For the Movie Industry - Marketing is the Eye of the Storm
While the debate storm swirls around the issues of technology and its impact on the how and when people can access “mainstream” entertainment, the true “eye of the storm” may be a product of technology and its impact on how the marketing of entertainment (and the associated distribution of dollars and time) needs to be significantly re adjusted if not completely rethought.
So why “the eye of the storm?”
While the eye is perceived as the calmest part of the storm, it is often the most hazardous and deceptive. In storms over water, conditions inside the eye can include towering waves generated by the storm walls. Over land, people wander outside to inspect the damage once the eye passes, thinking the storm is over, and then are caught by surprise by massive winds in the oncoming eyewall. Such it is with technology (the storm), distribution (the storm and eye walls) and marketing (the eye) in the entertainment industry.
What Does It Mean to Market a Movie?
Historically, marketing a movie, whether it is a wide release from a major studio or a niche ultra indie, is not the same as marketing a similarly priced consumer product (an item priced at about $10). Movies exist in an environment filled with a nearly infinite variety of creative choices for an audience that needs to make a purchase decision (and an often one time purchase decision) without trial. They don’t personally know if they like it until they have actually tried/viewed it, and there are no returns. For the studio, the value of that initial ticket purchase decision is non-trivial, as it has historically set the tone for the all important downstream revenue opportunities.
So how does a marketer make a potential viewer feel that “they know” the movie and become invested in the experience, and provide signals that raise the chance of ticket purchase, without giving away the creative surprise that is at the core of movie viewing?
“… marketing by its nature is an attempt to influence the outcome.” – Jeff Ulin
This is why the race should be on for innovative thinking and well-crafted and monitored execution, and dare we say “some calculated risk taking” in rethinking the appropriate media vehicles and digital-physical linkages for different stages of the marketing conversation.
Seven Stages of the Marketing Conversation
Marketing needs to be thought of as an ongoing engagement process, not a sales spike only (push style) strategy. Media and platforms chosen for one stage should setup and feed the conversation and engagement in the next. The following seven activities propose one way of organizing the structure and flow of the marketing conversation.
- Research: Identifying potential audience groups, influencers and platforms
- Seed: Creating and placing media, experiences, conversations and platforms for exchange
- Discovery: Optimizing the opportunity for discovery, curation and sharing of content and conversation of interest to the potential audience
- Purchase: Creating ways that make ticket purchase easy, immediate and sharable
- Experience: Watching the movie in theater or unique location
- Share: Encouraging the dialogue of personal experience with the movie, between individuals and groups with both strong and loose ties
- Ongoing engagement: Aligning the movie with opportunities for ongoing conversations and media beyond the initial spike push to meet opening weekend reach and sales goals. Depending on the film and originator, this linkage might be with the brand, characters or related cause
Timeline of Marketing Activities for Theatrical Release
Today, there is no magic formula when it comes to the theatrical release. It’s not about “one from column A, and 2 from column B.” Innovative and creative thinking, married with well-coordinated (but flexible) execution is as important in marketing as it is in the conception and production of a movie.
The table in this post is not meant to be a complete representation of all the possible tactics, nor should every movie use all the tactics listed at a high level in this document. It is meant to help frame some thinking about media and conversations in a time based manner – before , during, and after theatrical release – and begin to introduce some more thought around the concept of “continuity of brand over time” vs. “spike/push tactics to reach initial release reach and frequency targets.”
Page 1 focuses on the more physical space tactics where the majors have traditionally focused and spent - with the dominance of traditional sources like TV advertising (sometimes 80% of total media spend), but with the need for more creative use of digital. Indies may use very little of the traditional (and expensive) media platforms on Page 1, but have great opportunity to creatively use their limited dollars against digital tactics and social platforms such as those on Page 2.
