Last week, it was announced that 20th Century Fox will no longer be showing footage of any of their upcoming works at San Diego Comic-Con, citing how often exclusive footage shown at the event gets leaked online. What strikes me as ironic is how appropriate the “20th Century” part of their name is in this, given that we’re pretty solidly into the 21st century now. Fox is holding on to outdated marketing ideas from the last century that simply do not work well today.
The problem, from Fox’s perspective, boils down to control. Marketing from the previous century was largely about controlling your brand and your message using primarily one-way communication. You told consumers how they were supposed to think about Ford or McDonald’s or whatever. Everyone wanted to buy the world a Coke because Coca-Cola told them to! Whatever the audience actually thought or felt was irrelevant because the marketing messages they received didn’t even allow for a response. People saw the billboards and TV commercials and the newspaper circulars, and that was their only real way for learning about the product and/or what it was like.
Once we got into the 21st century, though, we saw a drastic rise with online venues. Consumers were a click away from finding a CEO’s phone number or email address, and they could immediately respond with whatever their thoughts were about a product or service. And with social media, those same individuals were now given a marketing voice of their own to provide a potentially counter-narrative to the ones they were being fed through advertising. All those great quotes from critics can now easily be shown to be taken out of context and/or run completely counter to a low score on Rotten Tomatoes. Who are you more likely to believe? The company producing a movie that says it’s great and obviously benefits from more people seeing their film, or the thousands of folks just like you who paid to see the movie and are telling others not to waste their time?
Marketing in the 21st century simply cannot be a matter of presenting what you want people to see when and where you want them to see it. Marketing is no longer a one-way street. You can certainly put your materials out into the world, but when/where/how your potential audience chooses to engage with it is up to them.
And that does indeed mean that “exclusive” footage presented at a convention will get leaked. That’s been the case for years now. Rather than try to deny that exists with a “I’ll just take my ball and go home” approach, which winds up being seen as a marketing move with very negative connotations, you’d do much better to go in with the very realistic assumption that your footage will be leaked and to specifically market to that. Perhaps turn the leaking itself into a contest—whoever’s leaked footage gets the most traffic in the first 24 hours gets a prize or something. Something that takes advantage of the internet’s speed and ubiquity.
Agencies everywhere keep trying to make material that “goes viral” so their audience does their marketing for them. That Fox is very consciously eschewing even the basic idea of that seems like not only ignoring an opportunity right in front of them, but almost a deliberate effort to make themselves look more backwards-thinking and contemptuous of their core audience and fans.