In case you didn’t know, the much-anticipated film, THE HUNGER GAMES, opens today. And the buzz is not just about the film but how well its been marketed at a reported cost that is less than half of the recent blockbusters. Though Jeff Smith (of Frugal Gourmet cookbook and cooking show fame) had nothing to do with it – he sadly passed away four years before the source material was ever written – the smart and to-the-point marketing of the film is spot on and wasn’t done by accident.

To those who are not YA (young adults), the story is reminiscent of the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger film, THE RUNNING MAN.  In both instances, the contestants are meant to fight for their survival live before a television audience. The thing that THE HUNGER GAMES has behind it is a 25 million copies-and-counting series of books that has become a phenomenon in less than four years.

The mention of Jeff Smith and his PBS TV show are also a nod to the old-school film marketing that was done for this title.  Smith was around before the food channels on cable and had to carve out a space with compelling story and press. Lionsgate got it right at the beginning when they made a big to-do about the casting announcement of the heroine, Katniss Everdeen and the other main characters.  They knew they did a solid job of casting talent, so it was cool to allow the buzz and arguments to take place across the web. Could they have known how well the acting would be reviewed when the film was released?  Of course not, but the social media action more than paid for itself.

Before we even got close to the release, they were focused on story and environment.  Even in their one-sheets, they recognized that it’s all about character and not big explosions or other stereotypical key art executions for this target audience.  By doing this, it stayed true to its core for fans and did not turn off larger audiences.  To be honest, the interest grown by the stately  marketing from the get-go makes it easier to palate the silly looking wig that Stanley Tucci’s character wears when seeing it in a clip Jennifer Lawrence showed on Letterman.

Looking at the other elements, they are releasing a soundtrack with all new material from big-name artists on Universal Records.  There’s a new music video out from Taylor Swift for the film’s “Safe & Sound.” They have a huge base on Facebook and and hundreds of thousands following @TheHungerGames on Twitter. Their web site presence is also huge with exploratory sites and introductions to the fictional country of Panem. There’s plenty of clips and interviews that convey the characters and what went into drawing those characters out in performance.  They have created an online personalization tool – where users can create Panem citizenship cards – but I was surprised at the low 800K number relative to the buzz for this film.  With what they’ve done, they’ve essentially been able to not venture too far into the silliness of some of the story that would really make it like THE RUNNING MAN by always bringing it back to character and story.

There have been a handful of other simple marketing products that might have been further embellished by digital, but the mainstay of the campaign for this futuristic film harkens to a time in the past. They distributed 80,000 posters, did promotional finger nail paint, had ticket give-aways and the magazine coverage is intense.

That print coverage will help in places that are often overlooked in the big film marketing of today – the small towns.  Having just spent the past few days in rural Southern Ohio, it became obviously clear that big billboards just don’t matter because they just don’t exist like they do in the big cities.  They also don’t have cinemas on every corner where you can see the key art.

What they have more than anything else is convenience stores with walls of magazines and most of them were highlighting the characters and subject matter of this film. It was hard to miss them and they weren’t just appearing on stands as the title drew near.  The title has been on magazine covers for months. It is those middle-America viewers who might only see the coverage in the store that will help this film possibly break records – some pundits are saying opening weekend will pass the $100 million mark.

There are certainly those who proudly state that they were able to manage huge endeavors with huge budgets, but the really special wins are those that are huge on a small or smart budget. THE HUNGER GAMES seems to be one that is headed in the right direction – and if Jeff Smith were around today and actually cared about marketing of these types of movies, I’m sure the progenitor of Frugal Gourmet will be proud.