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Hunger Games 2 set a thanksgiving weekend record when it earned over $99.3 million for its five-day gross at the box office.

While those numbers are impressive, it is important to remember that the mainstream success of the Hunger Games franchise was anything but assured in the beginning…

The series provided a unique challenge for marketers: how to sell the idea of a young adult film where the characters are, well, trying to murder one another.

With the huge success of the first movie, a good portion of the work was already done when it came time to promote the second installment…

But when the series was first launching, Lions Gate succeeded with some extremely clever social media marketing and a laser focus on the books’ most loyal fans.

Here are some of the marketing secrets that created the first film’s stellar success:

Reward Your Most Loyal Fans

Early on, during the filming of the first Hunger Games movie, Lions Gate ran a contest that brought five fans to the film’s North Carolina studio lot.

Interestingly, Lions Gate chose not to invite any reporters to the event. Lions Gate said that they didn’t want fans to feel that the film was being filtered to them through industry professionals.

It was also a way of rewarding the film’s real audience, and not just providing another junket for industry insiders.

If you are spending money on promoting your products, then why not spend it on your customers?

Keep It Fun

Lions Gate hasn’t taken their marketing of Hunger Games too seriously…

As part of the marketing campaign, the film production company released a number of fake ads for the official products of the 74th Annual Hunger Games.

Advertising the products were characters that starred in the film. These fake product ads included Liquid Skyliner Eyeliner, Smile Away Toothpaste, and Cutting Edge Razors.

Along the same lines, Lions Gate also established a fake, but realistic looking fashion website called Capitol Couture. The site provided a fun, interactive way to bring the audience even deeper into the world of the Hunger Games.

The Value Of Obtaining Prospective Customers’ Contact Details

Lions Gate clearly understands the benefit of obtaining their audience’s contact details.

Early in the marketing for the film, Lions Gate developed a website titled TheCapitol.pn, after the name of the capitol city in the Hunger Games universe.

Once registered with the site, fans could receive exclusive updates about the film.

However, what made the site particularly clever from a marketing perspective was the sign-up process…

To register with the site, fans were asked to connect with their Facebook or Twitter accounts. They were then assigned districts in the city and provided with digital IDs, which gave them membership to Panem (the society in the Hunger Games).

In total, more than 800,000 people chose to receive the IDs.

By connecting through Twitter and Facebook accounts, Lions Gate was able to continue to promote in a targeted way, as well as leverage their fans’ existing social networks.

Turning Fans Into Brand Ambassadors

Another clever, low budget marketing tactic Lions Gate used was to cut up a newly designed Hunger Games film poster into 100 separate pieces…

The scanned versions of those pieces were then sent to 100 websites… who were asked to post their piece of the puzzle on Twitter.

Fans then had to search Twitter to find the pieces to try and reassemble them. As a result of all of that searching, Hunger Games quickly become a trending topic on Twitter…

The idea was one of the least expensive tactics Lions Gate used to promote the film, but it was also one of the most effective.

Content marketing has been one of the big buzzwords of 2013… and for good reason.

When content is engaging and properly aligned with the interests of your potential customers, it just… works.

The fake ads, the websites… all of this provides a great example of how just how effective content marketing can be.

The film studio masterfully built anticipation for the Hunger Games and engaged their audience every step of the way…

And in the process, they converted fans into brand ambassadors for the film. Word-of-mouth advertising is one of the most effective forms of marketing, and something that everything business should strive for.

Most businesses don’t have a blockbuster budget to engage with customers like Lions Gate… but it is worthwhile to remember that while Lions Gate spent $45 million promoting the films, studios will regularly spend more than a $100 million on marketing a major film… and achieve far less.

And in the wake of the first movie’s success, anticipation, fan engagement, and word-of-mouth advertising for Hunger Games 2 hit the ground running at full speed!

The true lesson is how effective marketing can be when it is well targeted and truly engaging…

And that’s something we can all apply to our businesses in 2014.

As they say in Hunger Games –

May the odds be ever in your favor!

In your corner,

Charlie

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