Hunger Games – playing with marketing fire?

Hunger Games – playing with marketing fire?

The global release of Catching Fire, the second movie in the Hunger Games series, has ignited controversy around its marketing and merchandising tie-ins. The original film’s enormous success, especially with a wildly loyal, younger audience, practically begs to be cashed in on. However, doing so is often precarious business, due to its undeniably dark storyline –which is far more 1984 than Harry Potter in nature.

Studio Lionsgate has been bold with its new partnerships. Joining the marketing games are Subway, Net-a-Porter and Covergirl. At first glance, a fast-food chain releasing a limited edition of sandwiches for a movie about post-apocalyptic starvation, sounds like a PR fail – and there have already been articles questioning its appropriateness. So, as insight and data fans, we decided to use Exponential’s data, which aggregates 2 billion daily user events, to investigate. We looked at the actual online behaviour in the two months preceding the launch of hundreds of thousands* of Australian, British and American Hunger Games fans to see if the data be ever in their favour or if the partnerships are a brand extension too far.



Subways fiery partnership with Catching Fire has seen it introduce a ‘spiced up menu’ in the UK, Ireland, US, and Canada with branded displays, cups and a sweepstake and an attempt to off-set criticism in the US by supporting the “Feeding America” charity. The good news for the fast-food chain is that whilst the campaign has raised eyebrows, it aligns extremely well with the profile and palate of existing Hunger Games fans in all of its markets. The US menu includes two Sriracha steak and chicken melts; fans will likely salivate over the famous Thai-original condiment, since they’re more than 40 times more interested in Thai cuisine than other internet users.  Food aside, the Sweepstakes and “Feeding America” fundraiser are also likely to catch their attention, because they’re over three times more likely to be donating to charity and entering sweepstakes.

Across the pond, fans in the UK and Ireland will find chicken and steak jalape√±o sandwiches on Subway’s “fiery” Hunger Games themed menu. Our data reveals that UK fans are six times more likely to be interested in chicken dishes, and seven times more in beef compared to all internet users. However, it seems that Subway’s offerings would be much hotter in the UK if they could include breakfast and beer:  UK fans showed 20 times more interest in the former and 14 times more in the latter.

Finally, though fans in Australia weren’t included in Subway’s promotion this time around, our data suggests what food tie-ins would appeal most to them. Like their UK fan counterparts, Australians are all about beverages, with coffee being their strongest interest (20 times more than average internet users) and beer a close second (17 times more). Food wise, they’re craving seafood, pasta, and chocolate and lollies above all else.



Capitol Couture debuted in 2012 as a purely fictional promotional blog showcasing futuristic Capitol fashion and has flourished in popularity ever since. Now it is becoming a reality, with the release of Capitol Couture, a collection of 19 ready to wear pieces by the film’s costume designer, Trish Summerville to be sold exclusively via worldwide online luxury fashion retailer Net-a-Porter. Whether the fans’ passion for viewing Capitol Couture translates into actually wanting to wear it remains to be seen as some question if it is in the spirit of the film’s original message. But one thing is clear from our data – Hunger Games fans in all 3 countries we explored enjoy shopping for apparel accessories online. Compared to all internet users, US fans showed 21 times more interest, Australian fans 10 times more, and UK fans six times more. The line doesn’t appear to include pieces specifically for men or children, which is unfortunate because many fans are hunting for men’s and children’s fashion – just as much, and sometimes more so, as they are for women’s.



The same goes for make-up. As first ever “exclusive makeup partner” for Catching Fire, US brand CoverGirl has developed a campaign and makeup line themed after the movie’s 12 oppressed districts – focusing on the commodities that each produces for the elite, all powerful capitol (e.g. metallic and blue tones for the district that the capitol forces to provide fish). Though CoverGirl is mainly sold in North America, how this campaign fares is of interest worldwide – because it will likely inform whether Lionsgate chooses to take on cosmetic sponsors for future films.    Our data confirmed that beauty products top the shopping lists of American Hunger Games fan – 20 times more so than average internet users. UK and Australian fans showed similarly high interest, with 14 times and nine times more respectively.  US fans also showed seven times more interest in magazines, so they they’ll likely appreciate the campaign’s magazine-like format (an online “Capitol Beauty Studio” packed with tutorials and inspiration). 


Hunger Games Theme Park:

The most controversial marketing execution (pun intended) though is the Hunger Games Theme Park that the studio has confirmed it is considering. The news that a theme park based on a dystopian government that forces children into a killing competition has many spluttering into their lattes. It pains us to report, as who wouldn’t want to hear the strapline (we are guessing it wouldn’t be vying with Disney’s “the happiest place on earth”) but the data suggests that it’s not such a compelling prospect. Whilst US fans are five times more interested in theme parks than the average, they show a greater interest in ecotourism, mountain resorts, beaches and gambling and UK fans don’t show a specific interest in theme parks at all. Australians fans are the least inclined towards a prospective Hunger Games theme park. They’re focused on business travel, 10 times more so than our average internet user.

Whether or not the theme park becomes a reality, it is clear that the audience will evolve with the movie series, and that by the time Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1 is released in 2014 a new raft of opportunities will be on the table. Smart brands should be watching closely and should dive into the behaviours of fans over the next few weeks to see if the data might be in their favour for the remaining two movie releases of the extended Trilogy. 

Cassandra McIntosh, Insights Analyst, Exponential

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