It all started in 1985. The true story behind “Cocaine Bear” began when a convicted drug smuggler named Andrew Thornton died after a parachuting accident in ‘85. According to an exposé by Variety Magazine, “the working theory is that Thorton was traveling in a plane with 880 pounds of cocaine and thought the Feds were trailing him, so he decided to throw some of the stash out of the plane and take some more with him when he parachuted out. His plan went awry.”
The events were tied to Pablo Escobar, the notorious Colombian drug lord, and the escapade became coined as the Pablo EscoBear incident. The story culminated in a local bear in Georgia, US finding the cocaine, ingesting it, and dying from an overdose. Yes, you read that correctly. The film is loosely based on these wild events and portrays a much more fantastical, macabre presentation than the equally bizarre events that actually did happen.
The more significant fascination we have here at Affinio is geared toward those who manage, market, and promote this film. Were their audience assumptions correct, and did they optimize targeting to expected ticket buyers? Did they identify the personas among the movie’s social followers, and assess whether this movie was a highly anticipated event or just a night at the theater? Could “Cocaine Bear” have taken its successful $23M opening weekend and made it even bigger?
Deadline.com reported that Universal, the production company for Cocaine Bear, had some definite notions about who that audience should be.
While Uni(versal) stoked its young female fan base with its spooky dancing robot doll from MEGAN on TikTok, and late night show and in-public dance troupe stunts, the studio couldn’t just copy and paste from a genre marketing playbook, as Cocaine Bear repped another original movie. While dancing dolls on TikTok were prime for MEGAN‘s teen crowd, Cocaine Bear was geared toward older guys, hence a pregame Super Bowl spot was prime to reach that demo. RelishMix reported that the 24-hour post-game traffic on social for that trailer was close to 15M across all platforms in a social media universe that neared 150M for the Banks-directed title,” Anthony D’Alessandro of Deadline reported.
We dove into the movie’s early social following just after the opening weekend to share what we learned and how it can help any movie studio or entertainment brand understand the value of an audience-first strategy and why it works.
Did Universal Get the Targeting Right?
Universal had an apparent strategy that was distinct and determinable—and for what it’s worth, it worked. The film is considered a low-budget win as it cost approximately $30M to produce and its opening raked in $23M, so the film will pay for itself soon if it hasn’t already by the time of this publication. And social media and selective advertising were definitely part of their effective strategy because they gave the star of the film, Cokey the Bear, a voice.
“It was reported on Twitter and TikTok that 3.5 tons of cocaine was discovered in the Pacific Ocean off of New Zealand, and ‘Cocaine Shark’ became a hot trending topic over the course of the day. Cokey wasted no time jumping into the conversation, including a reply by AMC Theaters for a Bear/Shark showdown. That exchange received more than 50,000 views and 1,000 likes (as of February 9). On digital and social media, there was also a retro 1980s-style PSA, This Is A Bear On Drugs, along with a helpful online video, Tips for Encountering A Bear, hosted by Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Margo Martindale,” D’Alessandro further noted in the Deadline article.
In addition to having Cokey slip into trending online conversations in strategic channels, creating a special Snapchat filter and memes galore — Universal dumped a good portion of its marketing budget into the Super Bowl as well.
Leading up to the Super Bowl, the Twitter account for the film, @cocainebear, continued commenting on popular tweets and even kicked off the Big Game by sharing an image of Cokey snorting what can only be assumed to be cocaine on the field. This garnered a lot of attention. Apparently, folks do like to grin and bear it. (Pun intended.)
According to Deadline, in keeping with its perceived target — older Millennial guys— Universal secured TV spots across some of the following networks and shows:
- NFC Championship Games
- WWE Raw
- Premier League
- UFC 284 Sponsorship
- Liga MX
- Champions League
- The Bachelor
- American Auto
- Celebrity Special Forces
- Bob’s Burgers
- 9-1-1 Lonestar
By comparison, Affinio organically found the following topline TV Channel & Show affinities across all followers of @cocainebear. Although there is certainly strong overlap in the predicted sports and animated interests, Amazon Prime Video’s THE BOYS appeared as the most relevant show for this audience overall.
Did the production house possibly miss some sleeping bears? Affinio studied seven main clusters that have an interest in “Cocaine Bear” and not all of them skew towards over 35 males and are only into sports:
- Cluster 1 - Pop Culture & Memes (22%)
- Cluster 2 - YouTuber & Minecraft Fans (20%)
- Cluster 3 - Movie Buffs (14%)
- Cluster 4 - Activists (13%)
- Cluster 5 - Superbowl Stoked (13%)
- Cluster 6 - Conservative Journalism (11%)
- Cluster 7 - Footballer Fans (8%)
As we know, Universal aimed most of its spending towards older male Millennials, leaning into sports advertising but also certain TV shows with high male audience viewership. In this regard, the production company addressed Cluster 1 (Pop Culture & Memes) by giving Cokey a voice and creating memes of her adventures, while also satisfying the audience behind Clusters 5, 6, and 7. But could the studio have done more outreach to younger audiences under the YouTuber & Minecraft Fans, Movie Buffs, and Activists clusters (2, 3, and 4), and how?
Per the affinities uncovered in Affinio, engaging a Twitch influencer, like Charlie, or a YouTuber like Mutahar (@OrdinaryGamers) could help reach those younger gamers interested in the film.
Although the film’s overall audience does skew male — there’s a big opportunity to lean into the female audience, especially under the Activists Cluster which accounts for 13% of Cocaine Bear’s audience. This cluster leans towards progressive politics, following the likes of Colbert and Jon Stewart.
In this sense, using Affinio to find relevant influencers that could promote the film, or better yet, chat politics with Cokey the Bear, would help reach this cluster that is not obsessed with gaming or sports – but does have a lot of crossover with the Pop Culture & Memes cluster. Both clusters are into comedy, satire, and the like — with a political flavor. Using someone like Seth Rogen to help promote, or retweet, the film could give this cluster the marketing exposure they need to get on board the bear fandom.
Interestingly but not surprisingly, Elizabeth Banks herself is a strong drawing card for the movie’s overall audience, especially among the Activists and Movie Buffs clusters. In terms of the appeal of other films out at the same time, the one that most resonated with the Cocaine Bear crowd was Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania. Many other released films had relatively low interest scores among this audience, suggesting that going to see Cocaine Bear was a destination event.
Overall, we can see that Universal’s strategy of marketing primarily to older Millennial-agelid men who are interested in sports and memes was a good direction to go. But as mentioned, there may have been some missed opportunities too. An affinity-based approach can reveal hidden clusters and insights that may otherwise get under-addressed.
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