Yo (Joe or other appropriate brand name for which you wish to express enthusiasm)!

There’s a new study from the Advertising Research Foundation and American Association of Advertising Agencies that shows the most effective TV commercials are the ones that tell stories.

This really shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who’s around my age (32), especially the guys. After all, we grew up in the Golden Age of long-form entertainment-as-advertising. G.I. Joe and Transformers, along with Thundercats, He-Man and a host of others were cartoons second and commercials for the respective toy lines first.

But they told interesting (at least they were at the time) stories and sucked us in. We needed the Cobra Hydrofoil because it played such an important part in that new episode and we absolutely-please-won’t-you-just-understand-mom needed to recreate that scene in our living rooms. We…wait for it…created content. And yes, I realize that by actually typing that I’m in danger of having my keys to the Internet revoked.

But as we got older we realized we were being spun and marketing’s effectiveness, to some extent, wore off. Our enthusiasm for (wince) creating content (/wince) didn’t diminish, though, since we’re now online creating blogs, participating in forums, building our social networks and starring in online sex tapes.

More than that, a good story in the marketing still hooks us. The problem for many companies is that they’re no longer in the position of instigating those stories. Instead the inspiration is coming from our friends and contacts. That’s why social media is such an effective marketing tool, because when you weave together the points of view of three or four people who are discussing a particular topic you come up with a really good story.

Some people are good storytellers and some aren’t. Some companies are good storytellers and some aren’t. The trick is to know which one you are and make sure you either use that talent to its fullest advantage or get out of the way so those who can.

If you’re a marketer and you just can’t adequately tell your brand’s story in a compelling way, the best thing you can do is step into the pitch and let the community do it for you. But then it’s up to you to provide them the best possible tools to do just that – high quality photos, videos, product information, etc. That’s what getting out of the way looks like in that case.

Vertical search power

There’s a strong trend in the online world of publishing companies buying vertical search engines. NBC Universal invested recently in Healthline, which searches on medical information. Meredith added Helia, which also covers medical topics, to its line-up to bring more user activity to its roster of online titles. Blog network Glam just launched their own vertical search engine to mine the content of its 350+ partner blogs.

The latest move in this space is Hachette Filipacchi Media’s deal with TheFind.com. TheFind helps people find (natch) home and lifestyle products and information. Under the deal, Hachette will sell ads on the search engine and TheFind will provide search functionality on Hachette’s home and lifestyle portal PointClickHome.com.

So why the move toward vertical search? Because when you need to find specific information on a topic, a broad Google search often won’t return the results you need. There have been many times when I’m looking for information on a specific topic and I’ve wished I could just search blogs and sites on that topic instead of the whole web. Vertical search engines that draw upon just that sort of list have tremendous value to the user.

They also have power for the advertisers. This is a tightly focused audience they can reach by placing ads either on the engine’s site or contextually alongside search results. That’s access to people when they’re most motivated to be looking for help finding what they need, and if the best source turns out to be an advertiser then everyone wins.

I suspect more and more of these vertical plays will pop up and existing ones will be integrated into existing sites. The technology is getting better and with the proliferation of information online it’s going to be more important than ever to organize that information based on the needs of those doing the searching.

MyOhMy the problems for MySpace

Fox Interactive is starting to feel the heat coming down on MySpace. Monetization of the social network has been the key since News Corp. acquired it a while ago but that goal has remained elusive, with CPMs staying low for a variety of reason.

For one, the people on MySpace don’t particularly care for ads, and Fox has littered everyone’s profile with a ton of them. There’s also the fact that advertisers aren’t completely convinced putting brand messages next to pictures of the two hot chicks you met at Senor Tadpoles is a great idea. Add on top of that recent numbers showing membership is declining for the first time ever and that members are sticking around on the site for a shorter amount of time and you can see that the problem is going to become even more…ummm…problematic.

MySpace is also facing pressure from Facebook, which turned out to be much more of a competitor than they probably initially pegged it as. Considering Facebook just signed an ad deal with Microsoft that, I think, will help Facebook make many of the same mistakes MySpace has, that threat is only going to grow. As Ian Schafer says in the BW story, display ads on social networks just aren’t working out well and that’s where Microsoft is strongest. So expect the Facebook experience to decline in quality when this roles out.

But it’s not just Facebook that is breathing down MySpace’s neck. Friendster has decided to open up its platform for developers much like Facebook and others have and MySpace is planning to do. More than that, it’s decided to make the platform open to widgets and apps from other networks, meaning developers don’t have to re-create their work to bring it to the Friendster audience. And there are a host of niche-focused networks that cater to a passionate audience by providing them with a virtual meeting place to hang out with like-minded fans.

Social networks are, by their very nature, niche environments. It doesn’t matter if an ad or other marketing message reaches two million people on Facebook. It’s only slightly better if that ads reaches a group that’s setup for people who share an interest in that type of product or industry. What does matter is if you, as a marketer, provide value to the community. You probably don’t remember who has advertised to you, but you are likely to remember someone who, through their sponsorship or something like that, enhanced the experience you had on the site.

That’s why I think the best sorts of marketing I’ve seen on MySpace are the ones that have added functionality. All of the examples I have, unsurprisingly, come from movie studios. Warner Bros. upgraded people’s photo-album limit to market 300. Dreamworks let you edit your photos to market Transformers. Warner Bros., again, added a video slideshow tool to profiles to market I Am Legend. In each case the user got something out of the sponsorship.

The help provided by a marketer is going to stick in people’s minds much more than a banner ad that flashed at them while they were trying to leave their friend a comment. Provide value and the audience will assign the appropriate level of value to your brand. Provide no value and the audience will assign the appropriate level of value to your brand.

I know which one I would prefer.

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.