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The Hunger Games: media hype and social marketing

By Evelyn Tsitas - posted Thursday, 5 April 2012


It is perhaps ironic that the media has set itself up as the arbiter of what is appropriate for young people to consume when it comes to fiction, given that the contentious movie of the moment holds the media up to the spotlight.

Based on the hit young adult novel series by US author Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games follows a group of teenagers made to fight to the death in an annual televised battle in a cruel, post apocalyptic world where manufactured media appeal mean the difference between life and death.

Add media hype calling for a higher classification to stop under 15's seeing the movie, the "mummy bloggers" in angst over whether to let their young teens see the movie or not, and a savvy social marketing campaign and bingo – you have the formula for The Hunger Games success. The movie is now the highest-grossing film of 2012 in the US after just two weekends in theaters.

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Collins is a seasoned children's television writer who has penned multiple stories for the Emmy-nominated Little Bear and Oswald aimed atpreschool viewers. She knows how to write for the screen, and how to move a story along. But it's not just her writing prowess that turned her book into a monster movie success.

American independent entertainment company Lionsgate put considerable time and resources into creating a replica of the Twilight phenomenon, by also harnessing the power of the teenage fan base and social media. They teamed up with startup social media management site thismoment.com to launch a yearlong campaign that has resulted in 3.5 million "likes" on the movie's facebook site and YouTube videos that encourage fans to post their own work. (29 Mar)

In fact, the most significant changes in book marketing over the past few years have been the use of social media. And many savvy writers have utilized this opportunity. Beyond the Facebook page and Twitter account, those who drive their book sales do things like set up Google alerts on their topic so they can participate in the conversation. The key to harnessing the marketing power of social media is about reaching out and making connections with people.

In a way, this is exactly what pioneering "branding" author Jacqueline Susann did with her blockbuster first novel, Valley of the Dolls, published in 1966. It remains one of the best-selling books of all time. Sussan used new marketing techniques like the book tour and color testing a book jacket for television – not to mention writing books that attracted a large audience in the first place, ones that dealt with social issues of the time and the hunger for celebrity.

Likewise, Suzanne Collins uses her considerable skills to produce in The Hunger Games a fast paced thriller that draws from contemporary events and produces a caustic critique of the artifice dressed as real life that is the reality television package and perhaps, a sad reflection of much of modern, celebrity driven journalism.

Teenagers know all about identity branding. Like the assessors of the Hunger Games tributes, they could easily do a SWOT analysis of their own - Strengths: what gives them an advantage over others? Weaknesses (or Limitations) that place them at a disadvantage relative to others; Opportunities: the external chances to improve performance and Threats: external elements in the environment that could cause trouble for them.

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Collins' protagonist Katniss Everdeen's strength is her skill as a hunter, but her weakness is her lack of media appeal, which will lead to decreased opportunity for sponsors that provide products to help her stay alive in the arena. However, she recognizes her opportunity to cash in on a fake love interest with Peeta to overcome the external threats – the artificially enhanced ferocity of the arena that pumps up viewer interest. Pure marketing driven SWOT analysis at work.

I thought the Romeo and Juliet twist at the end, where Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) make a pact to die together by eating poisoned berries, rather than fight to the death, a very neat play on an age-old literary device, the ultimate powerlessness of young people, and the way young people in turn manipulate the media to their own ends.

I find it fascinating that Clare Cannon, editor of GoodReadingGuide.com, won't watch the movie because she feels that Collins distorts the meaning of heroic rebellion, and says her characters are "desensitised to sexual exploitation". Within the framework of reality television, the Hunger Games contestants must undergo a full body wax to make them camera ready. Cannon says; "This is probably normal for reality TV, but don't tell me it's brave."

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About the Author

Evelyn Tsitas is the co-author of the parenting book Handle With Care, a PhD student at RMIT University, Melbourne, and has an extensive background in journalism (10 years at the Herald Sun) and communications. As well as crime fiction and horror, she writes about media, popular culture, parenting and Gothic horror and the arts and society in general. She likes to take her academic research to the mass media and to provoke debate.

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