Embracing your citizen marketers

In their book Citizen Marketers, Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba told the familiar story of an ordinary, non-marketing guy who was so in love with the iPod that he created his own commercial and posted it online. That user-generated spot created a tremendous amount of recognition and press coverage, despite – or maybe because of – being officially disowned by Cupertino.

So check out this story in the New York Times. Apple has taken a commercial created by 18 year-old Mac enthusiast Nick Haley and will remake it with the help of their agency TBWA/Chiat/Day. The spot he created, reportedly in just one day last month, has so far garnered over 2,000 views on YouTube. Some of those viewers were Apple employees, who then tasked T/C/D with getting in touch with Haley about reworking his video for official use. The agency apparently has futzed only limitedly with the actual content, wanting to maintain the originals spirit while making it just a bit more professional looking.

The spot will debut this Sunday during football telecasts, “Desperate Housewives” on ABC and during Game 4 of the World Series.

Everyone wants their spots to become viral sensations on YouTube, all the while people are creating their own videos that are achieving that goal with little to no effort on their part. It’s great to see someone like Apple – who could use the good PR right now – embracing their passionate users in a way like this. It actually makes me want to make sure to tune in and check out this spot on TV to see how it’s turned out.

Finding the value in promoting others

There’s a really interesting story in Editor & Publisher about the lack of recognition given to online news reporting. While that point alone has probably spawned a dozen panel sessions it was one line later in Pauline Millard’s piece that caught my eye:

“By nature, they (newspaper people) are not shameless self-promoters.”

Compare that attitude to the Internet, where almost all of us are promoters, looking for new and exciting ways to extend our personal brand. The reason there’s a discussion over whether Robert Scoble’s videos are too long and boring is because he’s out there pimping them. There’s nothing wrong with that – that’s just the way it is. Look at Twitter, which some days is lousy with updates that begin with “New Blog Post:…” We’re not just engaging in a conversation, we’re largely engaging in a conversation about ourselves.

So here’s what I’m going to do, beginning next week: No talking about myself. No linking to myself. No saying “When I said this back in June…” or anything that promotes myself. Oh I’ll still blog and all that, but will try to do so in a way that highlights the best of what’s going on elsewhere, not just the best of what I’m doing.

I’ve actually tried to do this to some extent already. I’ve been making an effort to leave more comments on people’s blogs. I love getting comments, maybe even a little more than if someone links to something I’ve written. It means they’ve decided to talk to me, not talk to their audience about me. So it’s a little more personal, and I like to think others have the same reaction I do when I see someone has dropped by and left a comment, which is to feel a little pick-me-up about what I’m writing.

Back to the story, the best of online newspaper efforts are deserving of recognition, and not just in a special “Best of the Web” category that automatically diminishes, in some people’s minds, the item being lauded.

LOTD: 10/26/07

  • PRWeek.com has relaunched with a new look and, I think, greatly improved navigation. (CT)
  • Yahoo has decided there are more sites on the Internet than just those it’s created and runs and so has begun linking out from its homepage. Of course those getting the link-love are the ones with syndication partnerships with Yahoo, but it’s a step in the right direction. (CT)
  • If you’re a fan of the AT&T commercials from director Wes Anderson you now have a microsite to visit where you can make your very own. [via PopCandy] (CT)
  • Jeremy Pepper has an absolutely fantastic post up today about the state of social media and public relations and the dangers of allowing advertising to gain the foothold that rightfully belongs to PR. (CT)

Movie Marketing Madness: Dan in Real Life

daninreallife_posterbigSteve Carell has yet to fully prove himself as a leading man on his own. Most of his film success has come to date as a sidekick to a leading man like Jim Carrey, Will Ferrell or someone else. One of the two times he was asked to carry a movie was The 40 Year Old Virgin and while that was a big hit it is, to date, the only time he’s had a solo success. Most of his success has come as the star of “The Office,” where he is surrounded by a tremendously strong ensemble.

Dan in Real Life offers Carell a chance to redeem himself after what many consider to be the failure of Evan Almighty. While I don’t completely agree with that conclusion it is what it is. He plays a writer who pens a parenting advice column for a newspaper and is also a widowed father of three girls, from whence most of the comedy ensues. He meets a woman just before attending a family reunion, a woman he later finds out is his brother’s girlfriend. So he has to figure all this out while dealing with the normal family issues.

