The Sequel Effect: What Marketers Can Learn From The Movies

August 23, 2015

Eddie Newquist

Eddie Newquist- Eddie Newquist is Chief Creative Officer at GES. He’s an award-winning creative executive, designer, filmmaker and inventor with three patents and counting! He’s best known for his work on some of the world’s most successful entertainment franchises including Harry Potter, Cars, The Terminator and Jurassic Park.

These days, Hollywood seems to be producing more sequels than original stories. That’s because movie sequels have proven to be big moneymakers, and, as a result, the movie industry has adjusted its priorities accordingly.

Movie fans have displayed an intense attraction and engagement toward stories and characters who live long lives on the big screen. That made me wonder: Can we use the same power of sequels to breathe new life into our marketing campaigns?

The Power Of The Sequel

Carrying a storyline through multiple sequels is not an easy task, but it can be a lucrative one. Stories that stand the test of time share a few key attributes. If you can tap into these traits when marketing your brand, your campaigns will resonate with your customers over and over again.

Here are five principles that the film industry uses when producing sequels. If you infuse them into your campaigns, you can create the same long-lasting magic that has captured the attention of moviegoers everywhere.

1. Stay true to the heart of your story: To maintain a certain level of success, you need to persistently preserve the core and essence of your story. No matter how many times you market the same product, your marketing needs to remain true to your brand. Adding new concepts to your scheme should complement your existing story, not change it.

Historically, consumers have been relatively indifferent to insurance companies’ advertising tactics. Progressive saw this indifference and sought to overcome it with the creation of Flo in 2008. Flo has become a pop culture icon, but from commercial to commercial, she has managed to consistently be a reflection of Progressive’s employees: relatable, approachable, and easy to connect with.

2. Study your audience: There’s no substitute for face-to-face communication with your audience. Some companies think that sitting back and crunching social data numbers all day will paint an accurate picture of their clients’ desires and opinions. But brand marketers need to have a deeper, more genuine connection with fans. Client input should be key to your marketing strategy. Make sure you’re getting an accurate representation of their wants and needs.

The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is an example worth exploring. The festival does a terrific job of listening to its audience members and providing an experience that aligns with their tastes.

Coachella changes its musical lineup every year to incorporate new bands and genres. It also only does business with corporate sponsors that appeal to and share the same overall values as its concertgoers. The end result is always a dramatic desert experience, and that’s mainly due to the fact that Coachella does such a great job of studying its audience.

3. Provide a thrill: Once you know what your audience members want, it’s time to figure out how to get them excited about it. What is it about your product that thrills your customers? What gets their hearts pumping? You need to be able to show your clients that you know the answers to these questions. Your sequel should speak directly to these triggers.

For The Limited Too, this meant recognizing that tween girls want a shopping experience and clothing options designed specifically for them. The Limited Too essentially sold mini versions of clothing from The Limited, an adult clothing brand. But executives realized that tweens were looking for unique clothing options and sought to create a “little Urban Outfitters for the girl.” Then Justice was born and began squashing the competition.

But remember: Don’t just provide a sequel for the sake of providing a sequel. Take the time to ensure that it expands on the excitement your first iteration created. In the movie world, audiences often feel cheated by sequels that fail to do this. Writers and producers will rely on the success of the first movie without looking to maintain the same level of excitement throughout the second one. They shoot themselves in the foot by doing so and ruin any chance of another sequel.

4. Create intrigue through marketing: Your audience members have already met your characters, and they know your story. So how do you keep them interested? Focus your marketing efforts on creating intrigue and uncertainty around your otherwise familiar topic.

In marketing its King Kong 360 3D ride, Universal Studios created ads that did a brilliant job of showing everything but the main attraction. Even though the story of King Kong is decades old, the flipped cars, damaged asphalt, and heavy breathing in these ads piqued viewers’ curiosity and gave them a sense that something new and exciting was coming.

5. Make cautious changes: Sometimes sequels need to change, and that’s fine. Just look at how different the current versions of Batman, Spider-Man, and James Bond are from their first iterations. When you make these changes, you need to make sure they’re clearly visualized and absolutely necessary—or you risk alienating your current fan base.

In the mid-2000s, BMW decided to reinvent its image and emphasize its MINI line of vehicles. The company partnered with an advertising firm to create an award-winning campaign that promoted a new vision and direction for the company. Had BMW not done its due diligence and developed a clear purpose for this change, the results of this rebranding could have been disastrous.

Hollywood can teach us a lot about the power of the sequel. Marketers who pay careful attention to this special kind of storytelling can harness that power to create long-lasting campaigns.

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