Once the distributor has decided on who the audience is for a film, and has also determined its market positioning, the next key decisions they have to make are HOW they are going to advertise and promote the film and how much to spend on these activities as part of a marketing campaign.

The cost of a campaign

The cost of a marketing campaign is divided into above the line and below the line costs.

Above the Line costs

These are known costs for creating marketing material (such as trailers) and buying media advertising (such as website banners, radio or TV spots or newspaper advertising) and creating an online presence for the film.

Below the Line costs

Publicity builds further awareness and interest in a film – and authored articles or editorial interviews are sometimes more ‘trusted’ than display advertising, which is paid for. With premières, the cost of getting the stars and director to attend and hopefully generate press coverage all have to be covered without any guarantee that the press will write about the film. Such events offer special access to film stars for fans waiting alongside the red carpet for selfies, short videos and autographs.

Kezia Williams | Head of Theatrical Distribution
Entertainment One UK

Cross-promotions are set up with partner companies outside the film industry (e.g. clothing companies, on-pack food and drinks brands) to promote the film and its characters in different environments and to a wider audience.

The distribution budget range, across all types of film released in the UK, is huge, varying from a few tens of thousands of pounds right up to several million pounds to build and sustain a high profile for the largest releases.

Digital 'prints' and advertising (P&A)

Having seen the film and decided on both the hook and target audience, the distributor is now in a position to decide on a marketing strategy. They must determine how much to spend on publicity and advertising and on digital prints of the film to send to cinemas.

How do they decide what they are going to spend? Firstly they have to predict how much they think the film will take at the box office. To do this they will use their own specialist knowledge as well as comparing their film with others that are similar and have already been released. If the film about to be released is, say, a romantic comedy, they will look at previous films from that genre to see how they fared in the marketplace.

If the film features stars then a similar exercise can be carried out. The larger the potential audience, the greater the amount of money the film could generate in cinema ticket sales, and so, in turn, the greater the amount that the distributor can afford to invest in digital ‘prints’, advertising and publicity. If the film has a wide appeal, it can be released in many, big cinemas (saturation release) or if the audience is smaller and more specialised, it can have a limited release. The UK has approximately 740 cinemas with 3,900 screens.

Today, cinemas booking a film to play on one or more of their screens are supplied by the distributor with a digital file containing the film, its soundtrack and sometimes also synchronised subtitles and audio description tracks. The digital file may be transmitted via a cable connection or a satellite download, or on a hard drive delivered in a box. (Traditional film ‘prints’ on celluloid stock are now all phased out). The industry refers to this digital file as a 'Digital Cinema Print' or 'DCP'.

Task 1: Prints and Advertising

Choose one of the three films below, by viewing the poster and reading the synopsis decide on: the hook, the target audience and type of release.



Types of Release

Most films released in the UK are launched on fewer than 100 digital copies (and thus, as a 'linited' release will not be heavily supported by large amounts of advertising spend). Only 5% of films are released with over 500 copies (and accompanied by a large P&A spend).

Kezia Williams | Head of Theatrical Distribution
Entertainment One UK
Chris Besseling | Director of Marketing | Pathe UK

In 2014, distributors spent approximately £350 million on advertising their films. Of this, around £190 million was invested in above-the-line media advertising, and the remainder on advertising production, cutting trailers, publicity junkets and materials, premieres, and producing and delivering DCP’s to be projected on screen.

The more money that the distributor estimates will be taken by the cinemas in box office ticket sales, the more they will invest in marketing the film. Typically, the smaller the film, the smaller the spend.
Why do you think this is?


The largest ‘spend’ of any P&A budget will be on advertising a film. In the UK, media advertising is very expensive. The main advertising avenues open to any distributor are:

  • Posters
  • Trailers
  • Press advertising
  • T.V. advertising
  • Websites
  • Outdoor
  • Radio advertising
  • Merchandise/Cross-promotion
  • Online social media
Mark Jones | Film Distribution and Publicity Consultant

Extension Activity

Choose two or three forthcoming films and track how and where they have been advertised. Look at what you think is the selling point of each film. Look at how you think each film has been positioned and is being sold to its audience. Considering where the films have been advertised, what would you say is their target audience?

The amount of money spent on marketing will depend on who the distributor thinks is the target audience and how big that audience is. In the same way, how it is advertised will depend on the positioning of the film and the ‘narrative image’ that the distributor thinks will attract the target audience.

The Poster

How do you sum up two hours of exciting dramatic action in one image that people might look at for two or three seconds? The film, the stars, credits and often a tagline. The image on the poster must make us aware of the existence of the film, must make us want to see the film, and put across ideas of what the film could be about.

The iconic image or design in a film’s poster – the so-called ‘key art’ – is central to the film’s identity and an essential feature of its release campaign. A great poster catches the eye, tempts the mind and touches the heart, arousing viewers’ interest in the experience that’s promised.

Imagine it’s you starting with a blank sheet. Should the poster’s style be teasing or informative; dark or dazzling? Should it convey fun or foreboding? What kind of fonts and colour palette would be most effective? The graphic designer’s challenge is always to find a focus, a clear distinguishing concept that can faithfully encapsulate – even immortalise – the feeling, atmosphere and promise of the individual film.

