Movie Marketing Insight: Star Trek Into Darkness

Posted by Matt Rosenberg on January 15th, 2013 at 7:15 am

Movie studios have a huge advantage over most brands in that their marketing materials are sought after by the audience and consumed as content rather than as commercial.  One anecdotal example you my identify with: though my wife and I are committed time-shifters and we make a sport of skipping commercials, we always stop the fast forwarding when a movie spot comes on.  That situation doesn’t make the marketing job simple, and there are plenty of occasions where the audience shrugs at or shuns the movie despite their openness to materials.  I thought it might be interesting to take a look over the next few months at how one studio markets one picture.

Last month, Paramount began their marketing of the next Star Trek movie, the second from director J.J. Abrams.  Star Trek presents opportunities and challenges.  The franchise is over 40 years old.  Though Abrams’s first go with the Enterprise was a reboot of the franchise, the characters hadn’t been current for audiences for a long time.  And despite the existence of a reasonably large group of alpha fans, those fans, Trekkies or Trekkers depending on your age, are perceived by the general public as nerds (at best).

At the marketing launch for a franchise, one of a studio’s main jobs is to bring in the fans.  The first Spider-Man movie’s marketing launched over a year before the movie and Sony’s first job was to soothe the worried comic book fans that the franchise was in safe hands.  Star Trek fans are just as likely to hate everything as to love everything, but they’re highly likely to go to the movie.  Non-fans are the big challenge, since the broad perception of the franchise is that “it’s not for me” but for “geeks” and “losers.”  Nevertheless, the first J.J. Abrams reboot, with it’s young and handsome casting, the J.J. Abrams imprimatur, and its origin story managed to bring in all four quadrants (male/female, over/under 25 years).

The early launch for Star Trek: Into Darkness had three elements. On December 6, the 60-second international trailer launched in theaters overseas and in the U.S. as an early “announcement” online.  On the weekend of December 14, the full 2+ minute domestic trailer was in theaters with The Hobbit. Additionally, the first nine minutes of the movie played with The Hobbit in IMAX theaters.  Finally, Paramount released images from the movie to entertainment and fan websites.

At Taykey, we have powerful web monitoring technology that identifies conversations across over 50,000 sites, analyzes topics and sub-topics, and scores the sentiment associated with these conversations using Natural Language Processing.  We turned our attention to Star Trek to understand the impact of the trailer launch.


The availability of the :60 “announcement video” created a huge spike in online conversation about the picture.  Conversation amped up as word began to spread that the video was coming, peaking for a couple of days once it was out, and then returning to a lower level (but still well above the baseline).  The volume of conversation spiked again when the full trailer was released online the Monday after it started appearing on theater screens, but at a much lower level.

We believe that two things contribute to the lower volume for what is clearly the more valuable asset.  First, the recent appearance of the :60 video dissipated some of the pent-up anticipation for a first look at the picture.  Second, the timing of the full trailer and nine-minute preview may have dampened conversation amid chatter about The Hobbit and the holidays.  It’s always important in looking at data like this to remember that Paramount’s goal is to market the picture, not to create online conversation, and The Hobbit was the perfect film to carry the Star Trek assets to a wide audience.

The lower half of the  chart shows sentiment contained in conversations about the movie, interpreted by our Natural Language Processing technology.  One interesting note on NLP: We initially saw much less positive sentiment than reflected on this chart and realized that our system was interpreting the word “darkness” in the title as having a negative score.  In this context, we believe the word to be neutral, so we adjusted the algorithm accordingly.  It’s always important to involve human insight in the interpretation of any machine-scored sentiment analysis.

The :60 trailer’s high volume coincided with a downward trend in sentiment.  Domestic audiences couldn’t have known that they were watching the international trailer, which was cut to be more thematically dark to appeal to overseas audiences.  Paramount didn’t have much choice about opening with this video since it was in theaters outside the U.S. and would have made its way online in some form anyway, but it does show the consequences of leading with an asset less well suited to the U.S. audience.  That’s not to say the reaction was purely negative.  In fact, about 30% of the conversations we picked up had a positive sentiment score (that’s the blue line, the yellow line is the sentiment score itself).  But it seems to have left some positivity on the table.

The full U.S. trailer brought  the sentiment back up to where you’d hope it would be.  Over 50% of the conversations were overall positive and the scores were extremely positive.


Long-standing franchises like Star Trek have some demographic challenges.  Audiences age up and have to be replenished from below.  Star Wars licensing of Lego products, their ancillary animated show, and other youth-oriented products keeps bringing younger audiences to the franchise. James Bond does it through marketing and casting.  In order to make real money on these expensive-to-produce pictures, the studios need to appeal to all four quadrants: men and women, over and under 25 years old.  Skyfall achieved that in spades, becoming one of the small class of movies to gross over $1 billion worldwide.

With the first launch targeted primarily to the fan base, we can see that the demographics of the people talking about the picture conform to expectations about the age and gender of the Trekker, firmly in the male 25+ quadrant.

The folks talking about the movie online were about 80% male and about 70% over 35 years old.  At this stage, Paramount isn't concerned.  Their job now is to deliver additional assets, tv spots, promotions, and publicity tours that will broaden the audience. If April rolls around and Taykey still shows a similar breakdown, the studio should be very, very nervous.  Launching with The Hobbit had the effect not only of aligning with one of the biggest fantasy/sci-fi franchises of the year, but turned out to bring much more of a family audience than might have been expected, which is a good start and explains why the trailer was cut to be more sci-fi generally than focused on the Star Trek of it.

We also looked at one other interesting artifact.  Scanning conversations about Star Trek gave us the opportunity to create a cloud of other terms that were associated with those conversations.

The size of the type of the words in n the above cloud is proportional to the incidence of that word in Star Trek conversations during the period we examined.  Some are more obviously relevant and some less, but together they give a good indication of how the audience talking about the movie was bringing context to it.  Data like this can help the studio identify opportunities and challenges as the campaign unfolds, particularly when viewed real time as new pieces of the marketing plan are rolled out.  What did people think of Zachary Quinto's appearance on The Daily Show?  Is there one scene in a trailer or tv spot that's causing buzz that can be amplified?  Oh, and that black friday reference you see?  Well, one of the top items we saw discussed on Black Friday was the Starship Enterprise Pizza Cutter (click it, really).

As the marketing for the picture unfolds. we'll continue to keep track of the online impact and post updates.  To ensure you find our updates, feel free to "like" Taykey's Facebook page or follow us on Twitter.

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