Making a movie is an extraordinary accomplishment that requires skill, perseverance, and a little bit of luck. But just because you’ve made a movie doesn’t mean anyone is going to see it. That’s where marketing comes in. What is film marketing? And what marketing approaches are most effective? Let’s break it down.

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What is film marketing?

Intro to Film Marketing

Film marketing is vital to the commercial success of a movie. Before we go any further, make sure you understand what exactly the term refers to.


What is film marketing?

Film marketing refers to building awareness for a movie. In other words, a film marketing team’s goal is to "get the word out" and hopefully maximize the profit margins of a given movie. The practice can take many forms, from trailers to posters to social media posts. Film marketing is constantly evolving, and requires extensive research to get right. Marketers are always looking at consumer trends to try to capitalize on audience tastes most effectively.

Forms of Marketing:

  • Paid media
  • Earned media
  • Owned media

What is film marketing?

Types of Film Marketing

As you could probably tell from its definition, film marketing is a massive umbrella term. There are countless ways to get the word out about a movie. 

All of these methods, however, can be boiled down to these three aforementioned categories: paid media, earned media, and owned media.

Most marketing campaigns use some mix of all three of these media types to varying degrees.

Paid media

Paid media is exactly what it sounds like: it’s media that costs a marketing team money. These are ad spots, trailers, teasers, posters, billboards, and more. Someone has to pay for a trailer and pay for it to get shown on TV, just as they need to pay for a billboard and pay for it to get put up.

What is Film Marketing Madame Web Paid Media StudioBinder

Madame Web paid media  •  Movie marketing

Earned media

Earned media is incredibly valuable, and it can’t be bought. It refers to word-of-mouth content like reviews, social media reactions, and memes. To a certain extent, a marketing team doesn’t have control over earned media.

A marketer can, however, encourage the creation of earned media. To get more reviews, they can put on critics screenings and send press kits (more on those later) to film critics

Perhaps their biggest weapons are their stars – getting an actor to do a publicity tour for a film is often vital for commercial success. Famous actors generate a lot of earned media through interviews, talk show appearances, and posts on socials.

To a certain extent, this can also be true of a director, though this is slightly more niche unless the director is a huge name.

What is Film Marketing Matthew McConaughey on Late Night StudioBinder

Matthew McConaughey on Late Night  •  Movie advertising

Owned media

Owned media refers to all content that a marketing team has access to and control of that they don’t have to pay for. This often refers to BTS footage and photos which can be shared on social media, as well as on-set interviews with actors.

Owned media can be much more expansive with big studios. Disney, for example, can orchestrate coverage of one of their movies on, say, ABC, which is a Disney subsidiary. Of course, this kind of owned media is far out of reach for indie filmmakers.

What is film marketing?

Film Marketing Content

Now that we’ve gone through all the types of media a marketing team will be dealing with and fostering, it’s time to turn our attention to the specific kinds of content a team may need to churn out.


This is the most obvious form of marketing for a movie, and one which exists for nearly all marketing campaigns of any size. There’s a reason for this. Perhaps more than any other form of content, the trailer builds audience anticipation and tells them what to expect.

As such, a trailer is immensely important to a successful marketing campaign. Good trailers have to walk a fine line, giving just enough information to a viewer that they’re hooked, but not too much so that they feel like they don’t need to see the movie.

A trailer for Dune: Part Two  •  Film advertising

A good place to start with a trailer is by doing research. Watch your favorite trailers. How do they build intrigue? How do they deliver the hook of the movie? 

In the end, your trailer needs to answer one key question: Why should an audience buy a ticket to this? 


The poster is about as important as the trailer. Like a trailer, it should be attention-grabbing while also delivering key information about the film. Posters, however, have to be more focused. How can you sum up the movie in one image? Jaws is perhaps the greatest example of this:

What is Film Marketing Jaws Poster StudioBinder

Jaws poster  •  Movie promotion

Posters will also highlight any big names attached to a project. If it’s an especially big star, a poster may forefront their face to build people’s interest. 

Press Kit

A press kit is crucial to building earned media. Today, nearly all press kits are digital, and are thus referred to as Electronic Press Kits or EPKs. EPKs are typically created pretty early in the filmmaking process, since sometimes they’re used to obtain funding or distribution.

A press kit will usually include a trailer of some sort (or a brief teaser if not all the footage is captured yet), a poster, a synopsis, information on the high level cast and crew involved, and contact details.

Once completed, they can be sent all over the place. The goal of EPKs in the marketing phase is to make entertainment journalists’ jobs easier. Give them the information they need to write about your movie, and they’re more likely to do just that.

What is Film Marketing EPK example From Horse Tale StudioBinder

EPK example

Social media

Here’s a little secret: social media is free and lots of people use it. This means that there’s very little downside to building your film’s presence on social media, and a potentially huge upside.

Most films large and small will be given their own social media accounts, as well as a website that acts as a hub for any and all information a curious potential viewer may need. What these accounts and websites look like varies from movie to movie.

If you have a horror film, share scary stills and capitalize on Halloween. If you’re working with a RomCom, show BTS of your two leads together to highlight their chemistry (and, if they’re stars, get the rumor mill going…). Be creative – it’s all about getting as much attention as possible.

