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The typical protocol for marketing new films is to offer sneak previews one week in advance of their release. But for the holiday release of its family-friendly film, We Bought a Zoo, Fox Searchlight Pictures started its sneak previews one month early, in an effort to promote more social media buzz before the film was available in theaters.

In partnership with Tout, a social video service that hosts 15-second clips on its network site, Fox encouraged sneak preview attendees to make quick Tout videos as they exited the theaters. With 800 theaters hosting advance screenings, the studio hopes that the response will be notable enough to send every viewer’s friends to the box office after the release date.

Sneak previews can be particularly beneficial if viewers like the movie. But few films come with a guarantee, and We Bought a Zoo lacks some of the elements that tend to create blockbusters: no notable special effects, no related bestselling book series, no prequel to get fans excited.

Although its cast features popular box office draws, such as Matt Damon and Scarlett Johanssen, it also is competing for theatergoers’ attention with such exciting options as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (based on the bestselling novel), Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (the fourth in the popular series), and War Horse (directed by Stephen Spielberg). So Fox appears willing to take the gamble that an innovative approach to the sneak preview will encourage the type of word of mouth to make consumers say, “We bought tickets to We Bought a Zoo.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some possible dangers of this early sneak preview tactic? 
  2. What do you consider most when choosing which movie to see in the theater: reviews by professionals, your friends’ opinions, marketing communication by the studio social media, or some other source?

Source: Brooks Barnes, “Fox Plans Early Sneak Preview to Help Firm,” The New York Times, November 16, 2011.