How Kenyan filmmakers can learn from Guardians of the Galaxy


photo courtesy of

photo courtesy of

“I am Groot.” Now say that in Sofia Vergara’s accent or maybe in a British accent because that’s what has stuck in my head since the release of Marvel’s superhero film Guardians of the Galaxy.

In its last weekend opening, Guardians of the Galaxy grossed $ 94.3 million domestically, $ 160. 4 million worldwide, smashing the Box Office and surpassing the $ 69.3 million August record set by the Bourne Ultimatum seven years ago.

With the exception of Tosh Gitonga’s highly acclaimed film Nairobi Half Life that grossed $ 82,000 (Ksh. 7 million) worldwide, Kenyan films perform dismally in theatres. As a matter of fact, they are rarely screened in theatres due to poor ticket sales, which is quite unfortunate because this is where the money really is.

In this age of mass bootleg, any filmmaker out there who still thinks he/she can make good money from movie sales is living in a comical fantasy. As it seems, this is the fantasy world that Kenyan filmmakers enjoy. Otherwise they would be scrambling to their feet to get Kenyans to theatres and turn the industry into the money minting machine it is supposed to be.

In a Kenyan theatre with 229 seats, only 10-15 people attend a local film screening. Therefore, it would seem that local theatres have given up on screening local films. Century Cinemax general manager explains, “As much as we want to promote local movies, if people are not buying tickets, then we cannot do so.”

The question every filmmaker in Kenya should be asking is: How do you lure Kenyans to theatres? Well, just how did Marvel do it?

August has never been a good month for the Box Office, since this is the time Americans just want to lie down in the beach, soak in the sand and rub lotion on each other’s back. But Marvel managed to disrupt summer and lured Americans to theatres with a genius marketing campaign. Successful opening of a film is all about marketing, quality will come later.

With a $ 170 million budget, Marvel took quite a gamble with this one. Guardians of the Galaxy is not a household name, it centers on Marvel’s most unlikely superheroes. When you first hear about it, it doesn’t stir the same excitement or even anticipation as other superhero stereotypes like Avengers, Thor, Iron Man or Man of Steel. However unconventional Guardians of the Galaxy superheroes are, Marvel’s strategic marketing got the film the attention it needed.

All Kenyan filmmakers are reading from the same script – the Kenyan film industry is an upcoming industry, one with a bright future ahead. A point I do not wish to dispute although, the Kenyan Box Office has repeatedly failed to earn decent money in the last couple of years. Going by Nairobi Half Life’s modest success, this is an industry that could reap billions since its dismal performance is not so much about quality than it is about marketing.

There are three probable reasons: Kenyan filmmakers have a poor marketing strategy, they don’t market enough or they don’t market at all.

I watched the recent Kalasha Awards with quizzical interest, mainly because I had never heard of most of those films that bagged the awards in their categories. What good is a film that can bag multiple awards if the audience it is made for doesn’t know it exists?

Two years on, there are Kenyans (some even in Nairobi) who still don’t know that a Kenyan film (a 2012 Oscar contender) called Nairobi Half Life ever existed. Just imagine how many ticket sales would have been tapped into theatres countrywide had marketing been done right.

If the rumours that Gitonga is working on a sequel are true, then this is a chance for One Fine Day Films to come up with a marketing campaign that will popularize the movie to the audience who were initially ignored.

Although Kenyan filmmakers do not have the kind of Marvel Studio’s budget to blow on a robust marketing campaign, they can surely try.

Once, along Ngong Road, I caught a glimpse of a poster of Captain America: The Winter Soldier – a very irresistible picture of Chris Evans- with the tagline Coming Soon at the Century Cinemax, the Junction Mall. I have never seen a single poster or banner in the streets or major highways of Nairobi for a Kenyan film. For an industry that is supposedly growing, they sure are selfish with information.

Has any Kenyan ever seen a trailer for a local film during commercial breaks in our local TV stations? I know I haven’t, but I have watched many Hollywood trailers on KTN, heard some on the radio – Capital FM to be precise. Do filmmakers know how many Kenyans they could reach if they market the trailers on local TV or radio stations?

As most Kenyan films do, releasing a trailer on Youtube takes more than just making a promotional video and uploading it. It requires creativity in packaging and a strong social media engagement on Twitter and Facebook that can make the video go viral.

According to The Wrap, Guardians of the Galaxy trailer went viral, attracted 88,000 mentions across Twitter Facebook and various blogs in a 12 hour period.

When it comes to social media presence, Kenya has the numbers to drive numerous mentions for an upcoming film and boost viral marketing.

Another marketing strategy that filmmakers can utilize is screening of trailers in film award shows like the Kalasha Awards. Certainly, a one minute trailer will not waste anybody’s time.

Marvel, relying on Disney Consumer Products also partnered with well known brands like Lego, iHome, Mad Engine and Sideshow Collectibles, partnerships saw Guardians of the Galaxy characters turned into toys and plastered into T-shirts, back-to-school backpack, headphones and other merchandise. Using the popularity of other brands like Safaricom or Jamii Telecom to promote Kenyan films is a strategy that could create the buzz these films need. Imagine the popular Faiba guy watching a Kenyan movie trailer on his laptop.

Guardians of the Galaxy was also promoted during major events like NBA and the San Diego Comic-con. Events such as Safaricom Live or rugby Sevens (Masaku 7s, Dala 7s, Kabeberi 7s and Safaricom 7s) sure have the crowds that Kenyan films could tap into. The actors/actresses could even show up for meet and greet during such events.

At the end of the day, marketing is all about strategy and creativity, something marketing departments in Kenya can adequately achieve.


About sensoria300

I harness words, I thrive on them. I tell stories. I am dreamer, sometimes a poet but mostly I am a Game of Thrones fanatic. Lady Olenna, Lyanna Mormont and Arya Stark are my spirit animals.

Posted on August 9, 2014, in Film/TV and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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