The Hunger Games: Catching Virality

Did you know that there’s a Hunger Games prequel movie coming out this year? If we hadn’t just informed you, we could bet you learned that from TikTok. A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes just dropped its first trailer on April 27th to great reception, despite the book it’s based on having been considered a bit of a relative letdown.

Why? Well, TikTok has been abound with Hunger Games hype all throughout April. If you are the least into movies on your FYP, you’ll have seen clips of Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth all surviving a Big Brother-style dystopia with a gladiator arena – and a little love triangle tossed in because this is a YA novel series after all.

And just as fire was catching, bam! A trailer dropped.

Going viral: but why?

But we weren’t the only ones to notice. The Mashable released a headline on April 7th that went “The Hunger Games is having a resurgence on TikTok”.

To put that in perspective, the last movie of the franchise, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II, was released in 2015, eight years ago. A Viner went viral for her Hunger Games-themed skit at the time. Vine. In internet years that’s centuries ago.

Between that and the fact that the last movie rather whimpered out, it begs the question of why The Hunger Games was going viral in 2023?

Going viral: but how?

What’s our evidence? If it’s such a good series, why wasn’t this simply one girl’s TikTok algorithm feeding her exactly what she wanted?

Well, for one thing, it was quite the mix of content getting shared. If the producers behind the Hunger Games prequel wanted it to go viral, you would expect only trailer clips to show on your algorithm, as per every other movie released in the past few years. But the franchise is based on a book series, so fan art, plot theories, comparisons, insights into acting choices, backstory, and everything else Tumblr loves was going viral on the site.

What could have prompted this? Well, one theory is the fact that it turns out the US hasn’t had access to the Hunger Games movies for a while. If you wanted to watch them without hoarding DVDs, you were going to have to pay a little more to rent them, rather than stream them. But, as of March 30th, they were added to the US Netflix catalogue, and the simmering fandom got to remember why they loved the series. Fire is catching, and we see no coincidence in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes trailer having been released four weeks, almost to the day, after Netflix added the original series to its roster.

This could easily be a series of fortunate events. The producers put the series on Netflix a month before releasing the trailer, rather than a month before releasing the movie, giving everyone the chance to get excited and natural user-generated content soon floods TikTok. Fandoms doing what fandoms do. Or there was a prompt behind the scenes for people to start posting about the series, perhaps through affiliate marketing?

A natural occurrence in social media culture: real or not real?

Go viral: but can it be replicated?

Yes and no. Some elements surely can. Movie producers might want to take note of the fact that the Netflix drop, so standard nowadays, was done a month before the trailer’s release, not the film’s release, which is not standard. It allowed the fire that was catching time to breathe. By the time the trailer dropped, everyone was already excited. The hype has time to grow before the film’s release in November.

But, on TikTok, is there a chance for replication? Well, we would argue there is, as long as you remember three principles:

  • Community engagement
  • User-generated content
  • Using every asset available

The Hunger Games fan is an avid fanbase, that was around long before TikTok, and that might even play a part in the current resurgence. They have a new place to talk and share fan theories and edits. Tapping into a community is a powerful thing, and the easiest way to do it is with a Mockingjay-I mean, a micro-influencer. The leader of the pack, who is sharing new information and products to a loyal community. From there, that community can start a revolution in user-generated content.

To quote Mary Prouxl, co-founder of Bread Agency: When you open TikTok, even if you are following a bunch of accounts, you may only recognise a few handles within the first 5-10 videos you’re served. TikTok has changed the influencer game from who you know, to what you know.”

“Empower them with insights, information, or inspiration to create content on the topic and give them the freedom to bring it to life in their own way.”

But the problem with movie social media marketing is that it’s usually a lot of the same. The main reason we’re leaning towards the theory that this was simply a series of fortunate events is that, thus far, movies have been very unoriginal in their social media marketing. There is no Blair Witch Project-esque gimmick, and with every release on social media, we see the trailer interrupt your Reels or FYP, maybe one guy reacts to it in silence, and instead the press junkets go a little viral. The movie itself? Who can even remember it?

If you’re going to use social media marketing for your movie, think outside the box. The books, the comics, the fan theories, the fan art, the gimmicks: it all makes for great content.

Thank you for your consideration, and may the odds be ever in your favour.

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