IMAX response misses the point

So you might have read about the comments made by comedian Aziz Ansari, currently co-staring on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” about IMAX theatrical presentations. Ansari’s core complaint is that exhibitors are selling people tickets to IMAX presentations of current feature films at a higher price, but showing the film on screens that are about the same size as any other theatrical screen and certainly far smaller than the giant sized canvases that are commonly associated with IMAX ready films.

By way of response, IMAX CEO Richard Gelfond says that yes, the screens might be smaller, but that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that IMAX presentation currently has come to mean not biggie-sized screens but enhanced digital experiences. As proof that Ansari’s rant is off-base he points out that this sort of shift in brand meaning has been occuring for a half-dozen years already and the success of films shown in this diluted IMAX manner shows consumers like it just fine and points to the financial numbers to support him. He’s making a similar case to partners at a corporate retreat.

Gelfond is right. People aren’t complaining en masse and many are fine with IMAX meaning enhanced presentation and not necessarily big honking screens.

Like it or not, though, Gelfond now has a brand perception problem on his hand. Regardless of what attitudes have been in the past, he’s now living in a new reality.

Ansari’s tirade has the potential to be a watershed moment, one that causes the scales to fall from people’s eyes. Certainly there’s now increased potential people are going to go to IMAX with their eyes on how big the screen is and be more vocal about it not living up to expectations, but there’s the distinct possibility that taking Ansari’s points into consideration will cause them to rethink choosing IMAX over standard theatrical viewing.

This is every bit as much of a change moment for IMAX as the employee behavior fiasco that Domino’s Pizza recently endured. And Gelfond and the rest of the IMAX team needs to be out there in the online media world doing the same sort of brand image repair work that the pizza chain has had to engage in.

Ansari has 25,000+ Twitter followers and an untold number of blog subscribers. So let’s say that 10% of his Twitter followers re-tweeted just one of his anti-IMAX updates. That’s 2,500 retweets, each of which will reach that person’s followers. Pretty soon you have massive message penetration within an audience that is not only engaging in online conversations but offline as well.

Unfortunately very few of these people are going to be mollified by an arguement based on the financial success of movies shown in this smaller IMAX way. Right now they’re feeling duped, and showing them dollar figures is only going to remind them of the money they contributed to those totals, whether the ticket price was $1 or $5 over what they would have paid for standard exhibition.

As with any social media issue, some of this could have been avoided if IMAX were currently participating in the online conversation and had built up a base of enthusiasts who had invested in the brand and were ready to come to its defense. But I’m reading none of that.

IMAX had best come up with a plan to react to this that doesn’t use dollar figures as the central component of its rebuttal. And it needs to do it fast. It needs to be based on emotion, on experience and most of all built on the idea that it’s building long-term relationships with the audience and not just trying to do a quick fix, cause that just insures the next time they’ll be in the same position they are now.

Movie Marketing Madness: Angels & Demons

angels_and_demons_ver2Download PDF: MMM 252_Angels_and_Demons

Let’s just put this out there: The Catholic Church would not have to worry about being under attack so often if they’d just enacted Luther’s reforms almost 500 years ago.

OK, the mandatory Reformation joke out of the way, let’s take a look at the marketing for the new Ron Howard-directed drama Angels & Demons. The movie is based once again on a novel by Dan Brown, author of The DaVinci Code. But the story is not a sequel to DaVinci but was published before that book and takes place before its events. I’m not sure whether or not they retained that for the movie or decided to make some adjustments to make it more of a sequel. Once again, though, the story has researcher Robert Langdon, again played here by Tom Hanks, delving into theological arcana in an attempt to foil some sort of plot or another.

The film is being released amid a cacaphony of films that have amped up volume and violence, so it’s got its work cut out for it in an effort to get the audience’s attention, especially since it doesn’t feature classic starships or amnesiac mutants or anything else. So it’s got to work to break through all that clutter and convince a movie-going public that it’s more adult and subdued tone is worth their weekend time.

The Posters

angels_and_demonsThe first teaser poster took one of the images from the teaser trailer (or vice versa, I’m not exactly sure) and used it as its primary image. Specifically the teaser uses a shot of the back of one of the angels that rings the top of the outside of the Vatican. The main purpose of the poster is to promote that it’s a Tom Hanks movie and that it’s from the same author as The DaVinci Code, which is exactly what it does. “DaVinci” is in only slightly smaller type than the current movie’s title treatment. It does manage to create a slightly forboding tone, but it actually comes off as quite boring.