What is film marketing?

Make a Plan

So there are a lot of paths to follow when you’re marketing your film. The key to successful marketing isn’t necessarily the particular content you choose to make, it’s how you use it and when. This is all decided when coming up with a marketing plan.

Big vs. small budget

Marketing plans vary wildly depending on the budget of a film. Big studios usually are vertically integrated with in-house marketing teams. 

These teams are working with larger budgets, and can therefore shell out cash for TV spots and even merchandising. Expansive campaigns of this size are referred to as integrated or 360 degree marketing – they are trying to reach as many people as possible.

What is Film Marketing A Billboard for Dark Knight Rises StudioBinder

A billboard for Dark Knight Rises, a film with 360 degree marketing  •  Advertising for movies

Smaller indie films, however, will need to take a more selective approach, relying more heavily on social media and word-of-mouth buzz.

But marketing campaigns for both big and small films do have one thing in common: identifying a potential audience.

Finding your audience

Knowing your audience will significantly impact a marketing plan. Potential audiences are broadly separated into four quadrants based on age and whether they are male or female (yes, it’s somewhat dated). The quadrants therefore look something like this:

What is Film Marketing Qudranat System for Film Marketing StudioBinder

4 quadrant system  •  Marketing in film

A true blockbuster may aim for all four of these quadrants, and is thus referred to as a four quadrant movie.

But most films have a more specific target audience. 

This target audience (also referred to as the primary or core audience) is the group of people that marketers are almost positive will want to see the movie. An audience that may be interested, but the marketers are less sure about, is referred to as the secondary audience.

Finally, there’s the audience that probably won’t be interested, but may see the film if it becomes a hit – this is the tertiary audience.

What is Film Marketing Tertiary Audience for Film Marketing StudioBinder

An audience, in seats: the goal  •  How to promote a movie

To hone further in on a target audience, marketers may factor in psychographic information like lifestyle, income, politics, and more. Having a good grasp on your target audience is crucial. There’s a big difference between audience awareness and audience interest – they may know about your film, but will they want to see it?

Release strategy

Marketers also need to take into account how and when a film should be released. This decision-making process has a few considerations.

First, the team has to decide whether or not the film will benefit from word-of-mouth once it’s released. In other words, they need to decide whether or not the film is actually good.

If it is, then marketers might encourage critics screenings before the release to get positive reviews circulating. They may also have a platform release, where a film is shown just in New York and Los Angeles. This allows time for buzz around the movie to build.

What is Film Marketing Past Lives Movie Marketing Strategy StudioBinder

Past Lives utilized a platform release

If it seems like a blockbuster will be a critical flop, then a criticism embargo may be enacted until one wide release. This allows a movie to make money on opening weekend before reviewers dissuade the public.

Another consideration is whether or not to even put a movie in theaters. Is this a movie people will leave their homes to see, or should it go straight to streaming? This is typically decided by market research.

What is film marketing?

Best film marketing campaigns

Sometimes, a marketing campaign is as memorable as a movie itself (or, in some cases, more memorable). We’ve compiled a collection of especially effective campaigns.

28 Days Later

Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later changed the game for zombie movies. Its success was due in no small part to its ingenious marketing campaign, which included flyposting quotable lines from the film throughout London and designing a series of panels showing what happened before the film begins.

The team also built a fake website for zombie survivalists, driving online engagement.

What is Film Marketing Days Later Movie Marketing Strategy StudioBinder

28 Days Later  •  Movies and advertising


The marketing campaign for the highest grossing film of all time had to do something right. Avatar’s campaign is a perfect example of marketing for a four quadrant blockbuster.

The marketing team used every tool available to them. 

They partnered with Coca-Cola to create cans that, when scanned online, unlocked an AR environment. They had cross over events on TV shows as disparate as Bones and Space Ghost Coast to Coast

The team expanded Avatar’s world by releasing a book about Pandora, as well as a video game inspired by the film. They also partnered with Mattel to create action figures, and McDonalds to release toys as part of Happy Meals.

What is Film Marketing Avatar Movie Marketing Strategy StudioBinder

Avatar action figure  •  Movie marketing strategy

Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity’s marketing campaign leaned into an age-old marketing strategy for horror movies: arguing that the movie may be too scary. To convince people, the marketing team released footage taken inside test screenings where audience members were screaming and gasping.

Paranormal Activity trailer  •  Film marketing campaigns


Another horror movie, Smile boasted one of the most innovative marketing techniques in recent years. The team placed actors in prominent seats at various sporting events and had them smile creepily at the camera.

The strategy was subtle, but a success – it generated buzz online as people attempted to figure out just what was going on.

Coverage of the stunt • Film promotion and marketing

As these examples should tell you, marketing is important. As a filmmaker, you may not be inclined to think about the marketing phase as much as, say, production. But great marketing can change a filmmaker’s career. The more eyes, the better.

Up Next

What is Film Distribution?

Marketing is all well and good, but if your movie can’t be seen anywhere, it’s useless. That’s where distribution comes in. Distribution and marketing often go hand in hand, and have a lot of overlap. We break down the very complex, and very major, process.

Up Next: Distribution Explained →
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