How to Market Your Film Using Native Advertising

Have you ever seen a film with such a fascinating story that you wished – if only for a moment – that you could live inside its world? Of course you have. It’s a universal experience; it’s one of the many reasons that we watch our favorite movies over and over and over. It’s this human desire to get closer to the story that makes “behind the scenes” features so popular.

Today, native advertising is making that “behind the scenes” opportunity even more appealing for filmmakers and filmgoers alike. In a nutshell:

Native advertising is paid/sponsored content that looks like natural/organic content.

If you want to go a little more in depth, I recommend Rebecca Lieb’s expanded definition:

“Native advertising lies somewhere in bridging the divide between content marketing (a pull strategy) and plain, old fashioned advertising, which is interruptive. Somewhere in its definition is probably the fact of paying for space or time (the ‘advertising’ part). The ‘native’ part means it is organic, conducive to the user experience, non-salesy, and offers some sort of value in and of itself as an ad (entertainment, education, or utility, for example).”

Confused? A lot of people are. To help clarify things, let’s take a look at how native advertising is showing up in film marketing…

Native Advertising Meets Film Marketing

Native advertising has become normalized in the online versions of publications like The Atlantic, The Huffington Post, Forbes, and BuzzFeed. However, it’s a relatively new trend for film marketing. Check out two notable movies of late (both from Disney/Pixar) that implement a native advertising strategy: Planes and Monsters University.

Planes: Propwash Junction Patch Site

A little more than a month out from its August 9 release date, Disney created a fictional website for Planes, a spin-off of the highly successful animated Cars movie. What makes the Planes website so fascinating from the movie marketing perspective is that it’s hosted on AOL’s Patch network, an online home for hyper-local news and entertainment in more than 1,000 communities around the United States.

The fictional Planes Patch website is built around the movie’s community, Propwash Junction. It features community “news” and links to fictional businesses in Propwash Junction like Little Propellers DayCare and Preschool, where “your precious planes will spend their days preparing for elementary flight school under the tutelage of former police helicopters.” The website even goes as far as to feature fake advertisements – a completely native experience!

Monsters University Fake Site

Planes wasn’t the first film to get its own fake website. Last fall, Pixar created MonstersUniversity.com, an incredibly realistic website designed for the fictional Monsters University. Aside from classes like “SCAR 226: Scaring Trends” and social events like “Screaming in the Rain Movie Night,” the website looks like a spot-on rendition of any generic university website.

Marketing Your Film With Native Advertising

Is a fictional website an exciting new way to market movies? You bet!

Is it the end-all-be-all of film marketing? No way!

Creating fake promotional websites on this scale requires a big budget and a dedicated programming and content team. While low-budget and independent filmmakers aren’t likely to create their own Monsters-style site, the basic ideas behind native advertising are scalable. Here are my takeaways for this style of film marketing:

  • Look for creative ways to tell your movie’s story in “the real world,” whether that’s through a fictional site or by having your characters send out press releases, as the creators of Arrested Development did this past May.
  • Create content that is worth your audience’s time. Remember, one of the principles of native advertising is that paid/advertorial content must function in an organic way (i.e. engage users).
  • Use native advertising that makes sense for your brand. Planes didn’t build their website on Google+ or Tumblr. They went to Patch for a reason: it’s a site that’s used by young parents, especially women. Know your audience. Meet them where they are.

Have any favorite examples of native advertising in film marketing? Share them below!

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