Social Media Marketing and Diminishing Returns

John Carter could have benefited from better social media marketing, or not…

Social Media Marketing seems to be all the rage these days with folks touting online engagement and the growing number of folks using sites like twitter, facebook, and other more specialized networking sites.

Using The Hunger Games and its Marketing Campaign as a starting point, Greg Sandow talks about ways that The Met could utilize a similar approach in marketing, say, The Ring cycle.  Of course, he missed the point of my comment, which is perfectly understandable as it questioned the relevance of the overall marketing strategy used by Lionsgate for its blockbuster which wasn’t used in a similar fashion for the other nearly dozen films it’s released or distributed this year.

Why Lionsgate wouldn’t use what seemed to be a very successful marketing campaign for every one of its products is understandable–movies with big budgets usually require big budget marketing.  That amount of marketing just isn’t possible for every single release, and certainly wouldn’t be a sustainable strategy for any business.  Best bet, and this happened with regularity in the recording industry, is to push the potential big moneymaking products to compensate for the inevitable shortfall for the other products.  If the big release happens to fail (as was the case with the $240 Million dollar budget John Carter) then you hope to have an even bigger release (i.e. The Avengers, which currently ranks as the third biggest domestic grossing film, and third biggest grossing film worldwide of all time).

Taking a look at The Hunger Games, The Avengers, and John Carter we can see that the first two are relatively active brands (the former because of a very successful series of books, the latter because of a decades long current run of comic books as well as several ‘prequel’ blockbuster movies) whereas John Carter has or had no currently active franchise in any media.

Setting aside the name change for the film which some claim was just one of a number of marketing blunders and issues that plague the film (the original title of the Edgar Rice Burroughs book was “A Princess of Mars“) could a stronger Social Media Marketing plan have saved this film which is considered one of the biggest blockbuster fails of all time?  While the usage of social media for the film wasn’t lacking, it seems as if its usage as a tool to help generate buzz (or retool the promotional campaign) before the actual release.   But really, the question I want to explore is just how useful is Social Media in marketing these days?

A recent quantitative study on “Twitter Cascades” by Eytan Bakshy, Jake Hofman, Winter Mason and Duncan Watts tracks the relative influence of 1.6 million twitter users by tracking 74 million diffusion events over a period of two months and has found that Twitter Cascades are rare–roughly 10 percent of tweets are actually retweeted and usually only by the person’s immediate follower.  Knowing that a user has had a previous cascade tells us next to nothing about the likelihood of future cascades.

The usage of social media like Twitter and Facebook pages demonstrates similarly dismal findings in ratio of numbers to actual voting in politics and interestingly, a Pagelever study has demonstrated that the more fans you have on your facebook page, the fewer daily unique newsfeed impressions and page views you will have.

The more fans your facebook page has, the lower the return on unique views you will have!

As we have few good tools to actually measure the Return on Investment (ROI) of Social Media Marketing (much less normal Marketing) it’s difficult to understand how the Social Media Marketing campaigns that worked successfully for The Hunger Games and The Avengers didn’t quite work for John Carter other without turning to the content of the franchises (and Social Media) itself.

If there’s a low Return on Investment for social media in general, then what exactly does spur a Twitter Cascade or similar type of activity on Facebook?  Unless we can figure out a way to separate the strong brand of franchises like The Hunger Games and The Avengers from the level of active engagement that so many seem to believe constitutes effective usage of Social Media for marketing we’re just as likely to waste time, or at least find diminishing returns for our effort trying to use social media to Market something that just doesn’t have a strong enough brand.

Again, as Peter Montoya says–building your Brand is probably a much more useful and efficient way to generate revenue if for no other reason it makes Marketing that much more efficient.


  1. Oh, heavens.

    I’m not going to click through. The Ring isn’t Hunger Games for any number of reasons.

    – Three Ring cycles = 12 performances = 4,000 seats per performance = 48,000 tickets to sell, total. Most of those are sold in sets of four, too. Three cycles with 4,000 audience members per cycle = 12,000 sets to sell.