The theatrical poster is only a slight improvement from that. The same sort of color scheme is used, but this time in the place of the angelic statuary there’s Hanks in the middle of a see of tourists and bishops as he gazes into the air, presumably at some sort of ancient symbol that he needs to find to unlock the secret to whatever. It’s a bit better than the teaser but still only serves as a conduit to communicate the same two points I mentioned before and so the gauge of its success needs to be that.

The Trailers

Like the initial trailer for the first installment, the teaser trailer for Angels & Demons was more about atmosphere and clouding the story in mystery than it was about revealing plot points.

It starts with a dramatic CGI camera sweep over the rooftops of Vatican City as a voiceover tells us about an ancient ritual being the backdrop for revenge. As that’s happening snippets of news broadcasts clue us in to the notion that a new Pope is being elected. The word “Illuminati” then comes on-screen before we get a few quick cuts of Tom Hanks and some of the rest of the crew running around some ancient buildings and someone being threatened with a hot branding iron.

It’s alright but there’s absolutely no payoff. It’s almost exclusively going to be appealing to fans of DaVinci and the rest of the audience probably will be left with the feeling of “And?” when it’s finished.

The full theatrical trailer starts with a similar sweeping camera shot but skips the establishing narration. It zooms in on a young girl standing outside the Vatican waiting for the announcement of a new Pope. But she turns around and sees a priest bleeding on the steps.

At that point Ewan McGregor intones that they need Robert Langdon, the character played by Hanks. His presence allows for a little bit of exposition to be done by explaining for the audience that the Illuminati, a group devoted to scientific truth and whose members were persecuted by the Catholic Church, have come for their revenge.

After that there’s more action, with Hanks and McGregor and everyone else running around ancient locations, tearing tarps off of statuary and dodging the attempts by those that are trying to attack the Catholic Church to keep Langdon and his allies from tracking them down. It’s not bad but ultimately can’t compete.

Here’s what I mean.

I’m sure that there’s lots of action sequences and all that in Angels & Demons. So their inclusion here is fine. But I’m also willing to bet that there’s a lot more standing around and talking than there is in something like, say, Star Trek. So compiling a trailer that attempts to compete against Star Trek or Wolverine or any of the other summer action movies is a misstep, I think. The studio would have been better served in my opinion by including a little bit of action, sure, but also adding more of the other stuff that could have positioned the movie as counter-programming for more intelligent adults. No trailer, however good, is going to make this the primary pick for 18 year old boys over Wolverine.

That trailer was also hosted by National CineMedia on their NCM website as one of their “Hypertrailer” formatted videos. That presentation allowed for the embedding of linkable moments within the trailer. You’ll see along the player’s status bar that there are bubbles. When the video gets to that point in the stream a character or image in the trailer is highlighted and then becomes a bit of content you can dive into. NCM also featured an exclusive clip from the movie that features the discovery of the first real clue in the movie’s quest to uncover the plot against the church as well as footage from the film’s red-carpet premiere.

Online

The movie’s official website opens with a re-purposing of the final key art, that of Hanks standing in Vatican Square amidst s sea of tourists and bishops. At the bottom of the screen there’s a prompt to download the iPhone game if you’re interested in that. You can also read more about that at the Trigger Blog.

Entering the site presents you with a couple of different options. I’ll start with the more traditional content by accessing the menu at the bottom.

It starts off with “About the Film” where you’ll find The Story, which has a decent synopsis of the story and the characters that the film follows. You’ll also be able to find “The Cast” which has some decent background pieces on the actors and “The Filmmakers” which actually doesn’t have anything about the people behind the camera, not even director Ron Howard.

The next section, “On Location,” is actually kind of cool, allowing us to view pictures and get information on some of the locations around Italy that play key roles in the film. I love these sorts of historical facts being presented for movies for whom the time or location is significant to the story.

You’ll find both trailers, a trailer for the Path of Illumination game and a couple of featurettes under “Video.”

“Gallery” has 17 stills from the film and “Downloads” has a collection of Wallpapers, a Screensaver and a Widget you can grab and put on your own site or social network. There’s also a section for “Partners” and one for “Mobile, which lets you download puzzles and more in the form of The Official Mobile Game for the film.

The other way you can navigate the site is by Beginning the Search or something like that. You start off focusing on Robert Langdon. Once that loads you’ll be able to view a handful of clips from the movie featuring Langdon. From there you go to Vatican City, which has its own collection of footage that’s Vatican related. Then there’s one more clip at the third stop along the way, titled The Crisis. Fourth and final is A Hidden Threat, which has some more.

