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Sundance Needs to Market to a New Audience as Attendees Age



Five days into the Sundance Film Festival, the Sundance Institute added 25,000 new Instagram followers, bringing its total to 510,000 as of today.

The 2024 festival wrapped up at the end of January, and its marketing leaders told ADWEEK that right now, the stakes feel high. The festival faces an existential threat as its loyal base ages, and so it’s embraced a marketing transformation to encourage brand loyalty from millennials and Gen Z.

Its 2023 festival was the first time the Sundance Institute realized it had significant traction with people between 18 and 34. Since Robert Redford founded the Sundance Institute in 1981, the nonprofit has subsided with small marketing budgets. It’s different now that it finds itself marketing to new audiences. The hurdle has Sundance Institute’s marketing leader and its agency partner launching new social strategies and tossing out the years-old processes that slowed things down.

“That next aspiring class of filmmakers that Sundance wants to amplify? Those individuals live in digital and social channels,” said Tom Dunlap, chief content officer at Superbloom, the agency partner Sundance Institute worked with this year.

That’s why this year the festival’s marketing strategy was all about social media. The online strategy also made sense given the film industry’s expansion into platforms, influencer deals, branded entertainment and more. It wouldn’t make sense to eschew a social strategy when the Institute’s fans are mostly content creators, of various kinds. 

In 2018, at the time Kate Benay accepted a role as the Sundance Institute’s head of marketing, the entertainment industry was already acknowledging its convergence with the broader marketing and technology landscape. More people identify as content creators or film enthusiasts, regardless of if they use capture footage with cameras or work with iPhone footage. The streaming giants were also growing, and theatrical attendance was down.

The mission isn’t the festival’s legacy format. It’s about giving a platform to independent film

By the pandemic’s onset, Benay was two years into her job as marketing lead, and focused on changing the Institute’s marketing strategy.

So, when the festival went virtual for the first time in its history, Benay regarded it a catalyst for long-term growth. 

“It forced us to transform our entire business online and convince people to, quote unquote, come to the Sundance Film Festival, even though that would mean sitting on your couch,” Benay said. 

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