How the #BullyMovie Twitter Campaign Triumphed Over the MPAA


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How do you promote a movie that attempts to give a voice to the voiceless? This is the challenge that fell upon the makers and distributors of Bully, a documentary on childhood bullying that will hit theaters nationwide on Friday.

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The film's path to theaters is a rocky one. Initially released for a limited audience on March 30, the documentary was slapped with an R-rating for strong language by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). The appeal was denied, effectively blocking the film's opportunity to reach its true audience of middle and high schoolers. Filmmaker Lee Hirsch says he was devastated at the possibility that his film couldn't have the impact he hoped it would.

"We knew we had to fight it, but we didn't know how," says Hirsch of his film's struggles. "It was a done deal."

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It was, at least, until a massive multi-platform campaign to bring awareness to the movie was launched by myriad sources, with Twitter entering as a main theater of activity. Mashable spoke with Hirsch, The Weinstein Company's Senior Vice President of Marketing Bladimiar Norman and 17-year-old petition leader Katy Butler about the documentary's massive Twitter campaign.

Do you think this campaign has changed ways to gain awareness through Twitter? Let us know in the comments.

The Strategy: Mega Awareness

For Norman, who led the campaign for Bully distributor The Weinstein Co., the strategy for Twitter boiled down to two words: Twitter Tuesday.

"The goal was to create an organic trending of #BullyMovie by a massive grassroots campaign, securing one million tweets within one day in a 24-hour period," Norman says of the March 27 campaign.

If it sounds like a lofty goal, and that's because it is: Norman says he spent a while researching just how to grow a campaign large enough to make a worldwide trending topic on the platform before realizing that there's no way to force a phenomenon. Instead, awareness of the desired scale would require rallying around the message of the movie: 13 million kids in America will be bullied this year, and 3 million of those kids will be absent from school due to the bullying they endure. Norman says that while he wasn't bullied as a child, he felt very sympathetic to and motivated by the cause.

"I watched hours of footage, and I was completely blown away from the amount of teen suicides in the world," Norman explains. "I was completely shocked."

It was this emotional resonance that also hit 17-year-old Michigan high school student Katy Butler, who says she'd seen the trailer and knew it had the potential to change the bullying she herself experienced.

"Bullying is such a personal issue for me that I was so excited for the movie to come out so kids could see it," Butler explains. "But then I saw that it was rated R."

Butler began her campaign on in early March, and hopped aboard the "Anti-Bullying Twitter Tuesday" idea she read about on the film's website. She encouraged her petitioners, whom by late March had swelled to nearly 500,000, to stand alongside the film and provide a voice for bullied kids.

These two missions, separate in their origins, converged on March 27th. Norman says that all hands were on deck at The Weinstein Co. to help encourage everyone to retweet messages about Bully through a custom-made toolkit that made it simple to promote the movie. He adds that he spent much of his time looping celebrities into the cause and leveraging their influence to fuel awareness.

"We live in a world where pop culture runs our lives," Norman explains. "This was the only chance we had to get into the eyes of as many people as possible."

The Result

Hirsch says on March 27th, he was surprised at how much the campaign had gained steam.

"I woke up to 'Have you seen this?' More and more high-profile folks joined the call," Hirsch explains. "It really took off and helped raise the profile of the film."

On Twitter, dozens of celebrities, including Ellen DeGeneres, Anderson Cooper and Kim Kardashian joined major organizations, such as GLAAD and Take Part to tweet awareness about bullying. As a teen and someone who had been bullied in her own life, Butler says the campaign was empowering.

"Just to know -- as a 17-year-old -- how much a difference I can make gives me so much hope for my future," Butler says. "It showed me that if you truly believe in something, you can get it done."

Back at The Weinstein Co., Norman says that he was overwhelmed not only by the celebrities' support of the cause, but also the willingness from Twitter itself to take part in perpetuating the anti-bullying message of the day.

"I can't tell you how impressed I am that people came together on this day," Norman explains. "It was absolutely incredible, the support that we got. It blew me away, and it's been kind of a whirlwind since then."

The day before the campaign, The Weinstein Co. had said it would release the film unrated. After March 27, Bully went back to the MPAA for another rating round. This time, it was a success: The film was able to secure a PG-13 rating, while still retaining the strong language found in one of the documentary's most powerful scenes. Hirsch says he's pleased the campaign helped the film reach its wider audience, and added that the bullying awareness itself is a joy.

"We had a real victory, we did," Hirsch says. "It was not just about beating the MPAA -- it started the conversation about bullying and gave people a way to talk about it."

Series supported by Oneupweb

The Behind the Social Media Campaign Series is supported by Oneupweb, a relentless digital marketing agency focused on search, social, and design for mid-to-enterprise level brands. Have you considered the goals of your social media strategy and how employees engage in social media on the job? Download Oneupweb’s free paper, Social Media: The Guide to Creating a Kick-A$$ Company Policy..

This story originally published on Mashable here.

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