The Interview. Is this the best marketing campaign of the year?

For industries that have an ever changing portfolio of ‘new products’ that have to be packaged from scratch and sold to as many people as possible and as quickly as possible, a mass media approach is still relevant. The music industry is one such industry and the film business is another.

But it’s not a cheap way to build a brand, whether that brand is a boy band or a movie.

Sony Pictures recently announced that it would not be releasing The Interview (the home page for the movie has been deleted) following potential threats of violence to theatres showing the movie. I’m not going to go into that story but you can read about it here.

Strangely the movie was due to be released on Christmas Day in the USA but not till February in the UK (It was not going to be released in Malaysia or anywhere else in Asia). This sort of release schedule is not unusual but rarely happens these days because studios prefer global same day release patterns in an attempt to combat piracy.

I have a nagging suspicion that Sony was struggling to generate interest in the movie and were looking to gain some traction with the hacking issue. The film is rumoured to have cost US$44 million (RM141 million), not a lot by today’s standards but throw in another US$50 million to gain some marketing traction and you’ve suddenly got a lot of money to recoup.

Early reviews of the film are lukewarm at best. said it “played more like a sketch show or sitcom rather than a theatrical film.” And with a US$44 million production budget, plus marketing and other costs, I reckon the movie would need to generate over US$100 million just to break even.

Sony is reported to have been reluctant to make the film in the first place and so could be using the hacking scandal to do what it has wanted to do all along, bin the film. But that could end up costing the studio as much as US$200 million according to Bloomberg news.

I think Sony had a problem generating interest in the film and decided to use the hacking controversy as an opportunity to gain some awareness traction. I’m sure Sony understands the importance of generating an integrated buzz about movies across social media and traditional media and then nurturing that buzz.

If Sony understands better than most that the best thing they could do was to lay the foundations for a narrative by cancelling the release of the film and then let it grow organically across all media and let the traditional media, many of them competitors or linked to competitors do the story telling then my theory could be right.

Sure it’s a dangerous game and the interest in the story has been extraordinary but if they thought the movie was going to tank anyway, and they wanted to deflect attention away from the incompetence and ignorance of personnel as well as the remarkable security gaps then it may actually be a stroke of genius.

I have a nagging suspicion Sony will ‘relent’ and show the movie after all. If they do, it could become the marketing success of 2014.


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