How Warner Bros. Tore Up B.O. Projections & Audaciously Sold ‘Meg’ As A Horror Comedy For A $44.5M Weekend Win

Warner Bros.

When Warner Bros. global marketing boss Blair Rich and her team noticed that their shark movie The Meg was projected to open in the mid $20M, they refused to settle for those numbers.

Their relentlessness — they worked nonstop throughout this weekend — in regards to diving into box office hourlies, social media reactions, assessing and rebutting data and pushing digital promos shot Meg out of the water to a great $44.5M opening. It’s a start that will enable the Jon Turteltaub-directed movie to easily swim to $100M+ stateside, creating business during the dregs of August for exhibition.

Warner Bros.

In building Meg‘s marketing, Warner Bros. leaned into their expertise with horror movies. But instead of selling the film as the standard, serious Jason Statham action film (which is the angle their promos took in China), they embraced the movie’s fun and self-effacing tone, counterbalancing it with bold action and horror elements to position Meg as a horror comedy. Of note in the first trailer, was the little girl creeping down the hallway until a huge set of jaws smacks against the underwater glass, then Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea” begins to play. There are other images of Meg swimming through a gaggle of swimmers, and a Yorkie nervously treading water — something we’ve never seen before in a shark movie. When the first trailer dropped in April and generated 108M global views for a piece of original IP, Warner Bros. knew they had something special, and they continued with the satirical tone of the campaign with taglines like “Chomp on This”, “Opening Wide”, “Pleased to Eat You”, and “Swim Faster”.

It was an ambitious swing to go funny. Warners was sitting on data that indicated that young males wanted to see more straightforward action in the trailers, but “if we bowed to that research, the movie would have felt like one from 20 years ago” explains Rich.

“If we had gone the serious shark movie route, it would have come off as a less-than-Jurassic World, it wouldn’t have been distinct,” says Rich, “What’s happening is phenomenal in the audience response. We signaled to them the tone was an invitation to have a good time.”

Warner Bros. marketing deep dived into various pockets of people who’d be interested in Meg, not just guys, but whale lovers, and even dog lovers, evident in a social media stunt called #SavePippin in which the Yorkie in the film is seen a ‘Shark vs. Dog’ video. Who will win?

In the wake of scoring a huge $4M Thursday night, Warner Bros. went to work identifying frequent moviegoers in areas where the pic had the highest grosses, and created a halo effect by popping up Meg “purchase ticket” ads across digital and mobile, canvassing local to national. All of this was in an effort to spur walk-up business, which in the end, it did. “It was a great synergy of marketing and distribution coming together,” says Rich.

Another risky digital trick that paid off: Warner Bros. didn’t release a second trailer for Meg which is standard Hollywood marketing procedure. Even though they cut a second one and it tested well, an analysis showed that a second trailer would only reach 10%-15% of the intended audience. Warners figured it was better to redirect the fun of the first trailer in order to reach a 50% threshold in getting their bang for the buck. In addition, the studio leveraged Statham’s 71M social media presence which together with the pic’s cast reached an audience of 100M. Other digital promos include a Meg integration in the popular mobile Hungry Shark Game which has a reach of 7M monthly active users globally and another 6M followers on their social channels. There were also Vevo premiere sponsorships on music videos reaching multi-cultural and millennial demos: Becky G’s “Cuando Te Besé” and Drake’s “In My Feelings” and “Non-Stop”

Other stunts included a first-of-its-kind touring VR experience which ran from July 21-Aug. 10 where attendees waded into a water tank to watch a Meg movie. Sounds cool for San Diego Comic-Con right? No, because Warners wanted this stunt to be the sole event with a high marketing conversion rate instead of one of many, which occurs at SDCC. So, they traveled the Meg VR show to such markets as Indianapolis, Chicago, St. Louis, Denver and Los Angeles’ The Grove.

Also spotlighting the fun of Meg was a screening program that ran from July 21-Aug. 8. Alamo Drafthouse on Aug. 5 at Austin’s Lake Travis had a ‘Dive-In-Theater’ where attendees floated in rafts and watched Meg as scuba divers swam below providing additional scares.

During the July 4th holiday stretch, aerial banners — with shark fins — were flown over LA, NYC & Miami beaches. On social, July 4 activations included a SnapChat Geo-Targeted beach filter which geofenced top beaches with custom creative and a Facebook push which fans could insert The Meg fin into their own videos to share socially. Also, 15 influencers shared “Meg Sightings” on Instagram, posting photos of their 4th of July BBQs, beach days and pool parties with the Meg fin in the background.

And you couldn’t sell a shark movie without Discovery’s Shark Week. Meg custom spots took over during the week of July 23 which culminated in a one-hour “Megalodon: Fact vs. Fiction” special on Friday, July 27. Meanwhile, a massive Penn Plaza digital spectacular unit in NYC displayed the scale of the Meg to over 500,000 people who passed through Penn Station daily. Brand partners included Johnny Rockets, a Monster Jam Custom Meg Truck appearing at Staples events (12M customer reach), a Twizzlers animated short (reaching 15M), Intel, and CineMedia’s in-theater Noovie pre-show program which ran a behind-the-scenes piece at the major chains (38M reach).

Entertainment Studios

In hindsight of Meg’s overperformance at the domestic box office, there’s one overriding commercial trend which was also working in Warner’s favor and that’s that shark movies do sell.

It’s why Entertainment Studios boss Byron Allen last year fought to acquire 47 Meters Down from Bob Weinstein’s Dimension Films. The title was already on its way to be sold as a direct-to-DVD at Walmart, Best Buy, and Target when Allen bought the pic at the last minute and had Weinstein turn the trucks around. The pic, starring This Is Us‘ Mandy Moore became a little indie wonder last summer grossing $44.3M stateside.

“We did the research and could not find a killer shark movie that didn’t work,” Allen told Deadline’s co-Editor-in-Chief Mike Fleming back in January, “If it is a good movie and you choose the right release date and spend enough to tell the world you have a movie worth their time? It’s not brain surgery.”


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