Background and aim
On 1 December 2016, Sony Pictures Malaysia launched the American action horror film Underworld: Blood Wars. The fifth instalment of the Underworld series faced strong competition from films including Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Office Christmas Party, Sing, Assassin’s Creed and Moana, all of which were expected to achieve commercial success.
Sony Pictures Malaysia set out to build the appeal of Underworld: Blood Wars amongst an audience larger than the series' existing fan base. It was imperative to give the Underworld brand a recognizable identity in the minds of filmgoers. The company identified social media as the channel in which to build a relationship with the target audience, given that young people are comfortable expressing themselves there.
VML, the appointed digital partner for Sony Pictures, knew from the start that the competitors had the advantage of time and budget. VML was tasked with a strategy that would maximise ROI.
VML conceived and launched a live timeline game based on real-time interactions with fans through live videos, live postings and replies.
Many reasons drove this decision. Research had shown that Malaysian young people are amongst the most bored in the world, despite having plenty of new content every day. So novelty was critical. In addition, research has shown that Facebook Live streams generate 10 times more comments than standard videos, indicating a large potential for exposure without media investment.
Facebook, with its live-streaming, 360-degree footage and emoji reaction buttons, provided a fast and flexible platform that would reduce time-to-market, increase ROI and allow room for creativity.
The game proceeded in four stages.
Stage 1: 'Help heal Selene'
Playing to the unpredictable and transparent nature of real-time conversations on Facebook, the situation put forward to consumers was that the health of Selene, a central Underworld character, was dropping, and fans needed to respond with “Love” to heal her. A minimum of 50 “Love” emoji reaction buttons were required to unlock the next level.
Stage 2: 'Choose your weapon'
Next, fans had to comment with a photo of an object near to them. Selene would then bring the 10 best items into her battle. VML selected the most creative weapons, also evaluating the inventiveness of the explanations of how the weapons were to be used. VML edited the images and sent out responses to fans in real time.
Stage 3: 'Fight alongside Selene'
VML set up a palette of preset emoji that fans could combine in unique ways to create their own 'superpowers'. To unlock the final level, a minimum of 50 superpower combinations were required. Once again, the most creative superpower combinations were selected.
Final Stage: 'Find the ultimate sacrifice'
Fans needed to find the ‘real’ Eve (another character) from a photo album consisting of 36 relatively similar images, and comment with their final answer. This stage generated high levels of interest, and fans started sharing their predictions of the movie outcome.
The contest ran from 7 to 10 pm on 29 November 2016. There was no paid media support. A few days later, a video showcased the challenges and winners:
The approach successfully put Underworld: Blood Wars on the radar of existing and new fans, resulting in numerous interactions, conversations and engagements. And most importantly, the execution was real and fast.
Despite the unpredictable nature of organic reach, the campaign witnessed impressive performance, even without media support:
- Within the three-hour contest window, the game achieved total reach of 258,534 and 2,618 organic interactions.
- Users provided the 50 “Love” emoji reaction buttons required in Stage 1 in seven minutes, resulting in 4,900 views.
- In Stage 2, it took fans 70 minutes to generate 92 unique weapons and unlock Stage 3. Ten submissions were chosen to be superimposed with Selene.
- In Stage 3, fans created more than 70 emoji superpowers in 90 minutes to unlock Stage 4.
- In Stage 4, the photos in the album received an average of 10 comments each, indicating healthy engagement amongst the intended target audience.
- The content closure video recorded a total of 108,000 video views.
- According to Box Office Mojo, the film grossed more than US$2.25 million in Malaysia, which appears to be a strong performance, on a per capita basis, compared with the film's box-office take in other countries.
Tripti Lochan, CEO of VML, SEA & India:
A large portion of successful social media engagement is dependent on eliciting a consistent conversation with your target audience, and that’s what we aimed to achieve for the Underworld: Blood Wars social media campaign. Our partnership with Sony Pictures illustrates, once again, that tapping into audience insights, such as their likes and interests, can prove valuable if actioned upon in a strategic manner.
Catherine Chai, marketing manager, Sony Pictures Releasing International (Malaysia):
From devising a local content strategy for better consumer engagement to bringing in innovative thinking when it comes to platform execution, VML Malaysia has enhanced the way we promote our movies. Understanding the market and target audience is vital to the success of any campaign, and we’re delighted that the campaign successfully resulted in business and share-of-voice growth, both digitally and socially.
Sony Pictures Releasing International (Malaysia)
Catherine Chai, Marketing Manager
Phui Mun, Senior Marketing Executive
Jessica Teoh, Client Solutions Manager
Chow Kok Quin, Art Director
Lee Kar Men, Designer
Vivien Tan, Senior Social Media Executive
Eunice Lee, Senior Social Media Executive