    – Hunger Games can seat an infinite number of audience members by adding theaters or extending the run. The Met can’t do this with the Ring. They can only put on what they schedule years in advance.

    – The franchise issue is hugely important. The Met doesn’t have the kind of advance buzz that Hunger Games had. I think I’ve read that 25 million sets of the books were already in print when Lionsgate started their campaign.

    – And anyway, how many seats did the Met fail to sell?

    – If the tickets didn’t sell, why not?

    – The Met can’t do a damn thing to counter the bad publicity generated by having a terrible new production. No amount of social media can overcome the bad reviews.


    • Thanks for the comments, Lisa–I think Greg completely missed the boat (as usual) with making an actually useful comparison–though to be fair, he did spend some time saying how he felt the HD Casts probably aren’t particularly effective in his criticisms of Gelb. After I did a very informal and quick calculation of the actual revenue per screen the Met’s HD Cast of La Traviata made in comparison to the opening weekend per screen/showing of The Avengers–which is obviously a much more appropriate kind of comparison, I was actually surprised at how favorably it seemed to match up.

      Certainly, the nature of beast prevents the HD Casts from ever making as much money as a whole as any blockbuster film–but the 2.4 million domestic take for a one time showing in only 1500 is an incredibly impressive feat. It’s doubtful that the type of marketing initiatives that Greg brings up in his post would do much to change that–especially as his pet favorite economist, Robert Flanagan, has demonstrated the diminishing returns for marketing effects in large scale classical performing organizations. The organizations would start to lose more dollars per dollars spent on marketing efforts.

      And I suspect these are some of the reasons that Lionsgate chose not to take the same kind of marketing approach with the other nearly dozen films they’ve released/distributed this year–there would just be diminishing returns for their marketing efforts as none of the other films has nearly the Brand impact of The Hunger Games and The Avengers.

      One thing Greg never brings up in his blog is a demonstration of the increased revenues the types of initiatives would purportedly bring which is odd since half of the reason to draw in a bigger audience (which is something he is concerned with) is to increase revenue!


      • His posting sounds more and more like total bullshit.

        Scale: The Met’s entire annual budget is around $300 million and with that they put on multiple LIVE performances each of 23 operas. It cost $220 million to make “The Avengers,” a two-hour film. You can’t compare these two things all that meaningfully.

        HD: The Met is selling out 1500 theaters for each broadcast, meaning that instead of the 4000 people who fit in the opera house, the broadcasts have an audience of at least 150,000 each. That’s rather nice.

        Money: The HD broadcasts are profitable. The Met has made something like $10 million on them.


      • That’s always the problem with comparing pop to classical–the nature of the venue constrains the size and the nature of the medium (live vs pre-recorded) constrains the budget. A per screen/showing comparison just seemed like a much more interesting (and useful) comparison. But that’s where Greg never really has much to say–in oranges to oranges comparisons.

        He didn’t seem to understand, in a previous ‘discussion’ we were having, how a for-prof sports team was a much better and useful comparison to a non-prof orchestra than a for-prof Newspaper or Automobile company. Doesn’t hurt that Sports Teams make less than 50% of their revenue from ticket sales (not much than than the average ticket revenue for large performing arts organizations) and have to make up this shortfall through corporate sponsorships and licensing (analogous to donor revenue). He simply thinks that if we can know that a newspaper or automobile company is doing badly, then surely we should know and be able to admit the classical music industry is doing badly. *sighs*

        The HD Casts is just the tip of the iceberg for how to turn classical performing-arts-organizations into scale economies–and it’s about time they’ve figured out how to monetize in this way–sports and pop entertainment have been doing this forever. But averaging a million dollars in profit per HD Cast, the Met is actually a leader in the field and, despite all the negative pub they’ve gotten recently due to the Gelb incident, they do have him to thank for so greatly increasing their audience and slowly building the infrastructure that can be used by other arts orgs once they’ve figured out a way, or invested in the start up costs for streaming into the expanding live HD venues.


