Out of Office: 3/30 – 4/3

There are a few reasons behind my decision to take this week off from writing at MMM:

  • Work is really busy and, after what could best be described as a “wonky” week last week I feel like I’m behind and need to not be.
  • There are some things I have in mind for a next iteration of Movie Marketing Madness that I want to take some time and flesh out my thinking on before executing, and that’s hard to do while trying to keep up with the daily grind.
  • I’ve got a couple books that I’m in the middle of that I’d like to finish sooner rather than later, so I’ll spend some time reading and learning and not just adding to the clutter.

That being said, I do have an MMM: Adventureland column that I’m still planning on publishing on Wednesday. But that’s largely already written and it’s just a matter of putting it out there. There are also a couple “digest” type posts that are already scheduled to go live on Friday. Other than that, though, I’m taking a break this week to recharge some creative batteries and crank on work stuff. Talk to you later.

–Chris

Marketing Madness in 60 Seconds: 3/27/09

static5Social Media: If we do decide to adopt something akin to impressions, a long-valued metric in the traditional media world, to online can we at least agree to call it something better? There’s got to be a better term out there for this concept that doesn’t come with all the fuzzy connotations this one does. Len Devanna also has an interesting post on the subject of social media ROI.

Definitely worth reading both David Griner’s original post and the ensuing comment discussion about whether it’s not allowed and appropriate to be “ourselves” on our online outlets. I personally view this as being akin to a cocktail party. We talk work sometimes, we talk movies sometimes and occasionally someone drops an F-bomb and starts going off on a religion-related tangent, making everyone uncomfortable for a little while.

Advertising: A new study shows that ads appearing within casual online games contribute to high brand awareness in the minds of consumers. The study collected 2,000 responses to a survey but it was run by a company that delivers just those kinds of ads so keep that in mind.

Same caveats apply to a study showing the effectiveness of video screens in grocery store checkout aisles.

The majority of online video viewers are pretty accepting of pre-roll and in-stream ads if it means they can get their shows and other content for free. Viewers of downloads seem to be more tolerant and find the ads more relvant than viewers of streaming content, but the numbers even there are creeping up.

Google is reported to be working on an online platform that would allow those advertisers buying time on Google TV Ads to also place online and YouTube orders as well.

Social Networks: Yes, Twitter is looking to make money, probably through the sale of some form of corporate or professional accounts. This shouldn’t be a surprise, though the “Twitter’s not making money while others who build off their work are” meme seems to be making the rounds once again for whatever reason.

One thing companies are trying with Twitter is using it as a recruitment platform, something I think it has a lot of potential as if used correctly.

Twitter has also changed how it displays page titles in an effort to rank higher in searches for people’s names.

Facebook has changed its design once again, the biggest result of which has been to make a whole batch of people log into Facebook for the first time since the last redesign.

Scott Monty shares his shorthand for describing social networks.

Some stars employ ghost-writers for their Twitter feeds. I’d be shocked, except that I’m very very much not.

Rick Klau shares his experiences managing the Blogger brand on Twitter. Definitely worth reading for his insights and best practices advice.

Media: Nielsen says more time is spent each week playing video games than they do watching some television networks, meaning they’re almost becoming a “5th network” in and of themselves.

Bucking much of their recent history, some media companies are actually embracing the new distribution/conversation platform that is Twitter and finding ways to engage with the audience there. That goes hand-in-hand with research from IBM that says old media companies are ill-equipped to meet consumer demand in the new media world.

People spend, according to a new Nielsen study, an average of 8.5 hours a day in front of some sort of screen, be it computer or TV or mobile device.

Search: You should read this CNET article and get up to speed on changes Google has made to its search algorithm.

DVD Review: Appaloosa

appaloosa-dvdI really, really like Appaloosa and even began, shortly after watching it, that it might be my second favorite modern Western, behind only Unforgiven.

Appaloosa is the story of two lawmen-for-hire, played by Ed Harris (who also directed) and Viggo Mortenson. The pair come to the small town of Appaloosa to help the locals with the problems they’re having with a local powerful rancher, played by the fantastic Jeremy Irons. One complication after another comes into the story (including a few that involve a woman who moves to town shortly after them and who’s played by Renee Zellweger) but the two come through as partners despite being the only morally clear people in the entire story.

