Welcome to the Orwellian state

I think there’s very little doubt among people who don’t have their heads up their hinders that we’re living in a country that is teetering ever more toward totalitarianism.  There’s a number of posts and other things out there that highlight this, including the concept that the “War on Terror” doesn’t really exist and is designed mainly as a rhetorical device to get Americans to surrender their freedoms.  This editorial cartoon also shows another country in the not-too-distant past that was willing to give up its freedoms in the name of homeland security.  Finally there’s the top 10 signs that we’re already in or very close to a police state.

I dare you to read these and come up with a rationale that says we’re actually fighting against the terrorists by surrendering our liberty.  Isn’t that exactly what the terrorists supposedly want to happen, that we become less free?  Then why aren’t we combating them by making sure to reinforce things like free speech, assembly and taking pains to show that this country works by adhering to the laws of the land?  When Bush & Co. go outside the system whenever they feel like it and ask us to accept call monitoring and other intrusions they are actually showing how much they hate this country and want to tear it down bit by bit in the name of a perpetual war that will perpetually keep their side of the political equation in office and their friends getting money.

All sensible Americans should be outraged by this.  Saying that it’s fine for our civil liberties to be taken away because the supposedly make us safe is, at best, a childish act akin to hiding under the table until the bully goes away.  He’s always going to be right there and all you’ve done is waste an afternoon.  Standing up to them means celebrating the things that make us Americans and the principles this country was founded on.  Anything less is unacceptable.

Pimp my blog

Anybody wanna do a lot of work for little but name recognition on a movie marketing blog?

I’m looking for someone to trick-out M3, pretty much from the ground up. Things I’m looking for:

  • I’d like to keep the stuff in the nav-bar intact but don’t care where it winds up.
  • I’d like to see the logo in the top nav-bar.

Other than that have at it. I don’t care about colors, really. This has been a long time in the back of my mind but really spurred by the spiffy new layout J-Pepp has on his blog.

So drop me a line at moviemarketingmadness-at-gmail-dot-com if you’re interested. Like I said, there’s not much I can offer other than effusive praise here on M3 but it would be a cool notch on a resume.

Cannes posters

JoBlo has a couple of posts collecting some of the best posters spotted in and around the Cannes Festival that just wrapped up. I can’t sum up all of the movies that get spotlit but suffice it to say there are some good and some bad and then there’s Rambo 4. Check out Part 1 and Part 2.

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Movie Marketing Madness: X-Men: The Last Stand

I loved the idea of a third X-Men movie up until a certain point. The first two movies were, in chronological order, very good and freakin’ fantastic. And the end of the second movie pretty effectively telegraphed what the third one would cover when it showed a Phoenix-like shape under the water where Jean Grey had just drown. (The movie came out three years ago – if you haven’t seen it yet you deserve to be spoiled.) That Bryan Singer would continue his masterful direction of the franchise as he covered the character-exploration that took place in the Phoenix Saga was about as alluring a prospect as you can find in comic book moviedom.

The moment where this stopped being a good idea was when it was announced that Brett Ratner would be assuming the reigns of this third installment. Singer had parted ways with the franchise to pursue what was reported to be a dream for him – another comic adaptation that would turn into Superman Returns at Warner Bros. For a while director Matthew Vaughn was attached to X3 but he left suddenly just before filming due to the usually vague “creative differences.” When Ratner was announced as his replacement I figured out what those differences must have been. Vaughn likely wanted to continue Singer’s storyline and general look and feel of the movies, while Ratner was willing to drop trou and allow himself to be passed around like fresh meat on the prison block. That included giving Halle Berry more to do as Storm. Considering she’s the worst actor in the movies and had done little but bitch about how she wasn’t given much to do this was disappointing.

Even through all that I still hold out hope. The ensemble Singer created was strong and I have this faint glimmer that they can rise above the hack director’s influence. At least that’s how I felt before I started seeing the marketing campaign gear up. Hold your noses people.

The Posters

The teaser poster is pretty cool, even if it’s a graphic that just about anyone could have guessed would be used, with Wolverine’s three claws in front of the “X” logo. It’s the same sort of image that was used for Jurassic Park 3 and other third in a trilogy movies. The coolest of the bunch, though.

The theatrical poster, as I said, pretty effectively telegraphed the focus of the movie for anyone passing it in a theater lobby. Everyone but Wolverine and Storm are in the background and kind of fuzzy. Nice way to treat that ensemble that’s acted as the emotional underpinning for the movies to date, guys. And way to show who is really calling the shots here.

