"Pitch Perfect" And How Analytics Are Transforming Movie Marketing


Neal Ungerleider

January 10, 2014

When Universal released the cult musical film Pitch Perfect in 2012, they did what any self-respecting studio would do: They commissioned marketing reports and forecasted ticket sales for the Anna Kendrick-starring movie. Among them was an analysis by a company called Fizziology which data-mines social media to see how the film would play out with audiences.

Fizziology, which works with the film and television industries from their headquarters in Indiana, calls social media “the world’s largest focus group.” The company offers what COO Jen Handley calls “understanding the big picture from social media data” for clients, mostly working in marketing and advertising at major film studios. Fizziology’s own analysts extrapolate standard fare–how many times a film is mentioned on Twitter, for instance–along with non-standard fare including the demographics of Twitter users who mention a film and what other topics they mention in conjunction with them. That helped Universal, who were coming to Fizziology with a very particular problem for Pitch Perfect.

In Pitch Perfect, Kendrick and her castmates portray a collegiate a cappella group making their way to a national competition. Despite the success of Glee on television, Universal had hesitancy about how to market their film. Handley says it was a “difficult title to compare to others”–was it more comedic? Did it resemble Rock of Ages more? Was it like Sparkle? Footloose? Or just a teen comedy? As the days before the movie’s release drew closer, Universal asked Fizziology to analyze just how the film was being discussed on social media.

Handley and her analysts found a surprise: The film, which hadn’t yet been released, was drawing buzz on Twitter among college students. Not only that, but much of the social media conversation was coming from men–and Universal had previously banked on the film, whose biggest stars were actresses, primarily attracting a core female audience of Glee fans. They unexpectedly discovered that many people paying attention to Pitch Perfect on Twitter didn’t appear to mention Glee on social media, and that an unexpectedly large number of positive tweets came from males who had attended screenings with women in the expected core audience.

Specific lines from the movie were quoted and requoted, and there was enough data from the film to create visualizations for Universal. After a commercial for the film aired on a break in ABC’s Dirty Little Liars and Twitter users discussed a cover of No Diggity and a character named “Fat Amy,” those created new data points as well for what people cared about. Before its release, Fizziology discovered that Pitch Perfect was already morphing into a cult hit.

Data-mining Twitter led Universal to change their entire pre-release strategy for Pitch Perfect. Most importantly, the film was released a week early–and Universal stumbled on what they felt was an ingenious way to capture those male viewers. For early screenings of the film, Universal arranged for Fandango and Movietickets.com to offer free tickets for +1s: Any purchasers buying three or more tickets to Pitch Perfect on the sites were able to get an extra ticket to the same screening for free. Pitch Perfect ended up getting what Universal claims was the most extensive screening campaign in the studio’s history, all thanks to analytics.

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