What I dug about Appaloosa was the stoic attitudes displayed by the two stars. While everyone is getting all emotional around them these two lawmen just shrug and move along, never betraying any emotion they don’t need to and meeting every challenge with a quiet certainty. The performances by these two are simply pitch-perfect without being showy or anything like that. Even Irons doesn’t go over the edge in his role as the “villain” of the film, a role that he easily could have hammed up.

The single-disc edition of the movie comes with a handful of bonus features, including a batch of deleted scenes that you can view with or without commentary by director and star Ed Harris and screenwriter/producer Robert Knott. Both Knott and Harris also provide commentary on the feature film itself. The disc also has a few featurettes that dive into the production of the film and the recreation of the titular town.

Movie Marketing Madness: Monsters Vs. Aliens

mva-poster-theatricalDreamworks Animation must feel like it finally has a position of power in the family entertainment game. Despite being the home of bona fide blockbusters like Shrek, Shrek II and Shrek the Third, most all non-Shrek animated features have had either minimal success or not done very well at all. But last year that started to turn around with Kung-Fu Panda, a delightfully refreshing tale of a panda with delusions of grandeur but a massive destiny to fulfill. Unlike other Dreamworks features, this one wasn’t filled with pop-culture references that were out of date as soon as they were put to film. Nor was it just one crotch joke after another, though there were a couple of them, but no more than you’d find in your average episode of “Zack and Cody.”

Looking to build on that momentum, Dreamworks this year is releasing Monsters Vs. Aliens, which serves nicely as not just a title but also a plot description. The movie, then, is about an alien invasion, one that’s countered by the U.S. government through the deployment of a team of, well, monsters. The team includes an ooze monster, a gigantic girl and a couple other misfits and creatures.

As we dive into the movie’s marketing campaign keep one thing firmly in mind. As much as the push seeks to sell the movie itself it’s also about selling the idea of 3-D exhibition to the general public. While 3-D has had a good amount of success so far with releases like The Dark Knight and Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana, the format is still looking for a breakout smash. More accurately, it’s looking for a release where a significant portion of the box-office has come from 3-D, something where the movie’s success is largely attributed to its appearance on 3-D screens. But the public needs a strong case to be presented to it that the format provides an added value to their viewing experience. So that’s been Dreamworks’ case, having included 3-D mentions in a significant amount of the campaign.

Let’s take a look.

The Posters

mva-poster-blobThe first teaser poster released played up the idea that this was a fun and funny movie with a loose sort of attitude. It featured B.O.B., the blue blob voiced in the movie by Seth Rogen, flashing a peace sign with the copy “Ooze gonna save us?” above him. You would think, since this is essentially an ensemble comedy and there’s no one titular character (as was the case with Kung Fu Panda) that there would be more like this but there weren’t.

There were, though, a whole series that featured every (or just about every) character from the film released later on. These were all created in a style the evokes memories of the Red-scare monster movies from the 1950s and 60s and they’re all pretty good, certainly selling the audience on what the look and feel of the movie will be. The designs are bright and colorful and contain some adjectives about the creature featured on that poster. There were versions showing off Ginormica, B.O.B., The Missing Link, Dr. Cockroach, Gallaxhar and Instectosaurus.

mva-poster-linkmva-poster-ginormicamva-poster-galaxharmva-poster-dr-cockroach

Finally, the theatrical poster brought the whole team together, showing the good guys standing between the city – in this case San Francisco – and the bad guys, whose ships are shown flying in the background. It’s actually a pretty standard sort of action movie poster and while I think it’s pretty effective at selling the flick to the target audience of kids and their moms, it’s not all that exciting in and of itself.

There was also a slightly – but only slightly – different version of the theatrical one-sheet that played up a bit more the film’s distribution to 3-D screens.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts off by showing us Ginormica’s origin and using that as a way to introduce us to the U.S. government’s team of monsters. Eventually we get to the plot of the alien invasion and how this team of outcasts and misfits eventually comes together to fight it off. It’s funny but goes by really, really quick and doesn’t give anything, either the visuals or the story, much time to breath.

