

“Companies are trying to find ways other than just making a poster and a trailer and buying media,” Schwartz said. “[They’ll ask:] “What else can we do that fits the current definition of a marketing campaign?”

Using this type of experiential marketing – and working with advertising and pushing it to social media to amplify it – is an increasingly common response, one that A24 uses to generate buzz and start a conversation.