A movie can be ‘Booksmart’ and still miss the mark on marketing strategy

Frenik Labs' Blog: Social Media Marketing Insights

Marketing strategy lacked in ‘Booksmart’.

A good movie premise, a solid score on Rotten Tomatoes, celebrity endorsements—what could go wrong?


Turns out for Booksmart, a lot.



It was lauded as the next Superbad, a coming-of-age high school story that was funny and wild and everything else that was sure to pull in movie viewers.


Unfortunately, Booksmart was crushed in the box office when it ran up against big names like Aladdin and Detective Pikachu.


Movie reviewing site, Rotten Tomatoes, gave Booksmart a rare 97 percent score, and the film’s premiere at the South by Southwest festival seemed to act as a great launch into social media and press conversations.


But even with two strong avenues of support backing the film, it translated into less than $9 million during opening weekend.


So let’s look back at Booksmart’s marketing approach to see where they went wrong:


It began with a showing at South by Southwest, where the annual event was held in Austin, Texas at the beginning of March.


The majority of people attending this event were young professionals—the film’s target age demographic. Booksmart received promising reactions and reviews after its premiere with one Deadline reviewer saying it “received quite an ovation at SXSW, making it another buzzworthy film out of the Austin-based fest.”


SXSW makes it possible for companies to start a conversation with hundreds of thousands of attendees. If you want to know more about why this is a big deal and how the event’s premieres and activations act as a platform for brands, check out our blog on SXSW’s influence here.


Booksmart followed through with the buzz surrounding its SXSW premiere to open in theaters with a wide release during summer, aka blockbuster movie time.


Typically, major movie studios release their big name films during the summer months, which means this film went head-to-head against blockbusters that had some serious pull behind them.


It wasn’t a bad idea to capitalize off of the positive talk following SXSW, but similar movies like Ladybird and Edge of Seventeen took a more careful approach by releasing in the fall. Along with that, a wide release during summer was ambitious—ambitious and a let down because Booksmart didn’t perform as expected.


This was Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut and opening weekend she tweeted, “We are getting creamed by the big dogs out there and need your support.”


Diving deeper into what Wilde meant, Aladdin pulled in $112.7 million in opening weekend box office sales against the much, much, much smaller $8.7 million Booksmart cashed in.


They struggled to find an audience and, with marketing, connecting to the right audience can be one of those make or break moments.


Booksmart, its motion picture company Annapurna Pictures, and its independent motion picture distributor United Artists went with a marketing approach that was primarily digital.


With a plan to market toward a young, female audience, they moved away from a typical platform release and largely avoided television marketing. The idea was that TV would be pricey, while also lacking the best reach for their targeted audience. The result was a campaign centered heavily around social media.


The audience Booksmart targeted also coincided with Aladdin’s audience, and Aladdin won.


Hollywood Reporter detailed “a majority-female audience (60 percent), with 51 percent of moviegoers under 25 years old” for the Disney movie. While “Booksmart‘s audience was 61 percent female and 74 percent fell between the ages of 18 to 34.”


The film did receive support from celebrities like Taylor Swift, Mindy Kaling, Lili Reinhart, Natalie Portman and Ryan Reynolds, but even with celebrities advocating for the movie to millions of their fans, it didn’t change the situation.


People agreed this comedy was a good movie. Word-of-mouth, advanced screening buzz, and celebrity endorsements just weren’t enough to get viewers into theaters.


The Olivia Wilde-directed comedy took a chance and lost. It didn’t have marketing, audience or timing on its side. It was a small film, which made a wide release even more challenging. It had a hard fight on its hands with the other big name movies. It probably didn’t have the right companies guiding it. All of this had an impact.


Booksmart had plenty going up against it, but who’s to say it can’t still be a success? There’s a lot of potential even after a disappointing start and I wouldn’t count this movie out yet.