Before some of Hollywood’s hits make it to No. 1 at the box office they have to first go through boutique lifestyle marketing agency, Liquid Soul Media (LSM). Founded by CEO Tirrell Whittley and CMO Nick Nelson, the award-winning agency has mastered integrated multicultural marketing campaigns, resulting in approximately 13 No. 1 box office films and over 80 film and television properties, collectively generating over $1 billion in revenue.
The road to such success for LSM is one of transformation as the company began as an online radio destination, before morphing into providing new media services for clients and in 2005 changing course to focus on marketing films. With credits including Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 and Part 2) and upcoming projects such as Dark Knight, the Jackie Robinson biopic, 42 and NBC’s fall line-up, LSM remains one of the most relevant gatekeepers to the multicultural audience. Whittley and Nelson spoke with BlackEnterprise.com about their marketing strategy, fighting to represent the value in markets of color, and why international marketing of African-American films may not be as relevant as you think.
LSM has a very strategic approach to marketing. Please walk us through those steps from A-Z.
Whittley: Internally, we do research to understand the psychographics and sociographics of consumers. It’s about understanding our audience through audience analysis, profiles and strategies. Then, we go into lifestyle segmentation and identify what is it about them to make them care about the product. From there we dig into the associations that audience may have and how they may accept the product and messaging. Finally is the affinity factor: why are they going to like this project? What is the unique selling point? Then it’s about making the conversion and action we want them to take, whether it’s a ticket sale or ratings.
You have the marketing strategy down to a science. However science is not always 100% accurate. So what surprises have you experienced as a result of your strategy that perhaps opened up an audience you may have never thought existed?
Whittley: Sometimes what we bring to the table are audiences that our clients don’t see. With Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, we talked about the father/daughter relationship. The studio recognized it but they think fathers and boys but we convinced them that if you overlook the father you’re not looking at the total family. So we developed a program, which led to a box office hit. We partnered with Ed Gordon’s foundation; Daddy’s Promise and involved 100 Black Men of America to create father/daughter film viewing experiences. That demonstrated that fathers mattered too and here is how you compel them to take part even on a princess film.
Do you feel a responsibility to prove that films with people of color as the leads can hit a general market and not just its niche target?
Nelson: Yes, it is very important. Think Like a Man was mostly Black and it hit wider. So you have to make a film feel bigger and wider. With the Black audience, the biggest piece is investing into that audience. We over index in television watching and going to the movies; we are hungry for content and people that look like us.
Isn’t there an assumption amongst studios that you don’t have to cater to the African American market and that we will automatically come running once we see a person of color in a trailer?
Whittley: It works both ways. We work on a host of general market films and tell the studios because there are no Black or Brown faces doesn’t mean that cross cultural message won’t resonate with diverse audience. With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows we did their first Africa -American outreach because even in its final installment there was still a fan base they hadn’t spoken to.