Case Study: 50 Shades of Marketing Brilliance

I admit it, I am on the 50 Shades of Grey bandwagon and I am looking forward to the movie being released in February 2015. I am not here to talk about the book, because really who hasn’t read it or has an inkling of what it is about? I am here to talk about the 50 shades of marketing brilliance that is going into promoting the first movie. Right now July 23, 2014, we are about 7 months out from the movie release date and there already is hysteria in the air. What is the cause of this?

The marketing and promotions team are behind the scenes working very hard to add fuel to the “Grey Hysteria” fire.

The team has used unique marketing tactics to ramp up the super fans or “brand advocates”. Most recently creating a unique viewer experience through marketing and social media, to hype the brand and create buzz for the movie. Of course the hysteria has been going on for some time.

You can say the marketing and promotions team has taken that snowball (they have created) and pushed it downhill. They continue to ramp up the fans and empower them to help build buzz surrounding the film franchise. From a promotions standpoint, let’s look at what the marketing team and 50 Shades professionals have done up to this point.

• Before the main actors, Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan, were even on the movie set together, they did an Entertainment Weekly photo shoot in November 2013.

50 shades of grey entertainment weekly cover
Source: Entertainment Weekly

• During the filming of the movie, “50 Shades of Grey” Author E. L. James was on set, sharing photo hints on social media with her Instagram and Twitter followers. James was sneaky with her snapshots, often taking pictures of the actors’ shoes, or extreme close-ups behind the scenes.

• While filming the movie, set workers would hold large black umbrellas, for outdoor footage, attempting to block local fans from snapping photos. It didn’t work. Fans transformed into social media broadcasters, sharing their content across the world with the help of popular hashtags like: #FSOG #FiftyShades #FiftyShadesofGrey #FiftyShadesMovie.

• In January 2014, (13 months before the movie release date) marketers released large-scale movie posters on the sides of buildings in only 5 major cities.

• This was also the month they announced the Grey Intern Program, urging fans to sign up via email on their website.

50 shades of grey movie website

Source: JO Social Branding

• Exactly one year out, released movie stills of the two main characters, Christian and Ana popped up online.

• On July 19th Beyonce released the pre-trailer, or mini-trailer, announcing the trailer. This was brilliant and unexpected as the release came from left field, catching fans off guard and adding to the hysteria. Beyonce shared the snippet on Instagram. A remake of her song “Crazy in Love” is heard in the background of the clip.

Source: Beyonce Instagram

• The mini trailer was then added to all social media for sharing purposes.

Source: Universal Pictures YouTube Channel

• On July 21st, those who signed up for the Intern program, received emails on their “assignment.” Interns were directed to a faux Grey Enterprise website (Christian Grey’s company), with information on how to download the Grey Intern App. The app is like a game, interns have assignments and unlock rewards. All assignments have a social media tie-in.

Grey Intern App Screenshot

Source: iTunes App Store

• July 22nd revealed an updated trailer, with just two new scenes to the original, along with new television and radio ads announcing the Today show spot. In the ads you hear the characters speaking for the first time. One radio show host announced people called in requesting to hear the ad again. This video is a fan taping the radio ad and then posting to YouTube.

Source: Cinquenta tons de cinza YouTube Channel

• The trailer will be released on the Today Show, July 24th. Another behind the scenes segment will appear on the Today Show Friday, July 25th. Both Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson will present the trailer to the talk show hosts. This is JUST the trailer, however they are treating the trailer as if it was the movie being released.

You are probably thinking, “What is happening? It is just a movie.”


What it is, is a brilliant marketing move to:

    • Create brand advocates through their Intern program all the while creating a fan database and exclusive email marketing list.
    • Develope an air of exclusivity around the brand and movie.
    • Perfectly use social media to engage and interact with their audience.

All resulting in an empowerment of brand advocates as the marketers fan the hysteria fire.

More on the interactive experience

Fans willingly enter their email into a database. Once established as Interns it turns into a social media game.

Now fans have an identity. As a “Grey Intern” they are encouraged to use #GreyIntern. They have a vested interested in the “business” a.k.a promoting the movie. They band together with other Grey Interns to further promote the Grey hysteria. Have you ever been at a pop concert where one teenager screams and then they all scream? Same effect. Hysteria continues. Chaos created. Buzz is built.

Intern tasks are social media-related; taking a picture, sharing information on the app, recruiting friends, etc. There have been hints to “pleasing” and “meeting” Mr. Grey with completion of tasks. How this will happen we will have to wait and see.

Do you see through the Smoke and Mirrors? By utilizing these willing and “submissive” brand advocates, there is less work on the marketers end. Whatever marketers want to share, they push out through the app and the message is amplified by the Grey Interns through social media.

Yes, I downloaded the app, I uploaded my photo for points, and I am tempted to share with a social network to see what other rewards I will gain. The team has tapped into the advocate psychology and are using it to their benefit and fans LOVE IT.

I look forward to seeing what other tricks they have up their sleeves in the next 7 months.

Laters, Baby

P.S. If you still haven’t read the book, it isn’t too late to catch up:

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