As a marketing aficionado and a movie lover, Nicholas Bereznai of Durham is always fascinated by what movies become commercial successes and what movies turn into box office duds. Now that Hollywood’s biggest night has come and gone, the Oscars once again showed that the movies people are paying to see are rarely the movies that draw the praise of the Academy. While the best picture winner did okay at the box office, it didn’t come close to the monetary success of a film like Cocaine Bear. How does a movie with as straightforward and crazy of a premise as Cocaine Bear become a smash hit? Nicholas Bereznai of Durham believes a remarkably efficient marketing campaign deserves most of the credit.
The chief marketing officer for Universal Pictures is Michael Moses. Nicholas Bereznai of Durham notes that Mr. Moses was handed a marketer’s dream with a film with a title as attention-grabbing as Cocaine Bear. When word hit the Internet that Universal Pictures had greenlit a movie called Cocaine Bear, people immediately started to discuss the film. Whether they were excited, curious or perplexed as to how this movie could get made, the buzz is something a marketing expert like Nicholas Bereznai of Durham dreams about. With so much attention, it was clear that people were looking to see if the studio could deliver on a movie that would lean into the story’s absurdity.
Traditional advertising methods are proving to be a thing of the past for those tasked with enticing a younger audience of moviegoers. Nicholas Bereznai of Durham credits Universal Studios for changing their marketing tactics to focus on social media. The messaging on social media for the movie industry has then changed from why a person needs to see this movie to why a person should be motivated to go to an actual theater to see the movie. This is where tactics like viral memes or audience reaction videos can do wonders to promote a movie. One of the reasons Top Gun Maverick was such a smash hit was because word of mouth spread that moviegoers felt like they were in the cockpit of a fighter jet themselves when they sat in their theater seats. While special effects can’t sell a movie like Cocaine Bear, people want to be apart of an audience that is having fun together. This is something that someone streaming a movie on Netflix or another streaming service can’t provide. Cocaine Bear’s marketing campaign played up the fact that there was a community of people who were sharing the thrills and laughs of the movie together at each showing of the picture.
The same studio also created M3GAN, a PG13 horror movie about a doll that is designed to be a child’s best friend was able to generate a buzz without an A-List cast, because they created a buzz on Tik Tok by releasing a video of a particularly memorable dance scene in the movie. All of a sudden Tik Tok users and influencers from around the country were trying to re-create and re-edit the dance to go viral. Because there’s such a young audience on Tik-Tok, the studio made sure that the movie received a PG-13 rating so as many teens as possible could flood the theaters.
Nicholas Bereznai of Durham credits the studio for understanding that they had a movie generating a ton of buzz, so they didn’t overdo it from a marketing perspective. When data came out that the movie preview video views on YouTube were off the charts, they let word of mouth do the heavy lifting. Then, as the release date grew closer, they ramped up their social media presence. One of the biggest mistakes a marketing agency or a movie studio can make is overcomplicating the message. Flooding the market with different styles of ad campaigns can lead to confusion and a lot of clicks on “skip ad” from the savvy Internet user.
Most of the success of the marketing campaign for Cocaine Bear can go back to the marketers properly identifying their target audience. Just as the studio realized that M3gan was an enticing film for Tik Tok users, the studio identified that Cocaine Bear was for people who wanted escapism and laughs at the theater. Sometimes, it’s as simple as offering a film that will allow a community of people to turn their brains off for two hours and enjoy some laughs. Keeping this message consistent allowed Cocaine Bear to grow into one of the most unexpected hits of the year. Movies that take themselves too seriously may find critical success, but they rarely see significant returns at the box office.