The best of the batch were a series of character-centric posters that were created for the key figures in the movie – at least up to a point. Beast, Rogue, Wolverine and Jean Grey were pretty cool. The Rogue is very nice and the Beast one nicely shows how Kelsey Grammer fit in as the blue-furred mutant. The one for Storm, though is awful as Berry looks like she’s posing for a Stuff Magazine spread and not, like the rest of them, like she’s in the middle of a battle. And the one for Angel is just awful, but that’s a feeling of mine that extends to the character in general. Like for the second movie there were also a collection of head-shots of everyone in the movie, no small task considering X3 hosts a lot more mutants than the second entry. You can view most of them at Yahoo Movies and here’s a collection of some of the better ones in banner form.

The Trailers

The teaser trailer was alright. It did it’s job of introducing the characters but did not go to any of the real plot points. The biggest things to come out of it were a brief glimpse of Beast and visual confirmation of Jean Grey coming back in a new, more powerful form. It also showed that Ratner was trading character development for big things blowing up.

A second TV spot/trailer then debuted during a March episode of “24.” This one was much better – possibly the best of the bunch – and gave Grammer some furry dialogue which showed he was the perfect choice to play Hank McCoy. It also introduced a love triangle between Rogue, Kitty Pryde and Iceman that is there to give the kiddies something to get all choked up over. What it did the most, though, was show just how much the cast had grown, with quick shots of a whole mess of new mutants in battle and gathering for goodness or badness.

The movie has gotten a slew – about 12 or so at last count – of TV spots all of which hammer home the same ideas as the first two video pieces. That’s a lot of money being spent on TV spots and I’d love – I mean absolutely love – to see what the return on investment is for these bad boys. There have also been enormously bad character-centric spots created for Wolverine, Storm and Mystique (?). Not sure what these were created for, since the trailers themselves are largely devoted to Wolvie and Storm and Mystique seems like an odd choice for highlighting. Why not Magneto or Jean Grey? Or someone new like Colossus?

Online

The official site is such a slow-loading eyesore it’s almost not worth mentioning. Here’s what I scribbled into Google Notebook while visiting the site:

EditDelete
-Takes forever to load
-intro is horrible
-setup like a browser – interesting
-off to left – list of mutants. Again, very slow loading and contains headshots of mutants
-GALLERY – just headshots
-TRAILER – trailers, TV spots and other clips
-DOWNLOADS – character posters, headshots, AIM icons, mobile stuff and itunes widget
-WIDGETS – for both Apple and Yahoo music players
-FILMMAKERS – really just mentions of who did what – no more info
-CAST – really brief bios – like really brief
-PROD NOTES – really brief notes – about two paragraphs
-PARTNERS – 7/11, H-D, Marvel and others
-JOIN THE CURE SUMMIT (blogged about before)
-SEARCH THE SITE – let’s you search for “mutant connections”. So this is for people who don’t know how to go to the character guides?

There are two online efforts that didn’t get mentioned here, interestingly. First was the movie’s MySpace page. That’s alright since all it really does is recreate content from the official site so there’s nothing real innovative going on there. Second is the X-Planet site that was created as a mash-up of Google Maps and social networking. Seems like that should have gotten some more play since it was probably the most interesting think online.

Other Efforts

As the “Partners” section of the website will attest to the movie doesn’t lack for promotional partners. Click there if you’re interested in the details of those arrangements. That’s about it since there wasn’t much else created for the movie’s campaign.

Overall

Is it OK if I sit this one out? I mean I’m going to see the movie just to close out the franchise but definitely won’t be rushing out to it. I actually picked it as the most likely loser of the summer movie season. The campaign is pretty one-note, which is especially disappointing considering just how many TV spots and trailers were created. I don’t think that bodes well for the movie. The emphasis on Wolverine and Storm gets old after a while, especially since there’s a good deal of buzz about the new additions to the cast. That’s what people were talking about but the campaign does nothing to encourage that discussion. A missed opportunity if you ask me, as was most of the campaign.

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Odds & Ends: 5/23/06

  • Could the campaign for Jackass 2 suck anymore? Check out the poster if you’re unsure.
  • Alan thinks the TV spots for Superman Returns is giving away too much. I disagree since I seem to think all the spots are just recycling the same footage over and over again. Yeah, some things have been spoiled but that’s inevitable.
  • Martha at Cinematical explores why the marketing of Shortbus, which features pretty graphic sex scenes and therefore will likely be slapped with an NC-17 or be unrated, will be tricky.
  • Mack wants to know why music labels aren’t reaching out to bloggers.

