Inside the Smart 'Crazy Rich Asians' Marketing Campaign That Led to a $174M Box Office Win

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Jon M. Chu and Blair Rich

The plan, featured in The Hollywood Reporter's year-end Rule Breakers issue, included a first big outing at an L.A. reveal for 1,200 influencers in April — four months before the movie's Aug. 15 release date, the earliest the studio had ever screened one of its films: "Our ambition was to give the Asian-American community ownership of the film before we did everything else."

Warner Bros. faced two challenges in selling its late-summer rom-com Crazy Rich Asians. First, no major film had ever mounted a targeted campaign for Asian Americans (including 1993's The Joy Luck Club, which came out before they were considered a significant demographic group, says that film's producer Janet Yang). Second, Warners had to get the community on board while avoiding giving everyone else the impression that CRA wasn't for them.

"Our ambition was to give the Asian-American community ownership of the film before we did everything else," says Warners worldwide marketing president Blair Rich.

The first big outing was an L.A. screening for 1,200 artists, social media stars and other Asian-American tastemakers in April — four months before the movie's Aug. 15 release, the earliest the studio had ever screened a film. Warners released the full trailer the same day.

"All these people who had seen the movie had a fresh piece of content to share," says director Jon M. Chu. "They all became ambassadors."

The ensuing social media groundswell led the studio to increase its advertising spend, adding screenings (totaling 354) and dispatching three teams, headed by stars Henry Golding, Awkwafina and Gemma Chan and including Chu and author Kevin Kwan, on a press tour. Over five days, the teams hit nine markets to interact with a range of prospective audience members and host red carpet screenings.

"Asian-Americans led on opening day," Rich says of the demo that represents 13 percent of North American moviegoers but drove 38 percent of first-weekend sales for the film, which earned $174 million domestically ($238 million worldwide). She adds, "Word-of-mouth and the quality of the picture did the rest."

This story first appeared in the Dec. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.