On the 3rd of January 2024, Funke Akindele’s movie, A Tribe Called Judah, became the first ever Nollywood film to gross ₦1 billion in ticket sales 20 days after its release in cinemas.  Released on 15 December 2023, the movie has one of the most impressive sales in Nollywood history. In its first fifteen days, the film had amassed an impressive ₦780 million, maintaining an outstanding daily gross of ₦55 million to ₦75 million. 

A Tribe Called Judah is not the first Nigerian movie to embark on a record-breaking journey. Since 2018 blockbusters like Sugar Rush and King of Boys have all broken box office records grossing 229,060 and 220,565 respectively. This is also not Funke Akindele’s first time breaking box office records. The filmmaker, who has now been nicknamed the box office queen, has tasted success with films like Omo Ghetto: The Saga grossing N636 million in 2020, and Battle on Buka Street at N668 million in 2022. How did A Tribe called Judah do it? 

The marketing blitz behind the scene

Back in July 2023, a simple Instagram post featuring Funke Akindele in a shirt with the words A Tribe Called Judah inscribed on it became the film’s subtle introduction. By October, the anticipation grew with intentional posts and a dedicated social media page filled with hype. It was an amplified version of the strategy that worked for Funke Akindele’s last holiday movie “Battle on Buka Street.” 

Social media’s power is undeniable. In 2023, social media played a significant role in helping Hilda Baci, a Nigerian chef, break the record for the longest cooking marathon (individual) with a time of 93 hours 11 minutes. Her quest gained worldwide attention through her Instagram livestream. A study by the Pew Research Center found that adults have changed their views about a political or social issue because of something they saw on social media. In 2023, an estimated 4.9 billion people use social media.

It’s not uncommon for Nollywood films to utilize social media, but A Tribe Called Judah did it on a grander scale. The movie partnered with a variety of brands and celebrities, with some lending their intellectual property to augment their brands while promoting the film. For example, Funke Akindele collaborated with content creator cum musician Nasboi who had a viral song called Umbrella at the time. She recreated the Umbrella challenge with him using A Tribe Called Judah Merch. Akindele and other cast members also hopped on several TikTok trends to create buzz and anticipation for the film. When the movie began showing in cinemas, they collaborated with several influencers, actors, and even top filmmakers like Mo Abudu, to meet and greet sessions with fans at cinemas across the country. Fans also had their favs selling tickets to them over the counter. A Nielsen report found that 62% of consumers trust recommendations from influencers, making them powerful marketing tools.

The movie’s marketing went beyond social media. In December, Business Day reported that there were posters of the film on the over 200 light posts on Eko Bridge, down through Costain into the mainland in the heart of Lagos. Typically it costs N70,000 to N80,000 (depending on the location) to advertise on a lamp pole in Lagos. There was also a significant amount of investment in merchandise. From sneakers to hoodies to face caps and shirts, influencers, actors, and supporters donned A Tribe Called Judah merchandise. Additionally, the marketing team tapped into the diversity of Nigeria, mirroring the film’s characters. In the film, the main character played by Akindele, has five sons with five different men from different tribes in Nigeria. There is Emeka, the Igbo son, Adamu who is part Hausa, Pere whose dad was Ijaw, Shina who is part Yoruba, and Ejiro who is part Urhobo. The film takes it a step further by casting actors who genuinely hail from those ethnicities.

The marketing team leveraged this diversity to appeal to various regions and audiences. For instance, in one promotional video, Uzee Usman, who plays Adamu, uses the Hausa language to invite fans to watch the movie. Some promotional posters also showcase the actors wearing traditional outfits that represent their tribal identities. To fuel regional buzz, the film collaborated with regional influencers and even dispatched some cast members to their home cities for meet-and-greets and promotions. This created a broad spectrum of viewers, creating a sense of inclusivity and relevance. A tribe called Judah‘s strategy is almost reminiscent of the genius Barbie movie marketing strategy, that became a cultural phenomenon in 2023, leading to a grossing of over $162 million in its opening weekend.

However, the movie’s strategy wasn’t just about saturation. Funke Akindele has managed to crack Nigeria’s holiday movie market. In the last four years, the filmmaker has cleverly tapped into the spirit of the festive season, offering a welcome escape and an outlet for people who want to relax and have a good time after a challenging year. During the holidays, people are more willing to splurge to have a memorable experience. The holiday season is also when there is an influx of IJGBs, a colloquial term used to refer to Nigerians in the diaspora who return to the country for the holiday. Consequently, movie ticket prices during the holidays are often hiked. Last holiday, the average ticket price was between N6,000 to N7,000, up from N3,000 to N4,000.

The impact is far-reaching

The impact of A Tribe Called Judah extends beyond Akindele’s box office crown. It injects a much-needed dose of optimism into Nollywood. Cinema sales in Nigeria have struggled to stay afloat. From 2019 to 2022, the Cinema Exhibitors Association of Nigeria recorded a 28.7% reduction year-on-year. What has managed to keep it together is the peak during holidays. In the last four years, movies like A Tribe Called Judah have kept cinema culture alive. In 2020, Omo Ghetto: The Saga raked a whooping N636.1 million setting a new record for the highest-grossing movie during that period. In like manner, Battle on Buka Street earned N668.4 million in 2022. Last year, Nigeria experienced its highest inflation rate of 28.2%, which raised concerns about the impact on the cinema industry. There were concerns that in times of economic crisis, people would prioritize their needs over their wants and reduce their spending on activities like cinema-going and other forms of entertainment. 

Moreover, feats such as A Tribe Called Judah‘s create a ripple effect that benefits the entire industry as a certain percentage of the revenue goes to the cinemas and the distribution houses. The cinema industry also contributes to the economic growth and development of the country, as it creates jobs, generates taxes, and promotes Nigerian culture and identity. Beyond industry generalities, the movie’s feat is significant for other filmmakers. When a movie makes such a huge profit, it attracts more attention and curiosity from the audience. This is a general concept called the bandwagon effect. As of 2019, there was only one headline Nollywood holiday movie. Last year, there were three headline movies, Malaika, Ada Omo Daddy, and A Tribe Called Judah. Nigeria’s box office ended on a high note in 2023, grossing N1.65 billion with these three titles contributing 79% of the revenue. Despite the challenges of piracy, Nollywood’s prospects for the year are as bright as ever.

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