A good rule of thumb in the entertainment industry is know your audience. The filmmakers behind the Paranormal Activity franchise, which this weekend saw the release of The Marked Ones, are certainly up on that rule.
Not quite a sequel, The Marked Ones is more of a spinoff of the ridiculously popular horror franchise that’s made the most of the found footage subgenre. While fans of the first four instalments are by now well-acquainted with the franchise’s format — namely, shaky cam or surveillance footage reveals strange and dark forces haunting a middle-class white family in a suburban home — The Marked Ones is notable for its marked turn from the original.
The film follows three teens, Jesse, Hector and Marisol as they go about filming their antics before Jesse’s downstairs neighbor mysteriously dies. The three kids decide to visit the old woman’s apartment, taking their trusty video camera along with them. It isn’t long before creepy things begin happening. While the spinoff still deals with the same theme and style of the originals, this time the action is set in the largely Latino community in Oxnard, California, and stars Latino actors. While the shift might seem abrupt to some, it was actually a very savvy move on the part of the film’s studio Paramount.
In the U.S., the Latino population is one of the most reliable and desirable movie-going demographics. According to Nielsen National Research Group’s 2012 American Moviegoing report, Latinos made up 18% of the movie-going population but purchased a full 25% of the year’s movie tickets. What’s more, the report found that Latinos were the only group that saw more movies in cinemas in 2012 than they had the previous year.
And when it comes to the Paranormal franchise in particular, the Latino population is an especially significant market. In 2012, during the lead up to the release of Paranormal Activity 4, the Los Angeles Times noted that, “Paramount’s movie theater exit data reveals that Latinos make up nearly a third of all Paranormal Activity ticket buyers, which is even higher than the horror genre’s average attendance by Latinos, which ranges from 20% to 25%.”
Umberto Gonzalez is the managing editor of Latino-Reviews.com and the founder of Mayimbe Media, a start-up that looks to produce, acquire, and distribute original Latino films, and he believes that Paramount used a smart strategy when marketing The Marked Ones. “They [advertised] on English-language media, like during the season finale of The Walking Dead or during American Horror Story: The Coven,” he says. “Usually the stuff marketed towards us in the Latino community tends to be marketed in Spanish or on Spanish-language outlets, but Paramount was smart enough to know that the Latino audience they’re going for speaks English. They’re the children of people watching Spanish-language TV. They knew their market.”
It should be noted that despite all that targeted marketing, The Marked Ones only brought in $18.5 million in its opening weekend, coming in second behind Frozen at the box office. (The franchise’s peak opening weekend, for 2011’s Paranormal Activity 3, brought in a whopping $52.6 million.) Of course, movie attendance was likely affected in U.S. areas plagued by winter storms and, more importantly, $18.5 million is still a success for the film, which was made on a shoestring budget of $5 million.
But while it may be the most recent case, The Marked Ones certainly doesn’t mark the first time that Hollywood has attempted to capitalize on the Latino market. In 2013, Universal Studios heavily marketed Fast and Furious 6 towards Latinos, which paid off. The movie took in more than $120 million in its opening weekend and roughly a third of tickets were purchased by Latinos. The studio also makes an effort to market the majority of its films in some way to the Latino demographic. Fabian Castro, vice president of multicultural marketing for Universal told the Wall Street Journal last summer, “We support 75% to 80% of our movies with Hispanic outreach.”
And then there’s Lionsgate, who in 2010, partnered with Mexico’s Grupo Televisa to create Pantelion Films, which produces movies specifically aimed at Latino audiences, some of which are Spanish-language films. The distributor’s 2013 release, Instructions Not Included, is now the fourth highest grossing foreign-language film of all time in the U.S.
Though not every attempt to target the Latino market will be successful, the smartest executives and filmmakers will now invest in making the effort. Because when they do get it right, Latinos — more than any other demographic in the U.S. — will ensure that investment pays off.