Monday, February 23, 2009

The Cinematic Civil War – Part 3: Beating The Drums of War

When it comes to Marketing and PR, the Studio System and the Indie World have two very different practices.

The Studio System, through use of their vast funds, begins a blitzkrieg of advertising, mostly through Television Commercials and Magazine Ads. Sometimes they’ll partner with a Food Service Company as well. The Dark Knight partnered with Dominos for their “Gotham Pizza”, Disney will usually partner with either Burger King or McDonald’s for their kids meal prizes. I even remember getting a Darth Maul plastic cup from the local cinema, when Star Wars: Episode I came out. These traditions are tried and true. They’ve worked for the studios and the studios will naturally continue to use what works.

The Indie Community, seemingly structure free, and not as financially well-off has to come up with its own methods for marketing, and they’ve come up with some fantastic stuff.

Thanks to the power and freedom of the Internet, Indie Film has been able to blaze a trail with Viral Marketing. Viral marketing and viral advertising are marketing techniques that utilize social networks to advertise and spread the word about any subject, primarily and in this case, Films. It can be word-of-mouth delivered or enhanced by the network effects of the Internet. Viral promotions may take the form of video clips, interactive Flash games, advergames, ebooks, brandable software, images, or even text messages. Filmmakers hope to identify individuals with high Social Networking Potential (SNP) and create Viral Messages that appeal to this segment of the population and have a high probability of being passed along.

Some notable examples of Viral Marketing

-Simpsonsize Yourself - Created for the Simpsons movie, this site allowed visitors to create an avatar of themselves as a character from the cartoon.

- Four Eyed Monsters: After failing to secure a distribution deal for their debut feature directors Arin Crumley and Susan Bice began documenting their process (and failures) via video podcasts just as the video iPod was becoming the "it gadget". They became minor internet/MySpace celebrities, saw their film play in five major cities and released a DVD of their film as well.

-The film Cloverfield was first publicized with a teaser trailer that did not advertise the film's title, only its release date: "01·18·08." Elements of the viral marketing campaign included MySpace pages created for fictional characters and websites created for fictional companies alluded to in the film.

-The Dark Knight - In May 2007, 42 Entertainment began a viral marketing campaign utilizing the film's "Why So Serious?" tagline with the launch of a website featuring the fictional political campaign of Harvey Dent, with the caption, "I Believe in Harvey Dent.” The site aimed to interest fans by having them try to earn what they wanted to see and, on behalf of Warner Bros., 42 Entertainment also established a "vandalized" version of I Believe in Harvey Dent, called "I believe in Harvey Dent too," where e-mails sent by fans slowly removed pixels, revealing the first official image of the Joker; it was ultimately replaced with many "Haha"s and a hidden message that said "see you in December." Later, to prove that Viral Marketing doesn’t have to be just through the Internet (a well appreciated, but little known fact) the studio combined both online and real-life elements to make it resemble an alternate reality game. Techniques included mass gatherings of Joker fans, scavenger hunts around world, detailed and intricate websites that let fans actually participate in "voting" for political offices in Gotham City, and even a Gotham News Network that has links to other Gotham pages such as Gotham Rail, a Gotham travel agency, and political candidate's pages. The movie also markets heavily off of word of mouth from the thousands of Batman fans. (and there is NO better advertising than word of mouth people, make no mistake about that.)

-Early in its existence (perhaps between 1988 and 1992), the television show Mystery Science Theater 3000 had limited distribution. The producers encouraged viewers to makes copies of the show on video tape and give them to friends in order to expand viewership and increase demand for the fledgling Comedy Central network. During this period the closing credits included the words "Keep circulating the tapes!" (word of mouth in its purest form)

-And this one, unrelated to film but I have to mention it because it works so well: Will it Blend - One of the most recent best viral marketing campaign examples, Blendtec’s will it blend video series shows scientists testing if various household items will blend in their super-powerful blender. This campaign leveraged the popularity of online video sharing sites.

With this proven track record its no wonder that Internet marketers are turning more and more to social media to help build online buzz around television shows, internet tv, theatrical and dvd releases of blockbuster and independent movies. Some marketers are experimenting with creative new ways to use less-heard-of social network websites such as Twitter to help achieve their online marketing and buzz-building goals.

It’s common to see TV & movie Internet marketing campaigns include facebook and myspace marketing strategies, but in coming months, as Twitter begins to get more traction, we expect to see more video, television, movie & entertainment marketers experimenting with and finding success using Twitter as part of a well rounded social media marketing campaign. Such a campaign could involve a blog, microsite, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, and other online marketing resources.

As an online community of people writing text-based, miniature-scale blog posts of no more than 140 characters, it’s not immediately apparent how Twitter could be used in movie or television internet marketing. But Twitter isn’t just another instant messaging tool. Twitter holds great potential for movie and television producers, directors, distributors, networks, PR teams and internet marketers for online communication, collaboration and relationship building with investors, internal teams, and targeted viewers.

Using Twitter, we see film & television developers & promoters coming up with new ways to reach their targeted audiences that include:

- providing insight and commentary in real time (on location during shooting)
- promoting special contests, sneak previews
- facilitating collaborative video production experience
- building conversation about the movie or television season or individual episodes
- opening dialogue between promoter and promotion participants
- movie & television website traffic generation
- promoting events such as movie premiers
- posting press releases

If, for example, during the making of a film a well-known actor, actress or director posted regular Tweets via Twitter via their mobile phone it’s conceivable that hundreds if not thousands would follow and engage these immediate, seemingly intimate, “insider” posts.

Already, many TV networks such as ABC Family, NBC, CBS and MTV are experimenting with Twitter as a way to reach younger, tech-savvy audiences. MTV used Twitter to promote its MTV Music awards on June 3, 2007. The Disney-owned ABC Family network used Twitter to launch a new show called “Greek”, offering text updates and behind-the-scenes glimpses from cast and writers. NBC plans to use Twitter to drive traffic to a targeted MySpace page.

As the Internet grows and becomes more integrated into our lives, its easy to see how using Viral Marketing will allow for Indie Films to compete in the same viewer Market as the Studio System.

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