When I saw Adweek was taking a look at how marketers and advertisers in various industries are using audio as part of the mix, I thought, "Great! There's plenty to talk about there when it comes to how movie studios do it."
Yeah, not so much.
Movie studios are great at two things when it comes to audio formats: 1) Getting their talent to appear on podcasts, which is really just an extension of getting them on terrestrial radio; and 2) Sponsoring podcasts, particularly to raise awareness of their new releases, specifically smaller movies or those with some level of prestige. In my research and experience, I could identify only two examples of originally produced, owned podcasts that were created to promote new theatrical releases.
The first was back in 2005 which, if you'll remember, was the first time podcasts were considered the hot new media format. (Yes, millennials, podcasts were around before the first season of Serial. Let's move on.) It was, if you can believe it, produced to promote the remake of House of Wax starring Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray and others, and was hosted—hang on here—by costar Paris Hilton.
That's right. Jump in the Wayback Machine to a strange time when Paris Hilton was everywhere in the media. And someone paid her to "host" a podcast that was ostensibly about the movie but which, based on the few episodes I listened to, mentioned said movie only a couple of times. The show lasted about a dozen episodes, eventually losing what little focus on the movie there was—it was actually billed as the "Countdown to House of Wax" show—and just becoming "The Paris Hilton Podcast."
It's important, though, to put that effort in the context of the times. As I mentioned, 2005 was pretty much the Golden Age of podcasting. In the first half of the year, to listen to them, you needed a "podcatcher," a separate piece of software through which you subscribed to the RSS feed for the show and received updates, which then could then be side-loaded onto early iPods (if you had the technical know-how) or just listened to online.
It wasn't until July 2005 that iTunes rolled out podcast support, which made subscribing and listening a much more intuitive and user-friendly experience. So Warner Bros.' experimentation with the format very much put them at the forefront of new media (that's what we called it back in the day, kids), though in retrospect it's easy to wish it had been for a better movie and/or featuring … anyone else.
The only other example of an owned podcast produced specifically to promote a movie came six years later.
Kevin Smith was, by 2011, already an established podcast host, having launched his SModcast with producer Scott Mosier in 2009. So he utilized his network to create the "Red State of the Union" spinoff show, promoting his movie Red State, that lasted 13 episodes and featured Smith talking to Mosier and the rest of the cast and crew in the lead-up to the film's release. While it was certainly self-aggrandizing, as much of Smith's promotional work tends to be, at least by this point he was a polished host and knew how to work the system.
Even more than that, Smith is one of the few in the movie industry to have an intuitive sense of how to use owned media to promote his work. There have been a couple examples here and there of studios launching blogs, but Smith has been publishing online since the early days, starting with posts on the View Askew forums, then on a stand-alone blog and then through his various podcast series. He's used these formats to take his message directly to fans, a trick the big studios never really learned as they continued to rely on earned and paid media placements.
These days, most audio movie marketing is done via those earned and paid tactics. Directors and stars will make the rounds of various podcasts to talk about their movies in the same way they appear on talk radio. And if you listen to enough podcasts or Spotify or Pandora, you'll hear ads for upcoming or recent releases.
While acknowledging this is a "use case of one" example, I've heard countless ads for Don't Think Twice, the new movie about a New York City improv troupe from writer/director/star Mike Bribilgla; Florence Foster Jenkins, the story of an untalented heiress starring Meryl Streep; and A Tale of Love and Darkness, the movie starring and directed by Natalie Portman about a young boy and his mother in the nascent Israeli state. So there's definitely a type for these efforts—limited releases hoping to pick up word-of-mouth. This is pure, unadulterated awareness building.
The big issue, as I alluded to above, is studios never really got on board with the whole "owned media" thing, where they launch sustainable content marketing programs. There were a few blogs launched here and there for individual movies, but they never lasted because the lifecyle of the campaign is relatively short. That hasn't stopped studios from embracing managed media, where there are often Twitter and Facebook profiles for each release, because sure, let's spend three months buying a big audience that will be abandoned six months later when we stop publishing there.
It would make more sense—it's always made more sense to me—for studios to go all in on the brand level with their blogs and, by extension, their audio efforts. That hasn't happened, for whatever reason. So the few examples of original podcast production remain as outliers, experiments that failed to lead to meaningful changed output habits.
I blame Paris Hilton.