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Here’s a known fact...the film industry is massive; the money being handled within it is vast, but the willingness to take marketing risks is often low. This is not the case with film producers such as Will Packer, who actually encourages his team to build marketing strategies into the heart of his films.
With Girls Trip, this marketing strategy included a secondary storyline that was a true product placement extravaganza for one brand, which in turn, helped catapult the film into international box office success. In this blog, Hollywood Branded walks through how Girls Trip's product placement partnership with Essence Festival led to massive box office success for the film.
The Product Placement Need Was Real
Will Packer’s Girls Trip was an over the top hilarious smash hit. The film became the first time an African American female screenwriter, co-writer Tracy Oliver, saw her film gross in excess of $100M at the box office. It also skyrocketed the career of America's favorite unicorn, Tiffany Haddish. With a talented cast, prime location scouting, and empathic marketing strategies, Packer and his team helped turn a simple film into a box office event.
With a budget of under $20 million, the film made 7 times that in box office return, for the theatrical release alone. That doesn't even include the home viewership for streaming and DVD, or future cable TV releases.
Packer’s marketing team has proven quite keen when it comes to directly targeting his film’s projected audience, which typically has a specific target of African-Americans and appeals to a much wider demographic. At 44 years of age, Packer has produced 26 films including Think Like A Man, Ride Along, and Almost Christmas. Combined, these films alone have generated well over 1 billion at the box office. His secret? Well, there are a couple.
Girls Trip is a film centered around the Essence Festival in New Orleans. Known as "the party with a purpose", the event is an annual music festival that originally started in 1995 as a one-time event to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Essence, a magazine aimed primarily towards African-American women.
Already, Girls Trip has achieved two major wins. The first being diversity.
Diversity Is Key
In a time where half baked comedies and Matthew McConaughey themed rom-coms are cinematic gambles in the light of colossal tentpole franchises featuring robots and superheroes, Packer chooses to spend less but target more. The films that he produces are composed, mainly, of black actors and actresses and herald modest budgets. Needless to say, this is a demographic that has been historically neglected by all Hollywood studios.
As a demographic, women of color are largely excluded from most thematic conversations. According to a study conducted by Executive Director Dr. Martha M. Lauzen of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film:
“In 2017, 74% of major female characters were White, 14% were Black, 6% were Latina, 4% were Asian, and 2% were of some other race or ethnicity.”
A major reason behind the success of Girls Trip and Will Packer’s other films is that they filled a specific need. This need being diversity.
Studies prove that films with more diversity enjoy the highest median global box office and the highest median return on investment (UCLA). The same can be said about brand's marketing campaigns and the content they promote. When an audience that is normally forgotten suddenly becomes remembered, they become very appreciative. Want a quick tip for brand marketers to keep in mind? Evaluate your content, services, and overall presence to ensure that your audience becomes as diverse as possible. How can you do this? We’ll explain that later.
Right Place. Right Time
The second marketing win for Girls Trip can be found with the decision to set the movie during the actual Essence Festival. Talk about production cost savings!
The film has several scenes that feature iconic brands, venues, and even celebrities that were actually at the 2016 Essence Festival during the filming. This effect negates the artificial film aspect of Girls Trip, and instead turns it into the familiar feeling of a recap video. The film operates as one massive Instagram story, capturing some of the best moments at the festival.
Many brands know that when marketing to your audience, it’s crucial to plant your brand within a realm that is familiar to your core base. And Girl's Trip definitely was surrounded - completely surrounded - by the secondary storyline of the Essence Festival, which ran throughout the film.
The film is laden with shots detailing the New Orleans cityscape, and in particular, of the Superdome. The Dome also serves as a setting for a number of scenes -- including one in which Sean “Diddy” Combs pulls actress Tiffany Haddish on-stage during his 2016 Essence performance. This happened in real life while the “Girls Trip” cameras were rolling.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen on that,” Lee said. “All we really wanted from him was a look after she flashed him; but the way it turned out was just crazy. He tried to pull her up on stage over this 6-foot-tall amplifier. She had heels on and a short dress, and Latifah just ran over and gave her a boost without being prompted.” (NOLA).
In this moment, the four actresses are not acting. Movie goers are actually witnessing true reactions from these women as they unexpectedly encounter Puff Daddy. When Tiffany Haddish palms the music moguls face proclaiming, “Oh, my God, I’m on stage with Diddy,” Diddy had no idea this would happen. Nor, probably, did Tiffany! Not only were movie goers enthralled, but the live audience at Essence were thrilled to see five known celebrities all on stage at the same time. It’s safe to say that many of the attendees in that audience were also eager see that film. Just imagine the quantity of social media photos that they proudly shared before the film even released.
Among other key locations featured within the film were the Convention Center, mainly because it is so central to the annual Essence Fest. This is where the empowerment seminars are held during the festival, and Regina Hall plays a character who has been tapped to deliver the keynote address in the actual center.
Hyatt Regency also makes an appearance in the film, though it is a bit harder to spot. It’s made vividly clear in a scene that shows Hall’s character inside of a glass elevator with the Superdome visible through the glass wall behind her. The Hyatt is the only known location in New Orleans with that distinctive view. Again, a location shoot product placement deal.
Content Created For A Core Audience With Universal Messaging
Packer accomplishes two main goals when he produces. First, he creates content that is sure to satisfy his core audience. Second, he ensures that the stories that he and his team are telling are universal in their themes.
Though the content may be designed for a specific demographic, the themes within them are often relatable to millions of other film lovers. Of all ethnicities. The effect is an experience created for a specific audience that reaches all audiences.
This same methodology can be applied to your brand. Instead of just targeting a wide demographic, find a niche, then completely and totally meet that niche’s demands and expectations. Over serve them. After ample time is spent fully fleshing out how your product (and marketing) meets the needs of that very specific audience, your brand will win and see major results. If you can still keep your messaging universal in focus, you will also see a lift amongst other demographics that broaden your marketing base.
Leveraging A Partnership
When producing a film, many producers and executives find themselves developing marketing strategies that have been employed for decades. Their film will be seen on massive billboards from coast to coast, focusing on the mantra that “bigger must be better.” However, traditional approaches have their limitations. Relying solely on the millions of Times Square tourists to take a moment out of their busy tweeting schedules and gaze at your beautiful billboard displaying your brand may lead to severe disappointment.
Girls Trip not only shot at the Essence Festival and made it a key product placement focus, the film team also partnered with the magazine, which caused the magazine to further promote the film and drive its own fan base into theaters around the nation.
Here at Hollywood Branded, we have a myriad of strategies that we employ ourselves to innovate traditional means of advertising; and we have a passion for empowering other brands and agencies to do the same. Consider Girls Trip as an example amongst dozens of content marketing strategies where the content itself is the main driver of the marketing effort. And brands who partner as product placement and promotional partners win big.
Read our blog 5 Ways Brand Marketers Secure Product Placement To Increase Sales.
And check out these blogs on product placement as well:
Make sure you check out our Product Placement & Promotions 101 e-book on how your brand can partner with a film and leverage the partnership through your own advertising and retail marketing efforts.
After emigrating from the U.K. to the U.S. as a child, Dumisa received his BS in Communications from Lee University. While attending, he received a dozen accolades for excellence in video journalism. He then took his talents abroad; studying British film, theatre, and culture in Cambridge, England. With a keen eye for content culture, Dumisa is determined to elevate storytelling into higher dimensions and empower the visions of the underrepresented through content marketing. When not plotting the next digital renaissance, Dumisa enjoys transcending the LA smog and ascending into the kingdom of anime, a land that brings both relaxation and personal empowerment.