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Movie Marketing Madness: The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code has a three year head start on most of the other major motion pictures being released this summer. Yes, we’ve heard about Superman Returns and X-Men III for a while now but none has the leg up the Da Vinci does. The astounding success of the book has been in essence one long build up to the film. Like books by John Grisham’s novels, anyone who read Dan Brown’s book likely could easily envision it as a movie.

The story is this. Tom Hanks plays an expert in symbols and codes who becomes involved in a mystery and coverup surrounding the true nature of The Holy Grail, a secret that, if exposed, could shake the foundations of the Catholic Church and other institutions. There are those who have a vested interest in keeping that secret and they chase Hanks’ character and his lovely assistant, played by Audrey Tautou, around Europe. Along the way the two protagonists peice together the clues, most of which are embedded in ancient works of art.

In truth the book wasn’t very good, but that didn’t seem to affect its popularity. Notice how not shocked I am by that statement.

The Posters

The first teaser poster released by Sony was almost an exact reproduction of the book jacket. It featured the Mona Lisa – one of the key items from the story – with a corner peeled back revealing text on the back of the print. That gave it instant brand familiarity with the fans of the book and served as an above average teaser. The plot wasn’t revealed at all but was hinted at in a way that engaged existing fans and intrigued people unfamiliar with the book.

The next poster released was not so good. It showed Hanks and Tautou standing next to each other against a red background and staring into the middle distance. Still no cast and crew credites but it really was awful. It was an obvious attempt to just put Hanks on the poster and tell all the rubes in the audience “A new Tom Hanks movie is opening and it’s your civic duty to come see it.” The background, which also contained some jumbled code-like text, just made it worse.

What seems to be the final theatrical poster was just as bad. Again, Hanks and Tautou are shown but this time it seems to be a still from the movie. Tautou is clutching Hanks’ jacket lapel like they’re hiding from something dangerous. Hanks’ skin also looks kind of weird – a little too brushed for its own good. Again, this is a very middle-brow poster. The two latter posters combined kill whatever class the teaser had managed to intill in the movie’s campaign.

The Trailers

The teaser trailer debuted last year and was pretty good if not exactly great. It set up the basic premise of a code being hidden in works of art that could change the world and reminded everyone to save the date. It was, if anything, a little over dramatic and should have served as a warning sign that this movie was going to take itself way too seriously. That feeling was enhanced by the voice over from super serious narrator guy, who intoned on just how shocked we would all be. Nothing of the movie was shown, likely because this was while they had not yet started filming.

The main difference between the first and second full-length trailers is primarily in tone. Yes, there’s a bit of difference in the footage and the actors get a bit more dialogue in the second one. The tone difference is important, though. The first makes the movie look very much like a character-driven drama about figuring out a mystery. The second, though, turns it into an action movie. Characters breathlessly race either on foot or in cars here there and everywhere as they try to figure out the puzzle/try and stop people from figuring out the puzzle. Did the marketing team begin to feel that more of a focus on action would appeal to a larger crowd? That doesn’t seem right. It makes the movie just one in a crowd of other action flicks instead of standing out as an actor showcase.

There’s also a host of TV spots that all pilfer footage from the trailers. Don’t worry about them since they’re all pretty bad.

Online

When you first get to the movie’s official website you already have a ton o foptions to choose from. You can view and download video clips, play the online game (more on this later), download mobile swag and a couple of other things. Entering the official website isn’t all that exciting. Been there, done that. There’s nothing there that hasn’t been on so many other official websites that it’s not really worth rehashing the content. If you want to check it out do so but not if you’re looking for anything innovative.

Sony also launched a blog for the movie. Oh, I know that SeektheCodes is supposed to look like the blog from a code-seeking enthusiast but let’s not bullshit each other, shall we? Especially since the blog’s URL was teased at the end of the first trailer. Look at the blog and look at everything that’s wrong with trying to setup fake fan sites/blogs. Let’s move on.