The second trailer starts off with the invasion force being discovered by a couple of amateur space-watchers. Then it gets to showing us the monsters and how they’re Earth’s best hope for survival. The last two-thirds contains a lot of the same stuff from the first trailer so there’s not a lot new to comment on.

There’s also another trailer that, again, doesn’t reveal much that’s new but arranges it in a slightly different manner so it’s worth checking out if you want to make sure you’ve seen everything.

Online

The movie’s official website opens with a TV-spot type video that plays automatically up on the page loading. There’s also the opportunity there to Grab the Widget, Create a Monster (more on this later) and put B.O.B. on your iPhone, with that link opening up iTunes so you can grab the app.

mva-picOnce you enter the site you’re greeted with, essentially, the poster art with buttons to play brief little character-setting video snippets from the film. You can view even more of these by using the arrows on the right and the left of the screens to change environments, of which there are eight to choose from.

The first section of content is “Videos,” which is something that struck me as interesting. Usually the first section is “About” or something that gives some background on the making of the movie and its story. But this movie, which is all about the visuals – and which is targeted at children – puts video at the forefront instead. Just something worth noting.

Anyway, “Video” contains a featurette titled “Story of 3D,” which is all about how Dreamworks Animation has embraced the 3D format for this movie and how the technology has enabled for a whole new level of story-telling. Both trailers are also there, as well as a montage of footage from the movie titled “Director’s First Look,” which actually serves the same purpose as an “About” section, only without all that text to read.

Also tipping us off as to who the target audience is is the fact that the next section is “Games and Activities.” In the former category you have Gallaxhar Invades, which is a movie-themed variation on Space Invaders, Monster Creator, which allows you to design and download your own monster and finally information on both the Mobile- and Console-based tie-in video games. In the latter category there are an absolute bucket-load of downloadable material, from stickers to cards to party items to anything else you could think of to occupy the time of a seven year-old.

“Downloads” contains a number of the usual types of items, including Wallpapers, Buddy Icons, Signatures for your email, Web Skins and a PC Screensaver. “Dossiers” gives you some background information on the main characters on the Monsters team. “Partners” I’ll cover below.

The last section, “Behind the Scenes,” is where we finally get some information on The Cast and The Crew. There’s also what are in essence production notes within The Film and some similarly-themed videos under “Video Featurettes.” Lastly there’s some Production Art in a gallery that you can check out.

There’s also a separate site at http://www.topsecretconspiracy.com/ that seeks to appear like an effort to expose the government’s cover-up of the monsters that are among us in the world. It’s mildly funny and certainly takes advantage of online media, with a Twitter feed and some RSS feeds that you can subscribe to, as well as the ability to upload your own stories of where you’ve found the truth.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The movie has not lacked for advertising support by any stretch of the imagination. The movie’s ads have been blanketing the internet and the TV airwaves for months now, all of them making sure to note that you’re especially encouraged to see it in 3D.

mva-ads-super-bowl-3d-teaserBut no advertising move by Dreamworks in support of the film was bigger than their decision to advertise within the 2009 Super Bowl broadcast. Not only that, but the ad was shown in 3D . The ad was for the movie but it was also sponsored by Sobe Life Water, a drink being promoted by maker PepsiCo, thereby deferring a bit of the cost of the spot’s production and airing. In order to watch it you had to go to one of the partnering retailers to get special 3D glasses in order to fully enjoy the spot.

Unfortunately for everyone the reactions to the spot weren’t all that positive. Many folks called it “lame” or chalked it up to a publicity stunt that had no value or even criticized the effects. It’s true that for a movie that’s claiming to up the ante in 3D, especially in the use of special polarized glasses, probably was never going to benefit greatly from TV 3D (which never turns out well) and the use of old-school red/blue cardboard glasses. I get what the studio was going for by doing this but it was probably a bit of an over-reaching moment in trying to reach the audience and actually reminded me of the poor reactions to the 2003 Super Bowl spot for Ang Lee’s Hulk in the backlash.

The movie got some print advertising support from a variety of Time Inc publications after Dreamworks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg personally called Time’s editor in chief John Huey. The deal worked out in a way that would have five Time titles each creating a 3D section of its own that would be supported by McDonald’s, a promotional partner with the film, as well as Real D, HP and Intel.

