Variety’s Marketing Visionary Award Honorees Reflect on Risky Strategies



In the fast-paced world of viral campaigns and emerging platforms, digital marketers are constantly refining their approach to draw in consumer engagement.

Whether it’s for film, television or gaming projects, Hollywood employs cutting-edge strategies to attract audiences, especially when viewers are more empowered and able than ever to give direct feedback via social media. Leaders in the field, who will be honored at Variety Spotify’s Entertainment Marketing Visionary Awards on Oct. 26, are listening and pivoting when necessary, leading to some of the past year’s most memorable digital campaigns.

Josh Goldstine, head of worldwide marketing at Warner Bros. Pictures Group, dared to use the word “hate” in trailers for “Barbie” early on and had tremendous success with it. Negative words are usually avoided in promotional material, yet “Barbie” trailers asserted that the film was for everyone who loves and hates the iconic Mattel doll.

“We had to be willing to take risks in a way that that the film takes risks,” explains Goldstine. “It’s also acknowledging that there are a variety of responses to Barbie. We had a theory that older female audiences would [go to the movie] with younger audiences and they would share those early Barbie memories they had. We also wanted to reframe it for mothers and daughters who have a different and newer relationship with Barbie.”

Since Barbie was a legacy brand and the defining toy for Mattel, there could have been pressure to only acknowledge positive associations. But Greta Gerwig’s film pushed boundaries and explored the complex relationship many people have with the toy, so Goldstine and his team went there, too.

“We wanted to set the net wide enough to embrace the breadth of audience, [some] who were super fans, but also those who had had a longer history with the brand and may have even have their own negative or challenging views,” says Goldstine.

This authentic approach — acknowledging the complex attitudes of an audience toward a brand — can be a way to earn an audience’s trust. Data shows that Gen Z and the emerging Gen Alpha viewers respond to campaigns that speak to them in a way that seems real and trustworthy. But wading in the waters of social media can still be tricky. Once a campaign is let loose into that ecosystem, there’s not much control over its trajectory or reception.

Shannon Willett, chief marketing officer at Peacock, believes you have to jump into social media as a real participant in the platform, while speaking to your audience in the way that they want.

“I’ve talked with our social team about how much our footprint has grown even in the last few months,” Willett tells Variety. “A big part of that growth engine has been TikTok. What it really requires is almost becoming a content creator and publisher. You have to be not just promoting your product on these platforms, but actually engaging with audiences on those platforms in an authentic way. You have to be more authentic and that does require keeping a finger on the pulse of what’s happening.”

Willett also took a customized approach to promoting the series “Poker Face” through a Super Bowl ad. In a competitive environment where every commercial is screaming for attention, she felt it was the best way to set the series apart from the rest.

“For us, ‘Poker Face’ was a big tentpole swing of this premium entertainment, and we wanted to make sure that people knew that we were on that map,” says Willett. “My belief is when you have the Super Bowl and you’re going to put something in the Super Bowl, it needs to be custom, it needs to feel bespoke. We wanted the best concept that contextually is going to make sense in the Super Bowl, that might make people laugh or feel entertained by the advertising itself.”

The “Call of Duty” gaming franchise offers bundles such as “The Return of the Shizzle Snoop Dogg” as well as ones featuring Nicki Minaj and 21 Savage. Johanna Faries, senior VP and general manager of the “Call of Duty” franchise, believes these moments deepen ties that the gaming franchise has with its multi-generational audience.

“We’ve had a lot of household names show up as operators within our own gameplay,” says Faries. “You see that with Snoop now making a lot of appearances on ‘Call of Duty.’ But the list is incredibly long when you think about the decades that it’s been on the map.”

She says the company is always looking at where we can show up in a way that’s going to create breakthroughs and conversation at a wow factor level — be it in music, fashion, or social media.

Marc Weinstock, president of worldwide marketing and distribution at Paramount Pictures, has also created partnerships and crossovers for the studio’s films this year. For example, Tom Cruise did a cold open before the NFL AFC championship game on CBS as part of promoting “Top Gun: Maverick.” There was also a “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” toolkit integration into Nickelodeon’s broadcast of the NFL wild card game and “NFL Slimetime.”

“We leaned into innovative marketing activations,” Weinstock says. “For example, for ‘Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie,’ we held a Guinness World Record-breaking screening for most dogs ever to attend a screening, and for ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem,’ we had interactive fan experiences in New York and Los Angeles, where tens of thousands of people were able to get immersed into the world of the Turtles. These are just a couple of the innovative tools we’ve used to capture the attention and excitement of both parents and kids in marketing our animated films, in particular.”

Weinstock and the Paramount team also incorporated social media for marketing many of their titles. Perhaps nothing was quite so unsettling as actors featuring creepy smiles at MLB games in support of, you guessed it, the horror film “Smile.”

Says Weinstock: “Social media has been instrumental in marketing movies like ‘Top Gun: Maverick,’ as well as movies like ‘Smile,’ where platforms were key in amplifying our marketing activations like our award-winning viral ‘Smile lady’ stadium stunts.”


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