Perhaps the biggest online effort was that launched in conjunction with Google. A widget was created for a quest game that people could install on their personalized Google home page. That marked the first time Google had, in effect, allowed a marketer access to their highly-valued home page. But then the link to the game began appearing at the bottom of search pages, too, outside the usual block of paid and contextually relevant links. That deal paid off for Sony, who saw their web traffic double because of it. Here’s what I wrote a week or so ago when I found out about this, which I think bears a full reprinting:

Sony Pictures saw its web traffic nearly double to .0078 of all internet visits – read that again, ALL INTERNET VISITS – as a result of the Da Vinci Code Quest game it launched and made available on Google. When the promotion first began it looked like this was just a widget that you could add to your personalized Google home page. Subsequently, though, I began to notice it appearing at the bottom of the screen when I was viewing search results – and not necessarily contextual searches. When I’d search for “Kate Moss AND nikon” it would appear. Here’s a screen shot.

The story says that Google accounted for 30 percent of the referrals to Sony’s website, even 20 days after the promotion started. Yahoo accounted for .93 and MSN just .37 of referrals. That’s not only a fascinating insight into people’s searching habits (MSN sucks?) but also for how people are visiting the studio’s official websites. Before the launch, Google accounted for three percent of referrals to Sony’s website. So combined the three major search engines brought lest than four and a half percent of traffic to the studio’s sites. What was bringing the other 95.5 per cent? My guess is mostly blogs.

The reason I’m making that bit of speculation is that newspapers and magazines typically (and shortsightedly) don’t link out to the websites they refer to. There’s also a bit that likely comes from promotional partners and then the remainder, I’d imagine, comes from direct visits, people who visit the site regularly and directly to check for updates.

The implications for this are huge. If, by partnering with Google, companies can see their web traffic increase ten-fold than it’s a no-brainer. I’m not sure how this would measure against ordinary contextual keyword adverting buys. I’d guess, though, that separating the promotional link out from the rest of the paid ads Sony got higher click-through rates than they would have.

Hitwise provides, over at iMediaConnection, some perspective on how people were seeking out information on the movie and the book. It’s interesting to see what resources were being used by the general public, including the movie’s official website and the Google promotion.

Other Efforts

Actually there wasn’t too much else going on here. The outdoor advertising budget must have been huge, though, since I’ve seen Da Vinci material all over the place walking around downtown Chicago. That includes full-art on El trains around the city. There have been a few different taglines and a few different head shots used, some of Hanks/Tautou, some of Paul Bettany and so on. I’ve expressed my displeasure with the tagline used on some displays

And of course there’s been the controversy about the subjet matter. Instead of just shutting up and letting the movie pass in the night as a work of fiction church groups around the world have raised a big old fuss about the movie. This has been a dumb move that’s actually managed to give the subject matter some measure of legitimacy, as if it’s a valid point that must be rebutted instead of just a flight of fancy. Idiots.

And then there’s Sony’s hiding of the movie from the critics until just a few days ago at Cannes. The studio played it off as just wanting to make the movie an event but it also helped to quash much of the buzz that could have been built for the movie. Not a good move if you ask me. That hasn’t stopped some mainstream press outlets such as The New Yorker from running features on the marketing machine behind the movie. In the case of TNY it’s a look at how the studio is making the appeal to the Christian Evangelical audience.

Let’s not forget, though, that the book – which came out in 2003 – just was released in paperback a couple months ago. Just in time to put the book out there in front of people all over again.

Overall

It’s not a bad campaign, but it could have been better. What started off as a classy affair full of the classical imagery that liters the movie it veered to more closely represent the mainstream tendencies of director Ron Howard. The latter two posters were pretty bad and the trailers didn’t help much. It’s definitely a case of a big budget movie getting a big budget campaign that’s gotten its share of notes from a lot of people. It could have been better but it was designed to appeal to the middle of the road audience.

Will it succeed? I don’t know. I labeled it as being possible the one sure thing this summer, precisely because of it’s middle-of-the-road appeal and built in book fanbase. Now I’m not so sure. It will be very interesting to see how this performs in its first couple weekends.

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VOD fiinally gets some tie-in loving

Movie studios have finally begun experimenting with promotional partners and tie-ins for the video-on-demand presentation of the films. As VOD increases to gain market penetration studios are seeing this as yet another way they – and their marketing partners – can reach people in their homes. Marketers have been quick to express interest but slow to actually sign on to any partnerships in this area, despite assurances from studio execs that this is a very measurable medium. They know exactly who and how many people requested the movie through VOD. Traditionally VOD movies haven’t gotten much attention because they hit there a month or more after the DVD release. But that could change if, as some suggest, they focus on products that are home-oriented like pizza delivery and things like that.

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