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Since the birth of the motion-picture industry, the lifeblood of Hollywood movie studios has been the audience—the men, women, and children who've pumped billions of dollars into the box office for nearly a century.

Yet movie studios are now struggling to effectively reach their target audience. Technology has given way to new distractions—status updates, viral videos, MP3s, faux rock bands—making it difficult for studios to capture moviegoers' attention.

Now, like something out of a blockbuster film, the movie studios are on a quest to find the ultimate marketing channel.

The good news: They don't have to venture off to a galaxy far, far away.

Movie studios are not that different from your typical mom-and-pop store. Aside from the multibillion-dollar revenues, they too look for ways to reduce their budgets and maximize their marketing spend. They just happen to spend a tad more.

According to Hollywood's movie trade association, the average marketing cost for a single studio picture was $36 million in 2007, the latest year for which data is available. With competition as fierce as a battle scene from the movie Braveheart, motion-picture executives are forced to go all out and spend huge dollars, hoping they will attract an audience.

Despite declining viewership, television remains the No. 1 medium via which to promote new films. TV has been a tried-and-true marketing channel for decades, but the rise of cable TV has made it harder to capture eyeballs than it was when there were just three national networks to choose from.

Nevertheless, although the movie studios are not ready to move away from television altogether, they are slowly investing in new digital-marketing strategies. According to a study by eMarketer, online ad spending by movie studios will reach $2.6 billion and account for close to 15% of their total ad spend. Though that might not seem like a lot, it's more than twice the 6.3% in 2008.

The investment in digital will only rise as movie studios discover that channels such as email offer quantifiable opportunities to reach very specific audiences. Email is a perfect channel for movie studios, offering not only acquisition and retention opportunities but also the ability to monetize media.


Throughout the course of a year, movie studios release several unique titles—in theaters and on DVD/Blu-ray. For every action movie that thrills one customer, there is a touching drama that pulls the heartstrings of another.

Email gives movie marketers the ability to leverage both explicit and implicit user preferences to serve relevant messaging to a variety of potential audience segments. Moviegoers often stick to certain genres and movie types; by leveraging that data, marketers can craft more valuable messaging for their segments.

Press Play

The inbox experience has changed in the past several years, and rich media that once could never be rendered in email is now supported by many email clients, and it's making its way into the mainstream.

Email users can now view streaming video directly from their email clients, and marketers testing those tactics have enjoyed early successes. Video in email represents a major opportunity for Hollywood to drive deeper engagement through the channel.

Golden Ticket

Even when business is booming, studios have a hard time selling midweek movie tickets. Leveraging email to deploy targeted discounts and offers for midweek shows to appropriate segments is a winning tactic.

There is a pronounced difference between open rates for emails that include a coupon offer and those that do not. Emails with coupons or discounts tend to register open rates of approximately 24% to 25% versus 16% to 18% for noncoupon campaigns, according to a recent study by Experian.

Pay It Forward

The inbox has been going through a transformation over the past year or so, as social networks have taken off. The inbox has become a much more social space, with messaging from Facebook, etc., and the ability to share/syndicate inbox content throughout social networks.

Those destinations represent the purest forms of word-of-mouth buzz marketing. If one person likes a movie learned about via email, he or she will almost certainly be sure to share it with friends in one easy click.

Opportunity Knocks

Movie studios have another inherent opportunity in the email channel: Like publishers and media companies, movie studios have an audience that's signing up for newsletters to stay in touch with the latest news and rumors surrounding their favorite movies and actors.

Like publishers, movie studios can monetize the medium by selling their newsletter inventory to relevant advertisers so they can reinvest in their own marketing budgets.

If a studio has a newsletter dedicated to its action flicks, studio executives probably have a basic idea of whom they are reaching—male teens and young adults. Email provides a much more comprehensive overview of that audience, and it offers data about exactly who those readers are, making it even more enticing to potential advertisers that want to reach this movie audience.

With the summer blockbuster season on the horizon, now is the perfect time to begin leveraging the email channel to generate buzz and attract your audience.

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image of Tony D'Anna

Tony D'Anna is CEO of PostUp, a digital and email marketing solutions company.

LinkedIn: Tony D'Anna

Twitter: @tonydanna

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