Movie marketing is serious business. Take a look at Hollywood and see for yourself: it’s all there, in the crafting of teasers and trailers and release of posters, the film festival publicity that trickle into raving reviews from critics, and the usual social media promotion from the actors and studios. These are traditional marketing routes to boost a movie’s pre-release popularity, with some proving to be more effective than the others (I’m looking at you, Hereditary).
But in the wildly churning era of the internet, marketing strategies for movies these days are revolving around the unorthodoxy of memes and GIFs. Venom and A Star Is Born are perfect examples, with the latter generating a morass of viral content sourced from its emotional trailer alone. A sensation, and even an Oscar favourite. Movie marketing soaked in meme-and-GIF formats can show up on your social media feed, compressed to mimic ongoing events in our cultural landscape. They can also lean towards an actor’s sex appeal: Drew Goddard’s new movie Bad Times at the El Royale stars a hippie Chris Hemsworth, with a promotional streak and trailers that ran on a hot Hemsworth GIF.
For that sole reason, I’m going to see the movie this weekend. Don’t judge me please. You must be wondering why, two paragraphs into this piece, I’m yet to refer to Nollywood. OK, you must be wondering about it now. But where do I start from? Nollywood doesn’t particularly inspire confidence or pride, frankly speaking. And in the context of movie marketing, a banal, tepid trailer is slapped onto YouTube and subsequently followed by the mini splash of a red carpet premiere. Perhaps a few media interviews where a lead cast member drops a sound bite and there you go.
“When I see and read about marketing strategies blockbuster movies make use of, I’m in awe,” Franklin Ugobude, a digital marketer in a leading media company, told me. “Nollywood just drops a trailer then do a countdown from two weeks to the movie, then they tag everyone who is in the movie and ask them to repost.”
This, in my opinion, is a stale dependence on social media. AY Makun’s 2018 movie Merry Men: The Real Yoruba Demons leveraged on Makun’s robust, blue-ticked Instagram base, offering a series of reposts and trailers feeding into each other and culminated into the agbada challenge for the movie premiere. Cast members and celebrities swarmed about in their agbadas (Ebuka Obi-Uchendu was absent, noticeably) but the missed opportunity was Falz. Falz’s celebrity and art have given rise to the biggest cultural conversations in 2018, from his controversial This Is Nigeria music video to the buzzy discourse on his Sweet Boy Association initiative.
The video for This Is Nigeria featured a shirtless, oil-lubed Falz, jolting us into a warm, sexual haze of his masculinity that many of us hardly focused on the song’s message. That Yoruba Demons didn’t commodify this aspect of Falz as a marketing aesthetic will always be puzzling to me; the movie would have gotten a lot of pre-release publicity and even after, a sexualised Falz spoofing on a Yoruba Demons promotional material. Fans might even recut the trailer and make it GIFable or memeable. Here’s a look at what Yung Nollywood is doing on Twitter, a platform that converts movie stills into memes.
Comparatively, Nollywood movies are bad, with no marketing budget or/and strategy. The buzziest movie we have had since 2016’s The Wedding Party is Genevieve Nnaji’s directorial debut Lionheart. While The Wedding Party tied its marketing to the sketchy romance between its principal cast Adesua Etomi and Bankole Wellington, Lionheart fared on the infrastructure of the Toronto International Film Festival and rippled into a Netflix global rights deal.
This year, we saw Seyi Shay make her acting debut in the heavily-publicised romantic drama Lara and the Beat, but nothing about the movie’s press cycle or marketing run is memorable. Bad Nollywood movies begat badly-made trailers, and thus promotion of these movies can’t break into the internet or the firmament of fan culture. For example, the Call Me By Your Name sequel won’t be out until 2020, but the movie is already generating so much excitement, one that gripped the internet recently when director Luca Guadagnino announced that he was struggling with a title for the sequel and fans suggested what it should be called.
Some major Nollywood movies are still forthcoming. Kemi Adetiba’s King of Boys, due out this month, largely promoted itself with a compelling trailer that was preceded by measures to keep the movie suspenseful. Taken together, a movie’s promotional pathway boils down to what the movie has to offer. And from Nollywood, we have seen it all.