Cause-Related Film Marketing for a Better Future

Cause-Related Film Marketing for a Better Future
Emily Landa Marketing Assistant

Emily Landa
Marketing Assistant

In the last decade, cause-related marketing has hit the ground running in the advertising world, and with good reason.

According to The Deloitte Millenial Survey 2017, 76% of millennials view business as a propeller to catalyze social change. With this in mind, and at a time when media platforms play a major role in determining what gets seen and heard, it’s hard to ignore the growing importance of creating programs and initiatives that both appeal to this new generation and get the widest distribution possible. Sounds daunting, right? It doesn’t have to be.

Here at Hydro Studios, we partner with both filmmakers and advocacy organizations alike on a variety of cause related projects all with the same goal in mind: to initiate change. One of our primary areas of expertise lies in being the interface for film productions and nonprofit organizations enabling them to craft a cohesive plan of action that can create awareness of the project and thus have a real, tangible impact on society. Whether that plan includes a social media campaign or an award-winning theatrical campaign, here are a few tips specific to cause-related marketing.


Pick a Cause that Anyone Can Care About

Film Marketing

Cause-related marketing is like presenting a mirror. You either see yourself in the cause, or you discover another side to something you might not have seen before. For those that suffer or have loved ones that suffer from Alzheimer’s, the award-winning documentary, Glen Campbell...I’ll Be Me reflects on a heartbreaking disease that millions of people can relate to. After being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, country music star, Glen Campbell, begins a farewell tour where he and his family navigate the unpredictable nature of the disease through love, laughter and music. Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me went on to be the highest rated film in CNN’s history, as well as earning an Academy Award nomination in 2015.

In 2017, an estimated 5.5 million Americans suffered from Alzheimer’s. This significant number doesn’t include the family, friends and loved ones surrounding those affected. Not only could a large audience connect to the central message of the film, but they were able to see this through the eyes of someone they recognize, a legend of the music industry. Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me is a profound example of how Alzheimer’s can affect anyone and everyone, and how anyone and everyone can care about treating and curing this disease. This is one thing that makes cause-related marketing so effective: connection.

Learn 5 Easy Ways to Promote Your Film Online by downloading our guide here


Know Who to Work With

Film Marketing

After finding the right cause, you need to find the right non-profits or organizations to produce an effective cause-related campaign. An effective partnership can be beneficial in many ways in terms of outreach, resources, financial support, etc. But in order to make this partnership work, your beliefs and mission statements must align perfectly (no, that’s not an exaggeration). When it comes to shedding light on a particular disease or disorder, you can only have one message—one message that boils down all of the work that goes into a campaign, and eventually reaches audiences. Finding the right organization can make or break a cause-related campaign, so choose wisely.

Take our film Wretches and Jabberers, for example. This documentary follows the story of two men with autism and their global quest to change prevailing attitudes about disability and intelligence. When Wretches and Jabberers came out in 2010, autism was still (arguably) in the process of garnering national awareness. But with the help of a strong, airtight partnership with Autism Society (one of the top autism non-profits), Wretches and Jabberers had the potential to reach a huge audience. How? By having an extended partnership with AMC theaters.

Film Marketing

Autism Society and AMC started the Sensory Friendly Films program back in 2007, providing a specific movie experience to those with autism by turning up the lights and turning down the volume in theaters. When Wretches and Jabberers debuted, AMC theaters proved to be the perfect venue in taking the film to the next level. Not only were audiences discovering a different take on autism, they were experiencing it. 

Again, when it comes to cause-related marketing and filmmaking, it’s all connected. If you find that perfect partnership, it has the potential to go beyond the film itself. Over the last decade, TV shows like The Good Doctor, Parenthood and Atypical have brought autism into the limelight, unafraid to confront the stereotypes and discrimination surrounding the disorder. Those are the main goals of cause-related marketing—awareness and growth.


Marketing Tools

After you find that perfect partnership, it’s time to map out a marketing strategy: Who’s handling what? What cities are we targeting? How do we get the word out there?

These are all crucial questions that may take some time to answer. Depending on the scope of the film or social campaign, you’ll need help from a professional advertising agency to get the project off the ground. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t get ahead of the game, especially when it comes to marketing outreach.

Film Marketing

When we began our work on Rebecca Carpenter’s Requiem for a Running Back, the revolutionary documentary on exposing CTE disease in football players, the film had already been featured in a number of festivals and established a solid audience base. In this case, we were able to use these existing tools to take the film even further with specific creative direction.

Key marketing features, such as a new poster design and fresh social media campaigns, were essential to rebranding Requiem for a Running Back in time for its theatrical release in New York City and Chicago. And now, Requiem for Running Back is debuting around the country on an educational tour, screening in several high-profile universities like Duke and George Washington University.

Whether you’re considering small independent events or a theatrical release, it’s important to flesh out what you want to gain from a cause-related campaign. Once you figure that out, it’s best to hit the ground running and use the tools you have to make a lasting impact.  


Beyond the Campaign

A truly successful cause-related campaign doesn’t end after the event. It’s like a relay race, and the baton of inspiration gets passed down over and over again. That inspiration can come in many forms: continued interest from foundations, sponsorships or even requests for extended events/fundraisers. That’s the amazing thing about cause-relating marketing—it has the potential to not only inspire people, but change their lives. The challenge is keeping the cause alive.

Here are a few important traits to keep in mind:

·       Evergreen Topic

Since August 2017, our events team at Hydro Studios has been working with Kelly Noonan and Adam Schomer, the director and producer of HEAL, a renowned documentary on alternative health methods. For the past 8 months, we’ve coordinated the Global Screening Program allowing people around the world the chance to screen the film in their community. HEAL has made such an impact that companies and organizations alike have integrated HEAL into their company culture (employee orientation, movie nights, etc).

Topics like health and wellness, especially in terms of combating disease, have the potential to delve deep into many likeminded communities. For HEAL specifically, non-profits, naturopathic clinics, spiritual centers and passionate individuals saw something in the film that they see in themselves; in their work. That’s why HEAL is evergreen; it represents something bigger than a documentary. It represents hope and change.

As mentioned earlier, effective cause-related marketing campaigns are like a mirror. You either see your reflection looking back at you, or you find something you never really noticed before. Whether niche or mainstream audiences, the projects or films that have the ability to connect with a variety of people are the ones that will live on.

·      Dedicated Audience

Film Marketing

A film is only as good as its audience, and it’s especially true for films trying to spark awareness and change. A lot of films, specifically documentaries like HEAL, rely on what’s called “DIY distribution” or a form of distribution that allows filmmakers to retain their film rights while partnering with nonprofits or organizations to sponsor independent screenings instead of a mass release. Yet, when it comes to DIY distribution, audience is key. Through social media sharing and general word-of-mouth, dedicated fans have the power to turn a film into a full-blown movement.


Cause-related marketing is complex and tedious, but the process is essential to a worthwhile outcome—awareness and growth.  With that said, here are the main takeaways:

1)      Choose the right cause for you, your organization and your audience

2)      Take the time to find the perfect partnership that will amplify your cause and campaign

3)      Don’t hesitate to start using marketing tools from the ground up

4)      Design an evergreen campaign that will continue to inspire beyond the release

In a time when change is more important than ever, your film or social campaign has the potential to have a real impact on audiences, one that will ripple into a better, more hopeful future. How you market and present a cause-related campaign, however, will determine if you create a ripple at all. Yet, the right cause, partnership and creative development makes all the difference in the world.