Moving on to the cross-promotions and partners, let’s dive back to the “Partners” page on the movie’s official website.

  • Energizer is including one of three toys in four-packs of every parent’s best friend, the AA battery, as well as offering a contest to win a family vacation.
  • Wrigley is selling Hubba Bubba bubble gum in MVA packaging that lets you enter to win one of a number of prizes.
  • Frozen meal maker Kid Cuisine also put movie images on select packages and offered the chance to win a year’s worth of movie tickets as well as some cash.
  • LandOFrost, a lunchmeat brand, included collectible cards in their products and let you enter to win the movie’s video game.
  • McDonald’s, a regular partner of Dreamworks, picked MVA as their latest Happy Meal theme, including toys with the food and even bringing Gallaxhar, the villain, into the Happy Meal virtual world.
  • Since this is National Frozen Food Month, the National Frozen and Refrigerated Foods Association got its members involved to offer a $10,000 sweepstakes. If you’ve looked at grocery store flyers for the last month you’re likely to have seen mention of this.
  • Visa is offering Signature cardholders the chance to see a complimentary screening of the movie as well as get free popcorn and soda while doing so.

Media and Publicity

While there’s been plenty of the usual publicity for the movie around and about in the media in the form of cast interviews and such, much of what I’ve read about the movie has been contained within stories about the penetration of 3D into the mass audience, showing I think just how closely the two things are closely entwined. Unfortunately many of those stories have been about the slowed roll-out schedule of 3D projectors and systems due to the recession or other reasons.

Overall

mva-titleI think I like this campaign. In fact I’m just about certain that I like this campaign. But there are two problems that I keep getting hung up on.

First, there’s the emphasis on promoting 3D as part of the movie-going experience. It gets in the way sometimes of the actual movie campaign and actually, it occurs to me, runs the risk of creating a feeling in the audience that if they can’t see it in 3D they’ll just pass on it altogether. I don’t think that’s a big risk, but I keep coming back to it.

Second, the campaign reaches a bit farther than it needs to on more than one occassion. A lot of that is in support of the 3D push but even aside from that it comes off, at least to me, as sometimes being a bit more hard-nosed than it needs to be or tries to generate too much publicity for its marketing than it really needs to.

Other than those issues, though, it’s a decent campaign that Dreamworks has put together, with a good site that is certainly geared toward its target audience and some good trailers and posters. Be interesting to see how this turns out at the box-office.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 4/3/09: I forgot about this, but RealD offered a UStream-powered video feed widget from the movie’s premiere red carpet event. You can still view footage from the event on that page.
  • 4/3/09: Robert Marich talks about the costs of the worldwide marketing for the movie and also about how the success of the film will be closely watched by Wall Street investors. That’s because the studio’s financing deals and that fact that it only releases a small number of films, each one has to be a success or the studio’s stock price could take a major hit.
  • 4/3/09: There are a few more “viral” sites that I hadn’t heard about but which add some backstory to the movie’s characters and locations. There’s one for W.R. Monger, one for Pacific Monster Island and one for Old Man Carl’s snack food company.
  • 4/24/09: I didn’t see this promoted anywhere so I can’t say definitively whether it’s official or not (it certainly seems to be) but there’s a MVAMovie Twitter account that has published updates on the movie’s release. This would have completely passed me by if I hadn’t noticed a referral to MMM from it in my traffic stats.

DVD Review: Quantum of Solace

quantum-of-solace-dvdFor some reason Quantum of Solace, the most-recent outing of super-spy James Bond, got lukewarm reviews when it came out in theaters. I’m not sure why that was since I actually quite enjoyed it and even thought it was an improvement over 2006’s Casino Royale.

Picking up right, more or less, where that previous movie left off, Daniel Craig once again stars as the new stripped-down and highly intense version of Bond the first movie introduced us to. He’s on a mission to not only uncover some shadowy, nebulous organization that specializes is toppling governments and exploiting natural resources but also to – although he doesn’t admit as much – to avenge the death of Vesper, the girlfriend he lost in the previous installment.

