How Twitter helped “The Grey” become a box-office champ on opening weekend

The Grey gets Twitter.

The new Open Road Films thriller starring Liam Neeson features on its website a brief trailer that caught my eye because of the way the movie title, cast, and production team are listed. All names of the principal cast – including Neeson’s – are listed via their Twitter handles and hashtags exclusively. You don’t even see the movie’s name listed in a conventional way (it’s listed as #THEGREY). And the movie incorporates critics’ tweets in its reviews, which is a marketing first, according to Variety.

Granted, movies incorporate social media into their marketing mix routinely. But I am intrigued by the trailer’s exclusive reliance on Twitter hashtags and handles to list crucial information, especially Liam Neeson’s name. Neeson has the most brand recognition of anyone in the cast and is a clear box office draw for the macho adventure tale set in the Alaskan wilderness. The idea of tinkering with the way his name appears (even adding a hashtag) must have raised a few eyebrows.

The trailer refers to @TheGreyMovie Twitter handle in quoting critics’ tweets (but I think the handle should have been called out more clearly as its hashtag was). The Grey website contains the handle and all the other ways you can learn more about the movie via social media, including a Google+ brand page. @TheGreyMovie has accumulated nearly 14,000 Twitter followers since launching with its first tweet on September 23, and it looks like filmgoers and promoters are making good use of the hashtag to discuss the movie.

The movie has also garnered 145,000 Facebook Likes (as of January 29). By contrast, Man on a Ledge, which opened at the same time, has 77,000 Facebook Likes and no official Twitter presence (you need to follow its producer @SummitEnt to follow the movie on Twitter, which accumulates followers for Summit Entertainment – nearly 80,000 and counting – but makes the movie itself less visible).

Marketing tactics for The Grey also include screening the movie for bloggers in December, PR on the Weather Channel (owing to the movie’s setting in the rugged outdoors), and, reportedly, outreach to Christian groups because of the movie’s spiritual references.

Filmgoers are responding: The Grey has topped the weekend box-office charts. The movie’s $20 million take has surpassed the $12 million box office that Variety predicted. More movies will undoubtedly follow the example set by Open Road Films with its aggressive use of Twitter.

Nice guys finish first

Last year I blogged about how Twitter was a catalyst in the forming of a co-branding relationship that I formed with indie musician AM and Razorfish (where I was in charge of marketing). Since then, digital has once again helped launch a relationship – this time between AM and musician Shawn Lee. On the strength of a trans-Atlantic collaboration formed entirely in the digital world, AM and Lee have launched a new album, Celestial Electric, which was just named one of Yahoo Music’s “Ten Utterly Fantastic New Albums” of the week.

As discussed by Mashable and my post on the iCrossing Content Lab, AM and Lee essentially used digital to launch a new sound, “electro soul.” The initial fruits of their work, the single “Dark into Light,” caught the attention of publications such as Rolling Stone. AM and Lee are now on tour (with Thievery Corporation) to support Celestial Electric, whose positive critical reception includes reviews such as this one and this one.

Seeing AM succeed is satisfying on a number of levels. I have been captivated by his sophisticated style of music since hearing him in concert in March 2010. But I’m also glad to see a genuinely likable and cool guy like AM and his collaborator Shawn Lee get the attention they deserve. AM’s personal warmth is evident the moment you meet him, and I’m lucky to have worked with him.

Success (especially in the fractured music industry) does not always come to decent and talented people. AM and his manager Mia Crowe are not waiting for success to come to them; they have worked hard to help AM find an audience for his music, which has been described as a mélange of “the best of musical worlds, rippling through classic roots sounds: pop and rock, steamy soul and R&B, Brazilian tropicalia, British Invasion, and ‘60s Bay Area psychedelia.”

On the Content Lab for iCrossing (where I am vice president of marketing), I provide more insight into the story behind AM’s success. And you can learn more about AM on Facebook, Twitter, his website, and on YouTube.

We are all content hustlers

It’s ironic Google+ allowed the digital elites such as Chris Brogan early access to Google+ while asking corporations to hold off creating brand profiles. Just about everyone I know on Google+ (including me) uses the social platform to hustle their own content as well as any corporation could.

We are all content hustlers now. In fact, it’s the proliferation of platforms like Google+ and check-in sites like GetGlue that continues to transform everyday consumers into marketers of our own content.

You check into GetGlue on a Friday night to watch Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and the next thing you know, someone responds to your check-in by asking for your opinion, and then you write a mini review in reply. In a matter of minutes, you become both moviegoer and amateur critic.

Case in point: yesterday morning, I needed to do some quick online research to find a business and its street address. I visited Google to do a simple search. Immediately I encountered a Google Doodle that cleverly honored Lucille Ball’s 100th birthday by playing snippets of I Love Lucy via the image of an old-style console TV. How cool! I just had to share the Google Doodle with my friends.

But sharing wasn’t enough: I needed to add my own opinion (my contribution to your content stream) about how the Google Doodle brilliantly synthesized utility and entertainment. Within minutes, I posted a CBS News article about the doodle, plus a brief comment on my Facebook, Global 14, and Google+ content streams. I also wrote the obligatory tweet.

And I wasn’t even working up a sweat – or tapping into the many other platforms I could have used to spread my content (however brief it was) across the digital world.

Within minutes, my mindset had changed from searcher of information to publisher. And then I did what any good content publisher does: checked my metrics. Did I get any retweets? Facebook Likes? +1s? Had I found a responsive audience for the content I was hustling?

A few take-aways:

  • A Google search became an exercise in content publishing. But I also forgot to complete my original Google search, ironically. The content publisher lurking inside me was competing with the simple reality of getting on with my life.
  • Although access to social media sites makes it easier for us to hustle content, not all the content we create is worth hustling. As guitarist Jack White said in the documentary It Might Get Loud, ease of use does not make us more creative.

Yes, we are all content hustlers. But just because we can does not mean we should. Fortunately we can block and manage content, too, by paring our friend lists and curating our information streams (e.g., with Google+ Circles), although doing so is not always as easy as it looks. I’ll let you judge whether I’m hustling content you care about.