Up to here

Things that are on the verge of making me want to punch a kitten:

  • Augmented Reality – Unless you can explain it to me in a way that doesn’t make it sound like an “upload your photo” tool in reverse I’m going to think you’re full of it.
  • JK’s Wedding Video or whatever it’s called – Some guy creates a memory that he’s going to look back on in five years and realize he’s so ashamed of he’s unable to talk about it to his children and I’m supposed to learn valuable marketing lessons from it? Really? With a straight face you’re telling me that?
  • Personal branding – I have a reputation. I don’t need a brand. Thanks anyway.
  • Beer summit – Oh wow. The President used the same tactic guys have been using since the invention of beer and we’re supposed to think this is news? Would have been better if, like half such resolution sessions, they’d had so much to drink that it wound up in a fist fight.

Marketing Madness in 60 Seconds: 7/31/09

static5Advertising/Marketing

The upfronts are finally beginning to move forward and the networks are finally starting to log some sales. It’s not like commercial time is flying off the shelf though, and the take for networks might be in the $1 – $1.5 billion range, down from over $9 billion last year – even though they’re not conceding as much on pricing as buyers were initially asking them to. Networks have still, though, only booked 25 percent of their inventory and the Fall season is only two months away. Declines in CPM rates have not been as great as buyers were hoping for but still more than the networks were angling for.

I actually don’t think the call by some publishers to do away with ad networks is about anything other than them wanting to stop blogging from being profitable, thereby eliminating the new media competition they see biting their heels.

Spending on word-of-mouth marketing efforts reached $1.5 billion last year according to PQ Media and is expected to grow over 10 percent this year. In-game ads also continue to grow.

The next big thing in the marketing industry is the connecting of consumer’s offline behavior with what they do online. All of this is over and above, of course, what people are voluntarily sharing about themselves on social networks and blogs.

Media

The AP thinks its copyright infringement anytime there’s a link and a headline to its content, whether that means in a blog post or simply the results of a Google search. Rex Hammock points out why this argument is completely insane on a number of levels and Danny Sullivan realizes that, by this definition, the use of Google by AP employees means they themselves are engaging in blatantly violating copyright.

The idea of “nichepapers” makes a lot of sense, but mostly because that’s exactly what the blogs have been doing for years now. This model also kind of necessitates an aggregation system, either in the form of an RSS reader or something that looks very much like a newspaper, collecting the niche content in one place for people to sort through.

Social Media

NewsGator is shutting down their free, online RSS reader and recommending people switch over to Google Reader, making it easy for people to sync with that product. I used to use NewsGator and am disappointed to see it go since there were a lot of things about it people used, including its integration with Microsoft Outlook and such.

Finding an Audience: Distribution Notes for 7/31/09

movie-ticket-and-popcornTheatrical

The debate continues as to whether 3D exhibition is still building steam or is leveling off as measured by per-screen takes and such.

Home Video

Studios used the Comic-Con get-together to try and drum up interest in their upcoming home video releases, an effort to staunch the bleeding that’s been going on in that category in terms of consumer spending.

CinemaNow is launching a new service that puts a movie – including the necessary video player software – on a USB drive.

Jimminy Christopher…RedBox is being called by someone the home video equivalent of the cheap second run theaters that – and I’m not sure the person quoted is aware of this – used to be all over the place but now are being squeezed out by shrinking home video windows. It’s a distribution point but lets not go nuts over this.

Paramount is plowing ahead with a terrible, terrible idea, that of staggering home video releases. Beginning in September with their Dance Flick release, the movie will be available for sale on Blu-ray but the standard DVD will only be available for rental. The Blu-ray is a packed special edition but the DVD just has the movie. The DVD will go on sale eight weeks later but it’s not clear if it will be the bare-bones edition or have bonus features. I remain convinced that offering DVDs with just the movie – and at a reduced price point – is the key to wringing a bit more money out of the format since that’s all people are getting when they buy a digital download and that’s a category that’s growing.

Online/On-Demand

Seems some movies that are available through Starz Play are being blocked from the XBox Live Dashboard, though it remains to be seen if this is intentional or just a technical SNAFU.

