How the Marketing for The Hunger Games is Failing

February 2, 2012 — 10 Comments


Last year I read all three books in the popular Hunger Games series. I quite enjoyed the first book and basically couldn’t stand the sequels. The way I see it, The Hunger Games should have been one 600-page book instead of three books over 300 pages each. Oh well. Next month, Lionsgate is releasing a film based on The Hunger Games, which it hopes will become a huge franchise on par with the Twilight or Harry Potter films. I admire their ambitions, but I think they’re making some key mistakes. Not the least of which is assuming that The Hunger Games is some sort of huge publishing phenomenon. It isn’t quite that, and it shouldn’t be treated as such.

To understand what I mean by this we need to look at some figures. The Harry Potter series of books has sold over 450 million copies worldwide in various languages. Even in 2001, before the release of the first film, the four available books are believed to have sold at least 50 million copies worldwide, and likely many millions more than that.

By 2010, the Twilight series is believed to have sold roughly 116 million copies. This figure would have been smaller before the first film came out, but probably not much less.

Meanwhile, The Hunger Games and its sequels are said to currently have 23.5 million copies “in print”. That is to say, 23.5 million copies have been printed and most of those sent to stores, and a majority of those sold. Which is another way of saying the series has sold less than 20 million copies. Sure, it’s a huge success in the world of publishing, but it’s hardly the runaway cultural phenomenon many are claiming it as. In fact, the series has another problem, which is that it’s already complete. Harry Potter in particular was lucky to have books still left to be released. This meant that the excitement for the upcoming books and films built on each other into something huge and sustained for a little over a decade.

Lionsgate doesn’t seem to care about this. Both trailers released so far (a new one came out today) pretty much play just to the audience who have read the books, or who at the very least have had the books explained to them. In fact, if you don’t know anything about the series—which is likely considering their obscurity relative to those previously mentioned franchises—then it would be very easy to watch these trailers and marketing materials and come out the other end not understanding anything at all about the story.

In case you are unaware, The Hunger Games tells the story of Katniss Everdeen, a girl living in a post-apocalyptic future world in which an oppressive capitol city forces children from the outlying regions to participate in a drawn out fight to the death. Katniss, of course, ends up taking part in the games, and must work to survive while at the same time stoking the flames of revolution. It’s not that difficult a premise to sell, yet the trailers do their best to try and obscure exactly what is happening. The first trailer admittedly does a better job of explaining things, but if you aren’t paying close enough attention you might miss it.

On top of this, the style of the world is really weird, and quite off-putting. This is part of the concept, of course, but when the concept isn’t clear in the trailer then all you’ve got is a movie that looks closer to The Golden Compass than Harry Potter. It’s a dangerous line to straddle, and with Lionsgate pretending like everyone on the planet already knows and has read the books, this could spell trouble for them. The worst thing will be if the movie turns out to be mediocre or bad. Twilight could withstand this issue, as could the earlier Harry Potter films, but they had enormous built-in audiences. The Hunger Games doesn’t.

In my opinion, Lionsgate needs step up their game and sell this movie to those who aren’t already familiar with the series. There’s an easily marketable movie in there somewhere, but it isn’t helped by sticking to those who are already fans.

Or maybe I’m off base. What do you all think about the current marketing strategy for The Hunger Games? Do you think it’s worked? Have you already read the books? Are you excited to see the movie?


10 responses to How the Marketing for The Hunger Games is Failing


    This blog post I make just before the release of Harry Potter and Deathly Hollows, Pt 2 pretty much says it all:

    They were very lucky with the Harry Potter series in both the fact that it was so successful and they were able to adapt all 7 books with most of the cast intact.

    That said, I’m still seeing Hunger Game based purely on the curiosity factor.


      Yeah, Harry Potter is really unequalled in its success. Twilight is an interesting case of absolutely insane fandom. It’s a smaller scale fandom, but they’re much crazier, and it shows at the box office. Nobody I know is THAT excited about THe Hunger Games. It’s all, “yeah I’ll go see that.”


    I just saw the second trailer a few hours ago and I’m not sure about it. The first one did interest me although I haven’t read the books. Then again, I’m not really a book reader as the only book franchises I own are the “Harry Potter” and “Scott Pilgrim” series while most of the books I have are just books about films or music.

    If the reviews are good, I’ll probably see it but I just hope it doesn’t go into that insane fandom that is associated with those awful “Twilight” films.


      Yeah, the Twilight films really are quite bad. I have a sinking feeling The Hunger Games won’t be very good either, but I doubt you’ll have to worry about insane fandom.