The Poster

The poster works at achieving its fundamental goal, which is to let people know there’s a new movie coming out and that it’s kind of funny. The problem is that the one-sheet makes it look like much more of a slapstick festival than the rest of the campaign. By putting Carell’s face falling into a stack of pancakes it kind of sells the movie as a pie-fight fest and I get the sense that’s not really the movie. My problem is that it’s too comedic. Yes, the movie is a comedy but the guy he’s playing isn’t a schlub who can’t handle the basics – he’s just a guy who is trying to navigate unknown territory as best he can. It just goes, to me, too far in that direction.

But the question is whether this will play well to the mass crowds and unfortunately I think the answer to that is “yes.” It’s broad enough that people won’t feel put off by it. I think they’re underestimating the market for more gentle family dramadies, though, and wish the poster had taken a more subtle approach. There’s nothing wrong with featuring Carell – he’s the star and he’s a well known face right now. But putting him in a less outrageous setting would have worked better, I think.

The Trailer

This is much better. The story is setup quite nicely in this trailer, presenting Carell’s Dan as a simple man who tries to raise his daughters right while also trying to have a personal life. It works quite nicely at introducing Dan, his daughters and later the rest of his family and establishing the dynamics that exist between all of them. It’s a quiet, more gentle trailer that emphasizes the actual story the characters will be embarking on as well follow them as opposed to being a barely-strung-together series of jokes. Oh sure there are a number of punchlines in there but the characters are the main focus and not some wacky antics. I still maintain, as I did when I first watched it, that Carell is doing far more acting in some of the looks he casts out of the corner of his eye than others do in entire films.

Online

The official website Disney created is a nice, solid, unspectacular effort. Most of the main content is arranged in the form of a series of snapshot pictures that you click on to bring up what’s underneath. That content is preceded by a short video clip lifted straight out of the trailer.

Let’s deal with the standard stuff first.

  • About: Just a single, short paragraph. It doesn’t even tell what the story is about, just intro’s the character of Dan in a very dry, descriptive way and then tacks on the fact that the director is the same one who helmed Pieces of April.
  • Cast & Crew: The content is the regular story of biographies and filmographies you usually find here, but the layout is awful. The text is crammed into a small box that makes it so you have to scroll down to read anything beyond the first four lines and then continues on like that. Piece of advice: Make this bigger. I’m not going to take the time to read all that in 1.5 sentence snippets.
  • Downloads: Just a couple of Wallpapers and a handful of Buddy Icons. Ok, thanks.
  • Gallery: There are about 18 stills here that are pretty nice. The one problem is that there’s no way to view thumbnails of the entire gallery – you just have to “Next” or “Back” through the entire selection.
  • Videos: This is probably the best section. There’s the trailer, yeah, but then there are also three TV spots that feature original footage and aren’t just condensed/re-edited versions of the trailer.

daninreallifeweb.JPGAt the beginning of October Disney solicited the online community to ask Carrel a question about the movie and the transcript of that Q&A can be found within “Ask Steve a Question.” While the questions and answers are alright the feature again suffers greatly from the fact that the box it’s contained int is too small. For some reason they designed it so that it’s not only short but also too thin, with the user needing to scroll up and down but also left and right in order to read the entire text. Come on, Disney, this was an easy one. Format the text so that it at least fits horizontally in the box. That’s just creating a bad user experience for the sake of creating a bad user experience.

If you’re interested, there’s a “Real Life Photo Sharing” contest on the site that asks you to submit the most “heartwarming” or “funny” picture. Not the proper stilted ones but one that is more in line with reality, which is a nice touch on the movie’s themes. One grand prize winner gets an HP digital camera and printer and runners-up get a copy of the movie’s soundtrack.

Finally there’s an online crossword puzzle – actually two, one for the guys and one for the girls – that involves things presumably from the movie’s plot. Seems like this would be easier to play after you’ve seen the movie, but that’s just based on the fact that I didn’t get what they were talking about with half the clues.

Oh one more thing – Buried at the bottom is a small button to post a link to the movie’s official site on your Facebook profile. It doesn’t do much, just adds said link to the items you’ve posted, but considering that update gets sent out to all the people who follow your updates it’s a nice, simple way to start some word-of-mouth.