Epix, the new movie channel from Viacom, MGM and Lionsgate, has its first distributor agreement but it’s not on cable TV, it’s on the Verizon FiOS subscriber network. There’s talk of tiers being offered in terms of how much of the programming can be accessed based on what package people have and it may eventually be expanded to Verizon’s V Cast mobile service.

A handful of movies managed by Cinetic Rights Management are now available on Netflix’s “Watch Instantly” service, including the very funny Melvin Goes to Dinner.

According to Pew’s recent study of online behavior, 35 percent of internet users have watched a movie or TV show online in the last year, over twice as many as had reported doing so (16 percent) in 2007.

Picking up the Spare: The Hangover, Transformers

bowling-pinsThe Hangover

Tucked into a story about how entertainment and lifestyle sites are weathering the advertising downturn alright – and sometimes even growing – is a bit about how “what’s cool” filter Thrillist ran a campaign for The Hangover that culminated in a New York City party (cause that’s what Thrillist does) with over 1,000 people attending that featured a look at an extended trailer.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Paramount worked with mobile platform operator ChaCha that had ads for the Transformers sequel included in the text responses sent to the system’s users when they asked a question. The campaign, according to ChaCha, increased the movie’s audience awareness by 27 percent and drove significant traffic to the movie’s mobile site

In response to the movie IDW is launching the first on-going Transformers comic title the franchise has had in years.

Quick Takes: 7/31/09

filmstripAn effort by 20th Century Fox to get some “viral” chatter for I Love You, Beth Cooper has backfired. They paid a high school valedictorian to end her speech with a declaration of love for a classmate in much the same way the movie portrays, an attempt to show how the movie has inspired kids to go out on a limb. The deal with the student was actually struck by a buzz marketing firm working with the studio and has resulted in the high school were the incident took place are plenty honked off that they hosted an ad for a movie. A video of the speech, filmed by the agency and then placed on YouTube, has gone nowhere and the movie tanked.

Karina points to an example of marketing an independent movie in the right way and an example of doing it the wrong way, both of which I’m in complete agreement with her on.

The Ombudsman for The Washington Post responds to reader criticism of how listings for showtimes at area AMC Theaters no longer appear in the paper. The removal of the listings was AMC’s decision, not the paper’s, and according to a company spokesperson was based on wanting to allocate those dollars elsewhere, partly because people are getting their movie time information online more and more and not from print pubs.

This practice has been in use for a couple of years now but has been picking up steam of late, that of using subtitles with colons for sequels instead of numbers. Some movies like The Dark Knight have completely different titles than the original, but the basic idea behind both tactics is that they present a more original image to the audience instead of appearing to be a retread.

More commentary on the study that shows product placement within successful films leads a boost in share prices for those brands, something that’s going to mean more of that particular tactic being implemented.

Interpublic has found a new head and a new name for its branded entertainment unit, tapping a former AdAge and Entertainment Weekly editor to lead its newly re-branded Ensemble division.

There’s no shortage of guns and implied violence in the ads and other marketing materials for this summer’s movies, including those that are aimed at kids.

Kevin Dugan passed along word to me about a promotion for The Ugly Truth that had celebrity gossip blogger Perez Hilton passing on a “Sponsored Tweet” that prompted people to follow and interact with the Twitter account set up for the movie. Below are screenshots of 1) The @TheUglyTruth account before Hilton’s promotional tweet (make sure you note the Followers), 2) One of Hilton’s tweets and 3) The movie account after (see the bump in Followers).

tracking twitterpromo ugly truthNew Picture (2)New Picture (3)

Wrong question

CookiesIf you ask people if they’re fans of cookies (the little files that are dropped on your computer when you visit most websites) they’ll say “no.” Public opinion is that they’re intrusive and people don’t like being tracked like that.

Ask the public if they like more targeted, relevant ads and having the social networks/forums they frequent remember their login information and they’ll likely say “yes, that’s useful.”

So the question is not whether people are in favor of cookies, it’s whether they’re in favor of the experience that the use and delivery of cookies enables.

