High Concept Vs. Low Concept: A Film Marketing Tool

Mar 19, 2024

Marketing is a critical aspect of filmmaking since it’s one of the key drivers of a movie’s reach and returns on investment. Mapping out a proper marketing strategy requires everyone to consider essential traits of the story, like whether it’s a high or a low-concept one. By understanding these terms, writers can better pitch their scripts to producers, and producers can appreciate the story and identify its strengths for marketing.

So let’s break down these terms for clarity.

 

High Concept: Simplicity is the Name of the Game

High concept is all about simplicity. It’s the concept people can get with just one look at the poster. It’s the story we’ve heard before, but not quite like this. Think blockbuster films and the tried-and-true holiday classics. They have concepts that sell themselves and are easy to get on board with from the jump. It’s a marketing dream; if a story’s essence is easy to grasp, it’s even easier to distill and distribute clearly to audiences.

Kunle Remi and Bimbo Ademoye in Anikulapo - High Concept Low Concept movie marketing

Anikulapo (2022) | Dir. Kunle Afolayan | Netflix

 

Think of Anikulapo’s concept:

A young man gets a second shot at life and now has the power to raise the dead. 

It catches your interest instantly and gives you a glimpse of the plot. You go into that cinema knowing what to expect but still get blown away when the story is done right. 

Another example is Snakes on a Plane (2006). It tells you what the movie is about in the title itself; there is no need for a tagline! That’s high-concept at its finest. 

Studios and producers particularly love high-concept stories as they lead with a concept that hooks your audience and ramps up their excitement. 

 

"This Is Us" cast | NBC

“This Is Us” cast | NBC

Low Concept: Niche is the New Mainstream

Low-concept stories are all about characters or the delivery style and focus on these elements rather than the story’s concept. Since the concept doesn’t take center stage, a low-concept story is usually marketed by highlighting its tone and aesthetic, referencing other projects that match it. 

On paper, low-concept movies are not as easy to market as high-concept ones, but they can perform just as well. Consider the TV show This is Us, which follows the times and trials of a family unit. It’s not the concept that brings audiences back for more, but the characters’ highs and lows.

 

So, What’s the Difference?

Many believe these two terms mean the opposite, which is not exactly true. They are simply methods to determine what kind of concept your film is dealing with to understand how to better market it.

High-concept films tend to be easier to translate into posters, trailers, press releases, etc. Low-concept films rely on character and style and thus rely on other elements to sell themselves. 

Take these two posters as an example:

Coda | Venom

 

Venom communicates its concept more clearly than CODA: the franchise is already a part of the well-known Spiderman and Marvel Universe, which makes it easier to market.

CODA, on the other hand, has a simple picture of a family, which could mean anything. It’s not selling its concept but its characters; the same characters who gave so much to the story that it’s now an award-winning picture. 

 

How Do I Use My Understanding of these Concepts to my Advantage?

Knowing if your film or series is high or low concept makes it easier to understand, who to pitch your story to, and how to do so. If it’s a high-concept story, for example, then you know it would look good presenting it to big studios, and that all marketing material should lead more with the concept rather than other elements of the film/series.

For low-concept movies, you may have to find producers or studios with a special liking for niche stories. You’d also understand that marketing needs to focus on the film’s style, characters, tone, and aesthetics. The trailer, for instance, would focus on the character’s biggest choices or on scenes that best deliver your tone and aesthetic.

Having a solid grasp of these terms and their implications also means you can offer more value to producers regarding marketing strategy ideation and come across as a professional.

 

Understanding whether your story is high or low-concept is one thing; knowing how to write successful high and low-concept scripts is another. We’ve majorly covered the former, but study top movies in both categories to figure out the common denominators and apply them to your works.

 

Did you find this helpful? Let us know in the comments!

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