If that film is a sequel, its poster must immediately make it recognisable as part of a continuing saga; if it’s an original work, the poster has to be bold enough to cut through, from scratch, the competing designs, messaging and branding that are increasingly ubiquitous online, in print, on outdoor panels, in fact everywhere we look.

Whilst evoking a strong sense of what a particular film offers – its genre, key characters and setting – the poster must generate interest, or even excitement, without revealing too much. It may transport the viewer into a key scene from the film, conjuring up the tension felt by the characters involved. Or it may largely be a montage of the principal cast with their costumes giving clues to their particular roles. And of course all the mandatory credits must be incorporated in their due proportions.

Illustrations or paintings were commonplace in film poster artworks up to the 1980s. In our digital media age, posters are often created using sophisticated software such as Illustrator or Photoshop. In any event, film posters are well established as a genre of commercial ‘pop art’ in their own right – copyrighted designs to cherish, savour, remember for a lifetime, collect and even share.

The poster gets its message across in a number of ways:

  • The image or images used on the poster
  • The use of ‘star’ names/faces
  • The size of specific words on the poster
  • The use of colour
  • The graphic style of any words used on the poster
  • The certificate

Task 2: Poster Analysis

Your task is to analyse the film poster below in terms of image, colour, composition, etc. Click and drag the orange pins to your areas of interest (you can drag up to three pins per category), then write your comments in the boxes provided. Once you have done this, present your thoughts on the overall message to your classmates.

The Trailer

The film trailer is probably the most cost effective advertising technique available to the film distributor. Showing in cinemas to a captive audience and on websites and T.V spots, a trailer can reflect, through the medium of moving image, what people might expect to see at the cinema. By using extracts from the finished film, the trailer can excite an audience, create awareness and also develop a ‘want to see’ attitude amongst cinema and T.V. audiences.

The trailer works through a combination of moving images, graphics and voice over to give audiences a sense of the ‘narrative image’ of the film. It can give audiences a sense of genre, what the story is about, who is in the film and when it opens. Shown in a cinema, and before a film which might be attracting the same target audience, the trailer is a powerful medium which reaches committed cinemagoers and persuades them to return to the cinema experience.

Trailers can be classified in three ways:

  • The teaser trailer
  • The full trailer
  • The T.V. spot
  • On-set blogs posted by key cast or crew

Teaser trailers might start to appear in cinemas anything up to a year before a film opens. The full trailer will probably appear between one and two months before a film opens. TV spots tend to be on screen a week or two before the opening of a film or just after a film has opened.

TASK 3: Types of Trailers

Look at the teaser trailer; full trailer and TV spot for the film Mr Holmes. Try to decide how each is different whilst at the same time looking at how each reflects the selling point of the film. What is the ‘message’ behind all these trailers? What do they say about the film?


TASK 4: Trailer analysis

Watch the four trailers below and for each answer the questions in the pdf worksheet.


Task 5: The Trailer Maker

You have been looking at trailers and how they function. Now it is your turn to make a trailer but before you do, listen to Chris Besseling explain what they look for when creating the original trailer.

Chris Besseling | Director of Marketing | Pathe UK


On-line Marketing

Chris Besseling | Director of Marketing | Pathe UK

On-line marketing of a film allows distributors to access an increasingly fragmented audience. 16-24 year-olds have more and more calls on their "entertainment" time. The majority of this important market group are online using mobile devices to listen to music, play interactive games, using a multitude of apps and engaging with their online friends through social media. This is an audience, a generation that moves seamlessly from one thing to the next, and being online and connected is so important to them.

Kezia Williams | Head of Theatrical Distribution
Entertainment One UK

They may not pay attention to more traditional methods of advertising – television, radio, newspapers and magazines.

So a digital campaign will look at lots of different ways of engaging this age range – from specific websites to games for mobile devices to special Facebook or Instagram pages – feeding on the hunger to find out more and more about movies.

There is a need to interlink these various digital platforms. Thus, on a mobile device there might be a clip or trailer to download, and at the end of the clip it might say ‘To download more of these’ or ‘To win the chance to do something, visit the website’, thus using viral approaches to spreading the word about film.

Kezia Williams | Head of Theatrical Distribution
Entertainment One UK

Social networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Snapchat, YouTube, Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram (to name but a few) enable digital campaigns reach specific audiences. When marketing a film the distributor involved may use the account and bulletin facility to provide information such as the release date, images, trailer. Facebook, for example, offers fans the opportunity to discuss an upcoming film or talk about stars etc.

These platforms also allow users to share their experiences and thus share with their friends and connections. A significant multiplier effect for a digital campaign.

In essence the distributor is trying to build a ‘digital world’ for the film to exist in, and to create what are called ‘digital touch points’ with as many different entry points for audiences to find out about a film as possible.

Look at the following websites for four films:

Film Website 1 Film Website 2 Film Website 3 Film Website 4

What information do they give about the film?
How do they relate to other aspects of the film’s advertising campaign? How do they try to ensure that you revisit the site?

Kezia Williams | Head of Theatrical Distribution
Entertainment One UK

The most heavily used film website in the UK is Look at the film’s page on How does this differ from official sites produced by the film’s distributor?