Advertising

I haven’t seen much online advertising going on – and couldn’t find any ads for the movie on Adverlicio.us – but the movie has received pretty solid ad support on TV. I don’t watch much television so the fact that I’ve seen commercials for the movie regularly says something. Commercials have been placed in the syndicated Dr. Phil show – obviously an attempt to present women with a movie about a wonderful sensitive man at a time when they’re crying over the story of some problem or another. They also got placed on NBC’s Thursday night line-up, a line-up that includes the Carell-starring “The Office” so it’s not hard to figure out Disney is trying to cross-sell to the people who already enjoy the comedian’s work. Universal did that quite a bit for Evan Almighty.

Overall

I think my biggest problem with the campaign – and this is confirmed in Joe Leydon’s Variety review of the movie – is that Disney is selling the movie as much more of a comedy than it really is. Leydon says the movie is much more understated and deft in its handling of the movie’s premise than it is outright funny. So it’s a bit concerning to me that people will head to the movie expecting 90 minutes of pratfalls and the occasional crotch-shot and instead be presented with a movie that handles the subject matter in a softer more moderate way. Creating a disconnect between expectations and the product is never really a good thing.

The trailer is probably the best part of the campaign and sells the movie most closely to the product Leydon reviews. There are occasional moments of physical comedy, but the part that sticks with me the most is the interaction between Carell and John Mahoney, who plays his dad. It’s not showy – just a slip of the tongue and a mild, subdued reaction from Mahoney – but it’s that kind of stuff that needs to be highlighted more in the campaign in order to bring expectations more in line with reality.

Indie films finding success hard to come by this fall

waitress.jpgBoth Variety and the Los Angeles Times have stories in the last couple days about the difficult environment smaller, independent and non-mainstream films are finding themselves in this fall.

As the VAR story says, smaller movies that don’t have the huge marketing resources of a big-budget blockbuster rely largely on the festivals earlier in the year to build a core group of fans. Those first adopters (that’s what they are) hopefully then can ignite a larger audience when the movie is released later in the fall and early winter. A strong presence in the last quarter of the year will, in turn, hopefully result in an awards nomination in the first quarter of the next year.

Again, because of the lack of marketing budget, an awards nomination is huge for these movies because it can be the only time it receives any real non-niche audience attention. These movies do a good portion of their box-office between the nomination announcements and the award presentation, with it dropping off drastically after the Oscar ceremony.

But the MPAA, in its infinite wisdom, has chopped a month off of that nomination to ceremony period. So the movies that rely on that post-nomination bump aren’t able to develop quite as big a bump.

The situation is complicated, as the LAT story explains, by the fact that there’s a glut of quality smaller films in theaters right now. So many that audiences aren’t able to see all the movies they want to see, leading to an overall weak box-office period for these movies.

Contributing to the problem is the fact that these movies aren’t generally spread over the year because of the awards calendar and the traditional advantage to late year releases. Poor box office then leads to movies being squeezed out of multiplexes as exhibitors turn over the screens to something that may bring in more money.

oncepic.jpgOf course there’s the problem some films are going to be facing, where the stars received critical praise for their performance but the movie still tanked. As a second Variety story says, it can be hard for movies that didn’t perform up to expectations to garner nominations in the first place.

I really think this all goes back an idea that is best expressed in Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail. Right now resources for distribution – movie screens – are scarce. Like store shelves, the people running theaters need to squeeze the maximum revenue from each one of those screens. Each film needs to earn its keep and if it’s not doing that there isn’t the patience to see if that changes. A new movie is swapped in and the odds are played once again to see if this one sticks with audiences.

That system means only the most popular items will ever be available for any length of time. If you wanted to see Michael Clayton but weren’t available for the one or two weeks it was playing locally then you were screwed because it probably got pulled shortly thereafter.

The system is best remedied through online distribution. Netflix has more movies than your local Blockbuster store because doing business virtually means they can devote more resources to inventory. Extrapolating that to actual downloads, the ability to store an even larger number of movies for on-demand delivery increases greatly.

The smaller studios who are finding themselves squeezed by the big movies, who they just can’t compete with, should be at the front of the line to try a new system like this.

Quick Takes: 10/24/07

  • filmstrip.jpgWhitney at PopCandy says New York City is lousy with posters for Love in the Time of Cholera. Obviously this is going to be more heavily marketed on the coasts than it is here in Chicago or othe areas.
  • Vince Vaughn and Paul Giamatti will promote Fred Claus with an appearance on Comedy Central’s “Reel Comedy” on November 5th.
  • Ricky Jay – magician and David Mamet ensemble regular – is coordinating a museum exhibition of theatrical posters from the 17th, 18th and 19th century, an exhibition largely culled from his personal collection.
  • Like Anne Thompson, I’m glad David Ansen became a film critic and got a kick out of his story about keeping a list of every movie he’s ever seen.