    You are bang on. I haven’t read the books and I have all kinds of questions the marketing isn’t intriguing me enough to care to seek out answers for. What are these games? How/Why are they allowed? Why does everyone react like volunteering for your sibling has never happened? Surely this scenario has come up before and there must be a plan in place. What exactly is the age range to be drafted? From the sisters it looks like 10-25. I tried to imagine Little Sis doing what we see Big Sis doing. She would’ve been dead meat.

    Now there’s a pin connected to a promise that’s impossible to keep. When Tom Hiddleston in War Horse promised nothing bad would happen, I was sold on it. When Jennifer Lawrence says the same in the new trailer, she’s so disconnected I have to believe the pin contains a magical protection charm.


      I think you’re going too far in some of your assumptions for the sake of making a point. I think you’re also reducing the brilliance of that Tom Hiddleston scene. It’s more powerful than you let on.

      But yeah, the trailers give an idea of some kind of game to the death, but it’s just not clear why or what’s going on. Now, a trailer shouldn’t have to answer all those questions, but it should answer some, just to hook people.

      As for the age range, this was my biggest problem with casting Jennifer Lawrence. The age range is, I believe 12-18. Katniss is supposed to be 16. Jennifer Lawrence looks way older than 18! It just adds to the confusion in the trailer, but it also lessens the impact of Katniss taking over for her sister. Sure, she’s older than her sister, but not THAT much older. She’s still a young kid.


    You’re just asking to be punched in the face, aren’t you? Such a negative nellie.

    I am legitimately excited for The Hunger Games based on the trailer I saw…a trailer that nearly got me teared up when I saw it in the theatre. You’re just such a freaking snob about popular girls’ franchises. The Twilight series is really quite good and the first and third Hunger Games books are exceptional. Oh, and The Golden Compass movie was really quite good too.

    That said, it’s a difficult thing to pitch properly to an audience outside those who have read it and I do have some concerns. The book series is very socialist and anti-imperialistic and I just don’t see a big studio project in America letting those messages shine through given American political sentiments to the contrary. I’ve already said that if I were adapting the books with purely artistic concerns, they would get a hard-R for nudity and graphic violence that I think is rather essential to the effectiveness of the themes so I’m not sure how it will manage that at a PG-13 level.


      Hehe, I’m being negative because I think they’re doing some things wrong with a film that could easily be excellent. I don’t know why you’re on my case about hating books for girls. I don’t see Hunger Games as being specifically a teen girl series. Is Harry Potter a teen girl series just because it’s most widely read by teen girls?

      I really liked the first Hunger Games book. Not the greatest prose, and some laziness in the world construction, but a lot of it was imaginative, and the story was visceral and compelling and I read it super fast. I thought the second book was a needless retread, and the third book didn’t deliver on the promise of the first book for me, and a lot of the writing flaws began to bother me a lot.

      Anyway, this post isn’t really commenting on the quality of the movies or books, it’s just a commentary on how the marketing is being flubbed. I’m quite excited to see how they pull off the movie as well, but I think from a marketing perspective Lionsgate is making some serious errors in judgement. This is not a behemoth franchise like Harry Potter, and so they need to work harder to sell it to people who have no idea what it is. And there’s no reason they can’t do that. The basics of the premise are simple enough, and the film, as seen in the second trailer, has plenty of action to catch even a young male audience.

      If anything I’m saying that there’s a great chance for this movie to be both good AND successful, and I wonder if Lionsgate is setting themselves up for disappointment. Then again, I could be completely wrong. The first Twilight film didn’t completely light the world on fire either. It wasn’t until New Moon came out that the big success became true phenomenon. That could very well happen with The Hunger Games if the audience actually shows up.


        Maybe I’m just getting in touch with my inner Junior in reflexively pushing back against your tendency toward negativity before the fact with things like Les Mis or The Hunger Games. I see ways it could go wrong and can’t really speak to how the trailers hit people who aren’t into the story, but I choose to cling to the fact that the trailer worked for me to stay optimistic.

        P.S. It’s not so much books for girls (I still don’t buy the idea that Harry Potter is overwhelmingly read by women) but books featuring girls as the central character.


          I completely didn’t think about it having a female protagonist. Yeah, that’s true. I suppose my piece is meant to be less definitive and more inquisitive. Not “How the Marketing is Failing”, but “Is the Marketing Failing?”

          Based on certain factors I think that if it isn’t outright failing, Lionsgate is at the very least being risky, potentially alienating those who don’t know the books.

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