Eddie Murphy’s ‘Coming 2 America’ was the top streaming feature film debut in the past 12 months.
Coming 2 America, featuring Eddie Murphy returning to the world of his 1988 comedy hit Coming to America, raised the bar for direct-to-streaming feature film releases. It was the #1 streamed movie last weekend and the #1 opening weekend of any streaming movie of the past 12 months. As Forbes’ Scott Mendelson wrote earlier this week, there are a number of factors weighing in favor of the film’s success. One of them is surely the innovative marketing approach taken by Amazon Prime Video, which acquired the picture from Paramount PGRE +1.4% for $125 million, which has helped Coming 2 America connect with its audience worldwide.
Amazon flooded the zone with promotions for the film, combining the highest profile mass advertising (a Super Bowl spot) with community-based social and influencer marketing designed to activate the built-in fanbase for the movie. Some of the highlights of the campaign included a watch party on Twitter, an infomercial series featuring Soul Glo, Randy Watson and My T-Sharp Barbershop, several Black History Month activations, theatrical releases in Nigeria and South Africa, and a Sexual Chocolates sweepstakes with Fooji. Even Amazon’s transportation fleet was pressed into service, with 220 delivery vehicles in 8 key regions around the country used to promote the film. Amazon also worked in tandem with Black-owned restaurants to provide meals to those in need.
I had a chance to discuss the campaign and the streamer’s overall approach to marketing its original films and programming with Ukonwa Ojo, Global CMO of Amazon Prime Video & Amazon Studios. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Ukonwa Ojo, Global Chief Marketing Officer, Amazon Prime Video
Rob Salkowitz: When did you start in your role?
Ukonwa Ojo: I started in September and it’s been really fun. I didn’t hit the ground running, I hit the ground sprinting! We had just made some major acquisitions and I was thinking about how we maximize the opportunity for the brand and the service. It’s been great spending the time getting up to speed and launching our marketing campaigns. It’s been very exciting.
RS: The Coming 2 America campaign features a lot of touchpoints to create excitement around the film. Can you discuss your overall vision and goals for the campaign, beyond, obviously, maximizing the viewership, because it seems like you went over and above to connect to the community.
UO: My overall marketing philosophy is that best marketing is at intersection of brand sand culture. It’s hard to find an IP with a higher resonance in culture than Coming 2 America. There are all kinds of memes, people know the lines. In the Black community specifically, it’s iconic.
When we had the opportunity to bring it in, we wanted to make it the most watched and interesting film, but we also wanted to make sure we were taking care of Eddie’s baby. It was really important to him and to the Black community to pay homage to the love and specialness of the movie. This wasn’t a situation where you take the movie and market it. We needed to have a tremendous amount of love and respect for all those around the world who see it as a core part of their lives. We wanted to make sure that whenever they interacted with any aspect of the movie, they could feel that it was created by a team who knew the movie, who knew its heritage, who knew it was iconic, and wanted to really respect that.
RS: From the influencers to the partner strategy to the channel strategy, the C2A campaign reads like a list of best-practices for reaching the African American community and global African diaspora specifically.
UO: Exactly! I am particularly proud that the top Twitter conversation about this film was in the US, but the second biggest was in Nigeria, the most populous Black country in the world. We have as much conversation going on in Africa as we have going on in the U.S. That just goes to show how deep the team went to make sure we were honoring and celebrating the film’s legacy — not only with the broader community, because it was obviously very widely watched – but we love the celebration that came from the Black community all over the world.
RS: Was it the content of C2A in particular that made this strategy work, or is this an area of emphasis for you and Amazon? Is it something you think that entertainment marketers need to focus on, to reach Black or other communities that want to see themselves better represented in the films and the marketing?
UO: Overall, it’s really important to us as a both a brand and as a streaming service, that our marketing represents the communities that we serve. That sits above everything that we do. It affects the vendors, partners, and creators we work with. We want to make sure we are truly diverse in the stories that we tell. That means we have to be diverse in how you go to market because you’re trying to reach different kinds of people and you can’t do that in a homogeneous way. Whoever is the audience for a particular film project, we want them to say “oh my God, they get me!” For us, that’s just part of the DNA of who we are.
Our marketing philosophy is to create bespoke campaigns for every show and film. We don’t have a cookie cutter template. We start every show and campaign by asking “What are the unique insights? “What are the unique hooks for the communities we are trying to reach?” We start at the bottom and build up the campaign for that.
If you see a campaign for Borat, it has a very different campaign than what we did for C2A or One Night in Miami. That really shows the commitment to be true to the stories that the creators want to tell and the communities we want to reach. You’ll see that as a through-line in everything we do.
RS: The campaign appears to have generated great results, with C2A having the biggest opening weekend of any streaming movie in the past 12 months – I assume that includes Wonder Woman, Mulan, and all the other highly-touted films on other services. How do you think the marketing campaign led to those kind of results? Is there an effect that when you activate those core communities, it ripples out to become a mass success?
UO: My fundamental philosophy is that the best marketing intersects with pop culture. So that means really paying attention to all the things that people care about in culture, and the points of intersection between that and the story you’re trying to tell. The C2A team spent a lot of time creating very bespoke marketing activations to reach the communities where it would resonate. When the film launched, we saw those communities come out to celebrate the film, to watch the film and to advocate for the film. That’s what made it so successful.
RS: Finally, generally how did COVID affect the streaming landscape for direct-to-streaming feature films? What have you learned from the experience and what do you think will be the impact on the movie distribution industry moving forward?
UO: One of the things that makes us so special is that Prime is one of the most valuable membership programs in the world. In the last year, we really got to live up to that. In the pandemic, it really made lives easier in that you could get things shipped to you when you couldn’t leave the house. When the world got difficult outside, that same brand helped you when you wanted to escape to something entertaining. That same Prime membership brought that escape to you.
We were a respite for millions of people and we took that seriously. We loved the opportunity to be that over the last year. We believe a lot of new habits got created in that moment. People realized what an incredible value it is. If you think about a film like Coming 2 America – for a family that wanted to see it in a theatre at the regular ticket cost – you could watch that from your living room with your own snacks as part of your Prime membership, that’s such a meaningful benefit for people and families. I’m just so proud that I’m part of an organization that could deliver that in such a difficult year.
As we look to the future, the new habits that have been formed will remain. People have been exposed to great sources of entertainment. We’re not going to let up on that. We have such a fun slate of shows and films coming up. If anything, we want to make sure we surprise and delight and continue to be that kind of entertainment respite for people.
Note: story updated 3/12/21 3pm to clarify some quotes.
I am an author, consultant and educator with a professional interest in the business implications of new media and a personal passion for comics and visual communication.