Disney spent $34M in the initial marketing of “Finding Nemo” with more than $20M just for TV spots - this against an estimated $536.7M initial gross. (Source: Ulin book)
“The power of the Web to target messages to specific demographics is a marketer’s dream, and the budgets for online advertising continue to grow. However, the percentages spent online and the migration of marketing dollars has not been as great or fast as one may expect.” – Jeff Ulin
Timeline of Marketing/Communications Activities for Theatrical Release
Integrated Marketing Communications- Making the Digital and Physical Symbiotic
With the increasing pressure on traditional marketing tactics, there is a strong argument to be made for rethinking not only the timing of marketing activities, but also the need for:
- strong thoughtful integration of physical/traditional media and digital/social platforms
- increased digital spend with an understanding that those dollars are not just about ad spend with “risky non-standard platforms” (to the industry), but against new digital experiences
- better understanding of how social platforms extend the “virtual” media budget for a film, but also require attention in dollars and resources beyond free “interns”
- changed thinking that all activities on the Web, mobile or via apps are free for people to find randomly on their own
- an agreement that execution and luck do not “magically intersect” online
The infographics that follow show snapshots of a theoretical movie campaign with both (1) a traditional media only approach and (2) a digital deeply integrated approach. Their focus is on the integration of elements and the time frame of elements is not identified (as was the purpose of the previous table). Much of the traditional marketing comes and goes, while the digital and social technology platforms can take on a more persistent continuity role before and after a particular release.
Traditional/Physical Marketing Only Approach
The major elements are as follows, and can also be linked back to the previous table (page 1) in terms of general timing. The major goal – to “push” awareness and traffic.
- Cross Brand Promotions
In addition to the major elements from the physical/traditional only campaign, other media/platforms/activities are integrated (and can also be seen in terms of general timing from the previous table page 2).
Additional elements to existing physical/traditional categories include:
- Advertising – some digital push platforms
- Press – seeding online and bloggers and digital EPKs
- Events – virtual audience oriented
- Trailers – the consideration of online only versions as well as digital distribution of theatrical trailers
- Contests – digitally driven
New categories include:
- Digital and social platforms
- Online video
(1) Digital and Social Platforms
Creating brand specific digital platforms and leveraging those created by others that have garnered significiant (e.g. Twitter, Facebook) and targeted (e.g. "vertical" blog networks) audiences create powerful amplifying nodes for content creation and distribution; curating, commenting and sharing; awareness and traffic driving; and reach/value extension for the traditional media efforts.
“For too long, we've tried to understand ourselves in isolation, as we test people one at a time in the psychology lab or rely on their past preferences to predict behavior. But these conditions and algorithms are artificial. In the real world, we are deeply intertwined with each other, dependent on our social networks for all sorts of advice. If it weren't for the buzz of strangers, we wouldn't even know what movie to pick at the multiplex.” - Jonah Lehrer in The Wall Street Journal
(2) Online Video
Online video can range from the creation of YouTube channels, integration and posts into Facebook groups, promotion and discussion via Twitter, stealth placements, and even syndication across "vertical" blog networks. Material can inlcude that created for traditional broadcast campaigns (e.g. talent interviews), but is even more powerful when unique digital-only content is created on an on-going basis that lets the potential movie-going audience connect deeply and personally with the brand in advance (e.g. behind the scenes, remixes with popular pop culture talent, ongoing Q&A's, digital only trailers). This can be content with high curation, aggregation and sharing potential.
“… the virtual community can scale and expand beyond what would typically occur in the physical world .. because the Internet has no geographical boundaries… It becomes a global, real-time conversation and online video is in many cases the catalyst that brings all these people together.” - Peter Levinsohn, President of New Media and Digital Distribution for Fox Filmed Entertainment
(3) Apps - Third Party and Original
Experimentation with apps has recently included the development of orignal apps and leveraging third party apps to directluy drive ticket sales:
- Disney's DigiSynd developed Disney Ticket Together, Facebook's first in-site movie ticket purchase application,
- "Paranormal Activity" used the Eventful app to fuel a "Demand It" campaign
- Indie film "Ready Set Bag" is leveraging Groupon to promote and pre sell theater seats and drive social cause donations
"You now have a self-identified list of participants who are passionate about entertainment, and the event brand has even more value to them." - Jordan Glazier, CEO of Eventful in reference to the use of his company's app in the marketing of the movie "Paranormal Activity"
Three Case Studies
The series of posts that will follow will use the models and infographics presented in this post to look at the use and integration of digital platforms and content for three kinds of movies:
- Toy Story 3: a major studio franchise release, the kind of movie where the amount spent on traditional media (largely TV) to open it is disproportionately large as theatrical launch is seen as the engine that drives larger downstream revenues.
- Ready Set Bag: the ultra indie passion project where distribution and helping theaters sell tickets has to be earned one geographic market at a time.
- Waiting for Superman: the cause-related film where the key is knowing how to engage those already deeply involved with and invested in the topic and their surrounding communities.