The Social Media (Political) Campaign of Sony’s The Interview

First, Some Context

Have you seen it? Do you plan to see it? No, I’m not talking about the Transit of Venus; I’m talking about Sony’s comedy The Interview. Officially released through Columbia Pictures, The Interview made quite the splash, even though someone (perhaps North Korea) decided to try to puncture the kiddie pool before swim-time was over. If you haven’t been on the up-and-up about what happened over the past few months, feel free to visit USA Today’s timeline detailing the events surrounding Sony’s hack and how it was related to the release of The Interview.

Varying degrees of speculation and certainty aside, the real questions is: How has Sony responded to all the hubbub? Any mainstream movie made today will have a some kind of social media campaign behind it, but how did Sony pull this off for their (apparently) volatile film?

Before the hack, The Interview was being pushed through such platforms as one would expect for a nation-wide release. Sony had Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ pages churning out content, as well as a YouTube channel for movie trailers. This, however, all changed after said hack. When Sony was put between a rock and a hard cyberspace, they decided to take down the website dedicated to The Interview as well as their social media accounts. This, however, all changed once again.

Mere days after Sony’s decision to pull the movie altogether, prompts from the U.S. government (and most likely the Internet) convinced Sony to release the movie, in theaters and online, and thus reinstate The Interview‘s social media accounts. Since that time, these accounts have been up and running, carrying out a campaign that became far more politically charged than Sony ever intended.

Next, Some Social Media

Now that you’re caught up to speed, do me a favor and take a look at some of Sony’s social media pages for their film:

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These pages are very uniform in their presentations, and they create a nice synergy, pointing the viewers to more content as well as ways to purchase or rent the movie.

Let’s not delve too far into the campaign itself yet, though (clearly, I have not caught you up to speed enough). Let’s ask ourselves a question for the ages: And by that, I really mean a question of ages. Namely, who is Sony targeting with The Interview and thus their social media campaign?

Now, Some More Context

According to a 2012 survey conducted by Nielsen, fifty percent of U.S. moviegoers claimed that comedy was one of their favorite genres to see in theaters. So around half of the moviegoing U.S. population enjoys comedies, a rather non-laughable number of people. The MPAA released some more specific numbers on U.S. and Canada moviegoers in 2013. Those most likely to see movies are between the ages of 25-39, with those aged 18-24 coming in second place. The gender spread of moviegoers is almost evenly split.

For The Interview, though, one major distribution source was online streaming. As I’ve talked about in a previous blog post, adults aged 18-24 are the most likely to watch content online. Thus, moviegoing and media conscious adults aged 18-24 would seem to be the cream of the crop when it comes to a target audience for Sony and The Interview. This audience would not only be likely to watch it in theaters, but would be even more likely to stream or purchase it online. Interestingly (but not surprisingly) enough, this demographic also happens to utilize social media to a high degree, making such a campaign from Sony more than worthwhile.

A Social Media Strategy

Now that our quest for context is complete, what could we say is Sony’s social media campaign strategy for The Interview? I would suggest, as with most movies, that their goal is to generate a multitude of conversations about The Interview, its unique release, and perhaps even its dramatic history. Thanks to publicity from the news and other traditional media sources, Sony has had a helping hand in creating these conversations, but their social media campaign is what is keeping them going strong.

Speaking of traditional media sources, Sony chose to do nothing out of the ordinary for the traditional media campaign of The Interview, running the standard TV commercials and movie trailers in theaters. As is also usual, they did little with print advertising, as many magazines will generate free publicity through their movie reviews. In short, Sony did not have to capitalize on traditional media; they simply had to provide access to the movie itself, as practically everyone else was generating the buzz for their controversial comedy.

A Social Media Undertaking

As you can see in the screenshots above, Sony chose to go with conventional social media platforms for The Interview. But conventional certainly doesn’t mean ineffective. Twitter and YouTube are especially popular with their target 18-24 demo, and Sony has provided relatively consistent amounts and quality of content from these sources, as well as from their Facebook and Google+ pages.

As an added bonus, Sony’s choice of platforms makes it easy and straightforward to respond to and repost messages from their campaign. As you can check out for yourself on Twitter, their #TheInterview hashtag continues to generate a lot of responses. Using Twitter and these other tried-and-true social media outlets, Sony has scored big with their campaign, and likely their take at box office.

A Social Media Outcome

This just all goes to show that while the circumstances of The Interview‘s arrival to the public were less than usual, a consistent and straightforward social media campaign has worked well for this film. As an interesting side note, conversations about The Interview continued popping up all over social media while I was writing this blog, as Sony once again got (essentially) free publicity for their flick. “How did this happen?” You hear yourself wonder aloud. “I’ll elaborate this for you,” I respond silently.

If you happened to be watching television on the night of February 1, 2015, then you may have noticed that Katy Perry performed at the Super Bowl. One of the primary gags in The Interview revolves around Kim Jung Un’s love for Katy’s music, so Sony was able to capitalize on her performance and bring more attention to their film while also giving plaudits to Perry. I’d say that’s a win-win situation for both teams (the results of the big game aside).

It’s true, The Interview is not a movie for everybody. In fact, its most notable accomplishment has been its fascinating history and release. But as far as social media goes, Sony did an excellent job of capturing the buzz around their movie and keeping that buzz going. And who knows? They may have more up their sleeve as they continue to roll-out various releases for The Interview. Though you have to wonder, can a company even have sleeves?

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