It’s been a little over a week since I dragged—er, since Steve and I went to see “Mockingjay: Part 1,” the third of four movies in the Hunger Games film franchise. It took me only five days to read all three novels by Suzanne Collins, who has to be one incredibly rich lady right about now, and I can confidently tell you the first part of the final movie did not disappoint. It ended at a great point in the novel’s storyline and the performances were spot-on.
One of the best parts, though, was how the movie presented the propaganda advertisements, or “propos” as they’re called in the universe of the Hunger Games. Propos served as a way for the rebel forces to communicate messages to the citizens of Panem, the North America of the future. Jennifer Lawrence’s character Katniss Everdeen serves as the face of the propos, the eponymous Mockingjay, around whom the rebels can rally.
Collins, the rebels and the Capitol all understand the power of persuasion and how to create a symbol that motivates and moves the masses.
So if you thought that the Hunger Games was just another young adult fantasy series, here are a few lessons in effective marketing we can learn from Katniss, the media-savvy Plutarch Heavensbee, and their film crew:
Give your audience something with which they can or do identify. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character Plutarch Heavensbee, former Gamemaker and current Secretary of Communications for the rebels, understands that Katniss must be the face of the propos. She is the symbol of rebellion against the Capitol, after outwitting them twice in consecutive Hunger Games; she’s the person who can bring all the district rebels together under one cause. Although she is reluctant at first to accept the role, she comes to understand her importance as the Mockingjay after visiting the wounded in District 8.
Find powerful images to accompany your messaging. When the rebels first begin trying to film propos, Katniss is led to a makeshift soundstage and has a rousing crowd of supporters superimposed behind her in a sort of green-screen fashion. But her actions are stilted and awkward. She’s simply not comfortable or able to perform as she would in the heat of the (real) moment. Once she gets out of the sound studio, sees the walking wounded, interacts with them, shoots down a couple of Capitol hovercrafts—well, the propos practically write themselves.
Utilize a phrase or song that can stand on its own, that your audience can easily remember. When Katniss begins to sing an impromptu rendition of “The Hanging Tree,” a song her late father taught her when she was younger, film crew director Cressida sees it as instant gold. The song itself has a plaintive melody, and the repetition makes it easy for rebel citizens to remember as they march into battle—which is just what occurs in the very next scene. (In other news, the song made its debut in the top 20 on two music charts: in the UK and Australia.) In another propo, Katniss comes up with this phrase on the spot: “If we burn, you burn with us!” That phrase later becomes a battle cry for rebels who have rigged an explosive trap for their district’s Capitol police force, the Peacekeepers. (Poetic, I know.)
Connect with your audience’s emotions through storytelling. The taglines are just the icing on the cake. The cake itself is the story the film crew pieces together for the audience. The rebels are able to frame the “If we burn” propo to tell the story of Katniss visiting the wounded in District 8 and then shooting down enemy hovercraft to try to save them. It incenses the rest of the citizens—how could the Capitol bomb those who were already incapacitated?—and gives them a cause, a hope, to hold on to.
Create new content regularly so your audience doesn’t get bored or forget you. The rebels didn’t just pump out one propo and call it quits. The team had a response for every propo the Capitol broadcasted and they didn’t just use the same one over and over. There were different images, locations, messages and, later in the movie, different characters who took the place of Katniss.
The rebels knew to keep their marketing fresh and on message, even in the midst of war.