Sprinkled amidst the teasers for extended clips is the main site content. So you’ll see The Story or Trailers scattered here and there. But it’s a pretty inefficient way of getting around if you just want to watch the trailer or see who the cast is.

The movie’s Facebook page, which doesn’t seem to be linked to anywhere on the official site, has a pretty standard collection of trailers, photos and other information on the film. There’s a ton of conversation going on on the page’s Wall but nobody’s talking back. I’ll just leave it at that.

There was an attempt at a viral campaign back around the time the first teaser trailer debuted that was focused around some sort of canister being sent around and the website AlterofScience, which you need a code to enter and access.

Also online was something similar to the game that was produced for The DaVinci Code. This time, though, the game was titled Path of Illumination.

The contest presented games and puzzles for players to solve, all of which were themed around either the movie itself or the mysteries it touches on. Presented by Microsoft and hosted on MSN, asked players to look for clues using Microsoft’s Photosynth software to view online photos of the movie’s sets. The contest was broken up into four weeks – consistent with the movie’s focus on the Illuminati’s “four elements” and awarded a weekly winner. One grand prize winner then received a prize package with a motorbike, some Catholic mementos and a selection of Sony Electronics items.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Of particular interest was a TV spot that was produced in conjunction with the NBA and cable network TNT mixes footage from the film with footage from basketball games. The spot was meant to promote both the broadcast of the NBA playoffs on the network and the movie and is clever is spots and just kind of odd in others.

In addition to hosting the Path of Illumination contest mentioned above, MSN also got as part of its promotional partner status the honor of hosting the debut of the theatrical trailer.

As is the case with many sequels there was some attempt to get people to buy new editions of the previous installment or installments as well. In this case that came in the form of a five-minute preview of Angels & Demons being included on the Blu-ray release of The DaVinci Code.

A certain amount of unintentional comedy is likely to result from the marketing of any religiously themed movie. In this case it came from the placement of a huge ad for the film appearing right next to a church in New York City.

Media and Publicity

Much like any movie that involves the Catholic Church, there was a bit of controversy and publicity surrounding what they would think about it and what their reaction and official guidance would be to its followers. At first it looked like it was going to be all-negative all the time, with the reliably outraged Catholic League being reliably outraged and announcing it would send several media alerts denouncing the movie and reflecting its disapproval. The fact that its protests around The DaVinci Code probably wound up helping that film’s profile seems to have escaped it.

As far as the Catholic Church itself, while there were rumors of protests and boycotts and such it ultimately decided the film was harmless and announced it had no objections to the movie. Part of that decision might have been an effort to not play into any additional buzz or play the part of foil to the marketing team that might be looking at drumming up some controversy and generating some buzz based on that.

Aside from that it was the usual round of publicity and buzz-generation by the cast and crew. Early on Sony decided to take advantage of a little bit of corporate synergy and brought Hanks out on stage at CES for the announcement of a new online community for Sony Electronics owners.

Not hurting anything, of course, was the announcement by author Dan Brown that he would be releasing a sequel to The DaVinci Code titled The Lost Symbol, which would be hitting stores in September of 2009, probably right before Angels & Demons arrives on DVD, which is convenient.

Overall

I’m having a hard time mustering up much enthusiasm for the campaign since I don’t think it works very hard to create a strong impression. It’s fine for the most part but has some problems, particularly in the lackluster print component and a moderately confusing website that doesn’t create a strong level of engagement in the audience.

I will give the campaign credit for having some strong brand consistency. The same visual cues exist across the posters, the trailers and the website, as well as within the advertising. That’s helped by the use of a single image but even beyond that there are some colors and styles that are used that mark most all aspects of the campaign as belonging to the same movie.

So it’s a mixed bag. Consistent throughout but unfortunately kind of boring. Let’s so how it competes in its slot between Star Trek and Terminator: Salvation.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 5/15/09: Sony Pictures setup a Twitter account at AndDMovies that asked people questions about some of the clues that have been scattered throughout the campaign’s sites and and trailers and gave them some sort of reward for their correct responses. The account will go inactive on 5/19, the classic example of a short-term campaign, but it seems to have a decent following. Too bad there’s no long-term equity to be gained. You can read the press release here.
  • 5/29/09: Sony has apologized for an advertising effort they engaged in that involved spray-paining graffitti-like ads for the movie on the sidewalks of Los Angeles. The chalk used is bio-degradable, it says, and will wash away easily, but one guy in particular is still outraged by the effort, which Sony has said it won’t use again. Seems like a pretty small issue – sidewalk ads have been pretty common in Chicago and elsewhere – but I guess they felt like an apology is necessary, though I’m not sure why.