      • SIGH is exactly right. The sports comparison is excellent and had not occurred to me because I don’t know a thing about sports finance – thank you for that.


      • To tell the truth, I hadn’t thought about it until Drew McManus brought up a piece on his blog discussing the NBA industry that eventually did lead to a lockout–mainly due to an issue of (get this) player salaries being to high for the industry to generate enough profit. Their claim was that nearly half of the NBA teams actually lost money (though a Forbes analysis stated that it was fewer than a third of the teams).

        I was like, “well duh–why wouldn’t the sports industry, which cannot increase labor in the same way an orchestra can’t–still takes the same number of players on the team to play the game now as it did in the beginning–so if orchestras are prone to Baumol’s cost disease, then why shouldn’t sports teams also be prone to it?”

        Seems that everything I’ve come across shows that this is the case–but no one talks about the Sports Industry losing money or being doomed to failure because it’s unsustainable. I think that’s mainly due to the fact that it is an industry that still moves a lot of money–just not necessarily in ways we’d think.

        I’ve since researched the Stadium building initiative (used by cities in the hopes of attracting that holy grail of the Superbowl) which seems to show that these venues rarely recoup their start-up costs (which usually get passed on to local taxpayers) and only half the time can cover their operating expenses. The sports management research association regularly claims that bring the Superbowl to any city will generate $400 million in revenue to local vendors while most independant studies show it to be a range between $53 millioin to $95 million–which means that even this holy grail of sports events won’t help the communities to recoup the start up costs of building the stadium in the first place.

        This really peaked my interest and my wife and I are planning on doing a case study of Indianapolis (which was already the subject of a longitudinal case study in Sports Finance and local economic impact) to compare and contrast with its local Classical Music Industry (e.g. Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Ballet Internationale, and Indianapolis Opera) just to see which one has actually had a bigger economic impact (proportionally, of course) and which one is (again, proportionally speaking) a bigger drain on local public funds!


      • Alameda County has been taken for a total ride with “upgrades” to the Coliseum (now known by some other name because of the sale of naming rights) done for the benefit of the Raiders. There was a proposal within the last ten years or so to build a basketball stadium in downtown Oakland that fortunately went down in flames, exactly because lots of people knew the city would bleed money and not reap sufficient benefits.

        On the other hand, the city did put a lot of money into renovating the Fox Theater, which had been derelict for, I don’t know, 30 years? and it has become a leading venue for bands and other shows. I thought it would never happen, but finally it did. It’s part of a major revival of the downtown area, something else I thought would never happen.


      • Seems like lately that more and more cities are finally starting to take seriously the facts that Sports just will not make much of an economic impact for them–granted, this usually for the types of venues that can’t be used by NFL teams (since of all the sports this league is still the most profitable). Naming rights is an interesting issue as well since there’s been a trend for corporations to buy naming rights for shorter and shorter times and there’s been some studies questioning whether the average length of time most companies have a stadium is even long enough to give them a good return on investment.

        I remember reading about the Fox Theater renovation (and recall you’ve posted a bit about it on occasion). I think that in many cases concert venues can be in the same boat as sports stadiums though the one benefit they have is, being smaller, makes it much easier to organize events that use the facilities–thus making it easier for the venues to recoup operating costs. Also, being much smaller than sports stadiums, simple upkeep or renovation is far cheaper–not that many stadiums get renovated–usually the city will opt for building a whole new stadium (as what happened when the RCA stadium in Indianapolis was replaced by the building of the Lucas Oil stadium in its successful bid to get the Superbowl earlier this year).


  2. […] Mae Mai Boldly going where no cellist has gone before… Skip to content HomeAboutBibliographyBioInterviewsAlt CelloNon-Western Cello TraditionsSunday Spotlight on the Non-Western CelloEthnic Orchestras in North AmericaBay Area Chinese MusicList of Bay Area Chinese EnsemblesUnderserved AudiencesTen Heresies of Free PressHeresy No. 4: A free press need not lead to a well-ordered society ← Social Media Marketing and Diminishing Returns […]


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