Movie Marketing Madness: Funny People

Funny People PosterIt’s hard to believe that Funny People, opening this week and starring Seth Rogen, Adam Sandler, Leslie Mann and a host of others, is only the third film from director Judd Apatow. After all, the guy’s name has been everywhere for the last three years or so, especially since 2007′s Knocked Up become one of the bigger hits of the summer, holding its own against Transformers and other heavyweight blockbusters with its tale of an accidental pregnancy that changes the lives of a stoned slacker and a career woman. But most of the press about the guy has been about his producing credits – Superbad and others were all movies he shepherded to some extent and some he had a writing or story credit in – but he hasn’t been behind the camera since then. And the only time before that was for The 40 Year Old Virgin.

Funny People, on its surface, would appear to be Apatow’s most personal story to date. Sandler plays a fantastically successful movie star who’s made a career out of starring in high-concept, low-intellect comedies. He befriends an up-and-coming stand up comedian (Rogen) who he hires to help him write some new material. One day Sandler’s character finds out he’s dying and so reaches out to Mann’s character, the love of his life who he let get away, and reconnects with her despite the fact that she’s now married (to a man played by Eric Bana) with kids. But he realizes, as he stares down the prospect of death, that he hasn’t lived and starts to re-embrace life.

I say it’s Apatow’s most personal to date since he – and just about everyone in the film – is a veteran of the stand-up culture the film is set in. And Sandler, who Apatow roomed with during their days of paying their dues, is playing a slightly modified version of himself. So it seems like while things might be dramatized to some extent this is a world Apatow knows all about, with characters being based on people he knows to some level.

That being said it also appears to mine familiar Apatow territory, with men being lifted out of their malaise and driftlessness by a good woman. So let’s see how Universal is handling the marketing.

The Posters

There was just a single poster for Funny People that was created and released and…honestly I’m not sure what to make of it. It just has Sandler in the middle, with Rogen and Mann coming in from each side and resting their heads on his shoulders. From a visual stand-point that’s it. The copy plays up that it’s the third film from the director of Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin but doesn’t name Apatow outright. It does include the names of the three cast members pictured before simply putting the title treatment there and the opening date.

If there was a definition for a movie poster that made a “soft sell” to the audience this is it. There’s nothing about the movie’s plot – not even a line of teaser text – and there’s nothing that is overtly “funny” about the image. It almost seems like something that was taken at a standard publicity still shoot and which someone said, “Hey…that might make a pretty good poster.” about. Then, when no other designs could be agreed upon, they went and did just that.

I’m not saying it’s bad…it’s not. It’s just that it defies so much of what I would expect from a movie of this caliber it’s a bit unnerving. Where’s the crowded imagery? Where’s the obvious points of input from every Junior VP that took a look at it? Where’s that element of “wacky” someone felt was necessary to label it a comedy? Instead this looks like a poster that is selling a movie with a complex, emotional but humorous story that relies on the considerable charms of the three lead actors.

Usually simplistic stories get lots of things thrown on to their posters to make them look more interesting. This is a case where the lack of design elements actually makes me think the story is too difficult to explain in a single image.

The Trailers

Funny People PicThe movie’s primary trailer starts off with Sandler’s character delivering a performance at a small comedy club. Shots of him talking about not having a girlfriend are mixed with shots of him standing alone in his very large house, immediately making it clear he has no one in his life at that point. Then we get introduced to Rogen’s character, an up-and-coming comedian who impresses Sandler and who is then asked by him to come and write some jokes. That leads to the introduction of Rogen’s two friends, also comedians, who can’t believe his good fortune.

We then move into the story that’s going to provide the film’s pathos, the fact that Simmons, Sandler’s character, is sick and might be dying. So we see a few scenes of him reacting to that, as well as to the eventual news that he might be getting better. The inclusion of that particular point makes me think either it’s completely inconsequential to the film and so nothing is lost by giving it away or the studio was worried people weren’t going to want to see a depressing movie about death. Either are viable options.

There’s also a bit in there about Leslie Mann’s character, a former sweetheart of Simmons’ who re-enters his life when he gets sick but who now comes with a husband, two kids and a seemingly happy life.

It’s an extremely funny trailer that highlights some of what are probably the best bits from the movie, but that’s alright. Apatow’s movies are always filled with small moments that make the whole film worth it and I’m sure there’s plenty of funny still to be revealed here.