The nature of the plot doesn’t really matter though. Quantum of Solace needs to be viewed as the second half of a single film, one who’s primary purpose is to introduce this version of James Bond and give him a mythos of his own as someone who is emotionally damaged and brutal in pursuit of his goals, which often seem personal but which also have the advantage of meshing nicely with those of Queen and country.

Watching Craig as Bond is even more enjoyable this time than it was in Casino Royale. We know better who this guy is now and can read more into his aggressively passive expressions. It’s also more interesting to see him in the movie’s series of chases and action sequences. I found myself thinking over the course of the movie that he reminded me of Indiana Jones in how he escapes not because of some master plan he’s worked out, but instead because he just happened to survive from one moment to the next, not thinking about anything beyond the next ledge he’s going to leap to and he’ll figure out the next move once he’s there.

There’s never really a moment that doesn’t work in Quantum of Solace. Not only are the action scenes great to watch but the quieter moments (if you can call them that) – especially the ones with Dame Judy Dench as M – are pretty good as well. Dench is basically given the same two things to do over and over again – scold Bond and remind him of his duties or look up information based on Bond’s latest discovery – but she sells them with her usual class and talent.

Quantum of Solace comes with a host of bonus features on the two-disc special edition DVD, including:

  • Bond on Location: All about the exotic locales and how they play into the story of the movie.
  • Start of Shooting: Very brief featurette about the shooting of the movie.
  • On Location: More about the settings. Not sure why this wasn’t just rolled into the 20+ minute first bit.
  • Olga Kurylenko and the Boat Chase: Covering one of the key action sequences in the film.
  • Director Marc Forster: How the man behind the camera did on his first time out.
  • The Music: Self-explanitory
  • Crew Files: Likewise.

As I said, Quantum of Solace needs to be viewed as the second half of a single story and it works as just that. Well worth checking out.

DVD Review: Being There

being-there-dvd1Have you ever watched an acrobat and marveled at the control they have over their bodies? Just sat there and been amazed at how they can move their limbs in ways that you just can’t considering you count every time you don’t trip while walking up the stairs as a massive, massive success?

That’s kind of what it’s like watching Peter Sellers in Being There.

If you’re unfamiliar with Being There here’s a quick synopsis: A simple man named Chance serves as the gardener for an old man in Washington, DC. Chance has never left the house and has the intellect of a child, as well as being able to neither read nor write. One day the old man dies and Chance is cast out, only to find himself taken in by another rich old man who thinks Chance is some sort of nuts-and-bolts genius who’s able to take the most complex situation and reduce it down to its core elements. As part of that Chance winds up meeting the President, being quoted in newspapers he can’t read and making lots of influential friends who don’t realize he’s that slow.

The movie, in all honesty, kind of hits that same joke over and over again. With anyone else playing the role of Chance it likely wouldn’t work nearly as well as it does with Sellers there. He brings it an incredible amount of genuine emotion that other actors simply couldn’t. It turns the character from someone to be pitied into someone you come to respect and root for.

Being There received a bare-bones DVD release back in the early days of the format but now it’s gotten a Deluxe Edition release as well as appearing on Blu-ray. Even so, the only new addition to the disc is a “Memories of Being There” featurette that has interviews with the cast and crew. It’s worth watching but it might not be up to a “Deluxe” labeling.

Still, Being There is a classic film that deserved a better release on disc and I’m glad Warner Bros. has provided just that. Definitely recommended.

Movie Journal: The Manhattan Project

I don’t know about you but I always think of The Manhattan Project in the same vein as Wargames. You know, two movies about some kid in the mid-80s who’s smarter than adults around him and who uses those smarts to blow up the world, or at least Ithaca, New York and the surrounding states.

The movie doesn’t hold up nearly as well as some others from that era, unfortunately. It’s still fun to watch, though mostly at this point simply for the memories it evokes of watching it on VHS countless times while spending summer days at my grandparents’ house. It’s especially bad when you realize that John Lithgow’s character basically causes his own problems when he gives the kid a tour of his lab – where he’s making highly unstable weapon’s grade plutonium – because he wants to sleep with the kid’s mother. Good job on that, big guy.