New Burns film gets iTunes debut

edburnsapple.jpgKen Ed Burns is trying to break the current theatrical business model. He’s distributing his latest film, Purple Violets, exclusively through iTunes, reports The New York Times. The move comes on the heels of Fox Searchlight’s distribution of Hotel Chevalier for free through iTunes.

While iTunes has been shunned by almost all the major studios it’s become popular with independent film makers. Selling a movie for $9.99 to $14.99 brings their films to an audience they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.

Burns and his partners are hoping the “we were there first” publicity brings even more people to the movie. The quote he gives at the end of this piece, though, echoes something I’ve been saying for a while now.

“I felt there’s got to be a better way to get these films to people who want to see them at their moment of highest awareness.”

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. As I’ve said before, marketing campaigns reach, say, 100 percent of the potential audience for a film. But then the theatrical distribution only allows 40 percent of the potential audience to see the movie. If you added in digital distribution that goes up to maybe 75 percent. Figure in day-and-date DVD and that hits 95 to 100 percent.

LOTD: 10/23/07

  • StumbleUpon is launching a new “social search” function that builds on its recommendation engine that seeks to add the human factor to the more sterile search world. (CT)
  • Sioux Gateway Airport has stopped tilting at windmills and accepted the fact that it SUX. The airport is using the airport’s acronym as part of a new tongue-in-cheek campaign. Nice to see people growing comfortable with their lot in life. (CT)
  • People are beginning to speculate MySpace co-founder – and everyone’s first friend when they sign up – Tom Anderson is older than he and his profile says he is. I think we just need to be happy that a story involving lying about your age on MySpace doesn’t end in “…and that’s when the police became involved.” (CT)
  • WSJ powerhouse Walt Mossberg has written a the mobile industry equivalent of declaration of war
    against the absolutely insane way mobile carriers are able to artificially manipulate the market. A few more solidly laid out arguments like this and some real change could be affected. (CT)
  • Online advertising, this New York Times story points out, is being stifled by the fact that hinders continue to be mistaken for elbows when it comes to visitor measurement. (CT)
  • In the print world, publishers are looking to technology like RFID to get a better count of readership, as well as get a clearer picture of how those readers are interacting with the magazine. (CT)

Tapping into niche audience key to Lust, Caution’s fortunes

lustcaution.jpgWith mass market success largely out of reach, the ability of Focus Features to tap into the appropriate niche audiences will be what decides the success or failure of Lust, Caution, the latest feature from director Ang Lee. That’s the theme of this story on the movie in AdAge.

As the story points out, the movie’s marketing and distribution are being hindered by the 2:38 running time, the NC-17 rating and the fact that all the dialogue in the movie is in Chinese. That last point, coupled with the movie’s success in Asian markets, is actually helping the box-office take here in the States. Chinese immigrants to the U.S. are showing a strong preference for films in their native language.

Part of Focus’ approach has included targeting Chinese-Americans based on where they live, not only hitting the major metropolitan areas where large such groups live but also in suburbs and elsewhere. The film’s distribution has followed a similar pattern, playing largely in areas with heavy Chinese-American concentrations.

That niche success, combined with some spillover into the larger art-house crowd, is what has Focus hoping buzz about the film will reach the same level in the U.S. it has overseas.

Quick Takes 10/22/07

  • filmstrip.jpgJohn looks at the screwed up business model driving the theatrical exhibition industry.
  • Following up on the in-theater ad report from last week comes news that frequent movie patrons show up to the theater 16 percent earlier than their occasional counterparts.
  • Feature film directors are taking jobs shooting commercials in part because those spots get their work in front of an online audience, and brands are looking for feature film directors to produce high-quality material for multi-platform distribution. So it all works out.
  • Video search site Blinkx and indy film distributor Dogwoof.com are partnering to make the company’s movies searchable and viewable online.
  • ComingSoon has a description of the trailer for Journey 3-D, which debuted in front of the 3-D re-release of The Nightmare Before Christmas.
  • The Iron Man trailer has been snuck onto the end of the Transformers two-disc DVD, appearing after the credits end. It’s the same trailer as before, just on DVD.