The movie got a red-band trailer a bit later in the campaign, though it really wasn’t all that much of a controversial or offensive spot. This trailer, though, puts more emphasis on the relationship between the characters and less on the plot point of Sandler’s character being afraid he’s about to die. That being said, this is probably the funniest of the spots in that it really shows off how Apatow and his crew are able to turn a phrase with some salty language. As I’ve stated often, it’s not enough to just swear. You have to be able to actually write and this is an example of the talent behind the movie being able to do just that.

Online

Funny People Pic 3The official website‘s main menu features the movie’s key art, with content areas nicely displayed in boxes toward the bottom of the screen.

The first box is devoted to linking to websites relating to some of the characters we meet in the film and which we’ll discuss below. Over to the right is one prompting you to “View Restricted Content.” That’s where you’ll find not only the red-band trailer but also footage from a stand-up performance by Randy, who we’ll also hear about later.

Down in the second row are promos for a Judd Apatow-hosted video podcast series that you can subscribe to on iTunes, information on the film’s soundtrack, a link to Universal’s official Twitter account and a link to a promotional site from Universal that promotes select DVDs you can buy that come with movie cash you can use to see Funny People.

Once you enter the site you get to the more substantive content.

“About the Movie” contains a Synopsis that has nothing about the movie’s story other than that Apatow things it’s funny even though it’s his most serious movie to date. There actually is a brief snippet of plot at the very end but that’s it.

Where that first section is surprisingly sparse, the “Characters” section is a bit better. Click on any of the head shots at the bottom and you get Photos, Wallpapers and Icons specific to that character, as well as other content like clips from that character’s movies or other such stuff. I like it when content is organized like this as it allows you to grab what you’d like and learn more about the people in the film.

“Videos/Photos” is where you’ll find the all-ages trailer, the red-band version and four TV spots. This section also contains a single collection of all the pictures you can find elsewhere on the site. Likewise “Downloads” has the Icons, Wallpapers and a Screensaver.

The movie’s MySpace page has the trailer, poster and buddy icons you can download from there. The Facebook page is a bit better, with more video like the TV spots and a selection of photos you can download as well as a bit of audience conversation going on.

Much like what happened around Tropic Thunder, another comedy set in the weird reality of Hollywood, there as an effort at extending the universe of the movie by creating marketing materials for the movies Adam Sandler’s character George Simmons had made a career of starring in. That included a handful of posters and websites and even a promotional clip from the movie Re-Do, where he plays a man who is given the body of a baby after falling into a cave or something and one from Sayonara Davey. The funniest thing is that these seem like exactly the kinds of movies Sandler has indeed been making over the years.

Funny People - Fake Movie Posters

Corporate sibling NBC gave the some legitimacy, at least in a vague sense of the word, by creating a show page for “Yo, Teach!,” the show that the character played by Jason Schwartzman stars in. The site looks much like any other show profile on the network’s site and, I’ll be honest, it’s not hard to see this kind of show actually making it on TV. The effort not only included a clip of the show but even an EPK type interview with Schwartzman that was pretty funny itself. NBC did something similar to this for the show-within-a-movie that was part of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and “starred” the character played by Kristen Bell. Mark Taylor Jackson – the character played by Schwartzman – also has a site of his own that lists all his work and other information.

Also fleshing out the movie’s universe was an official site for Randy, a stand-up comic portrayed in the film by Aziz Ansari, that contained the character’s bio, tour dates and more. Unfortunately the site crossed the fiction/non-fiction line by including a banner ad for Funny People at the bottom, bursting the bubble of belief that anyone might have carried with them.

Liz Miller at NewTeeVee was underwhelmed by this aspect of the campaign. While she has some valid points about execution – and points out the lack of traction of the video components have gotten – I’m not quite as down on this simply because I like it when a film’s fictional world is fleshed out like this. I agree that if this was meant to bring in large numbers of potential audience members then it might not have done what it was hoped to, but in terms of the actual execution of it I think it’s a good effort.

Advertising and Cross Promotions

Funny People Pic 2A couple months before release Universal began running a series of TV spots for the movie, basically taking the trailer and adding a few scenes and cutting the running time. They were pretty funny, many of them showing off the whole ensemble cast as opposed to focusing on just Sandler or Rogen, though they were certainly prominent.

The timing of them was odd, though, since it was so far out from release and it was while the campaigns for Star Trek and Up were still on TV, both of them bigger and certainly flashier productions than this. My only assumption on the decision to run them at this point was that Universal wanted to buy time during season/series finale time, when new episodes of popular shows were still running and before the summer rerun/reality season began. That’s just a guess, but it makes sense to my mind and I’d bet that was at least part of the thinking from the studio.

Apatow also stocked a bit of online conversation by releasing a video tape he made from when, in real life, he and Sandler were roommates in the early 90′s. It’s a short video of Sandler making a prank phone call to a local restaurant but it’s mildly funny. It’s not really directly related to the movie, despite the inclusion of the URL at the end. Instead it’s kind of meant to be a look at the kind of environment and mindset these guys operate in, which is the basis for the movie’s story. So it fits but only from a sideways perspective.

There were also the usual round of outdoor and other ads that used the same key art as the poster. Some people found it odd that the names of the three stars – especially Sandler – weren’t on the ads since it’s assumed star power is pretty much the key to selling the movie. I don’t personally think it’s that big a deal. It’s not as if people aren’t going to recognize Sandler – or Rogen – so the lack of names isn’t going to have people looking at the poster confused as to who those people are. It’s actually, I think, more important to include text about it being from Apatow since he’s not pictured on the poster art.

Online also played a part, with banners and interactive units being placed around the web and in some RSS feeds. There was also the use of some sponsored posts like this one on Mashable that was a list of interesting entertainment folks to follow on Twitter that was “brought to you by” Funny People, specifically via the CinemaTweets.com site that Universal runs that aggregates tweets that contain the titular hashtag.

Media and Publicity

Funny People Pic 4Universal got the ball rolling early by staging a “Night of Funny People” at the Improv comedy club that featured the cast appearing in character and doing their routines, with the footage then being what would be mined for the film itself.

The movie got a good amount of publicity when Apatow mentioned the running time would be somewhere around 150 minutes, basically two and a half hours. That raised a lot of people’s opinions about what the appropriate form of comedy was or wasn’t. Some people figured whatever Apatow was putting together would be fine and that it wasn’t a comedy – at least not in the way that we’ve come to expect – that he was making. Others, like Patrick Goldstein of the LA Times, make a passionate case for the director to make some cuts since comedies work better when they’re shorter. I get where Goldstein is coming from, really I do, but I think that his point about the actors that James Brook, which is who Apatow seems to be shooting for, was working with and those Apatow is working with are on different levels, is a bit off. It’s about finding the right actors for the material and not just getting A-list actors on set. And for Apatow that means people like Rogen and Paul Rudd and others. If he tried to get Albert Brooks it might work and it might not.

Apatow was given the opportunity to pen a couple of guest posts, including this submission to the MTV Movies Blog that talks about the kind of feedback he’s looking for from people regarding his movies.

Overall

Funny People TitleIf there’s one thing the campaign has going for it it’s consistency. Aside from a few TV spots that go a little overboard in making the movie seem like a laugh-a-minute broad appeal comedy, most everything in the campaign hits the same sort of notes as all the rest of the components.

The push actually doesn’t feel obnoxious or insulting, two words that could probably be used to describe most summer movie marketing campaigns in comparison. Instead it almost seems like a relatively soft-sell, with the campaign simply making the case for the movie based on what it hopes will be an interesting story and people’s familiarity of and interest in the next movie not only from Apatow but the actors in the film.

Some people I know weren’t fans and some went a little overboard in their praise of the extended universe aspect of the campaign, the part where sites and profiles were created for the characters in the movies. But I think they’re just a good idea and seem to be executed pretty well. Non-franchise films like this face a hurdle (we can debate the size of said hurdle another time) in that their characters aren’t known quantities so going this route creates a bit of that existing knowledge the audience can go into the theater with. Plus, it lets the creators flesh out those characters a bit and maybe use some material they otherwise would have cut

I’m a fan of Apatow and most of the people in the movie so the movie’s an easy sell to me. But I think the campaign also makes a good case for the film to the general audience as a well-made alternative to the explosion-filled sequels and such that have dominated the summer to date.

A media experiment

With the conversation around media organizations erecting paywalls around all their content gaining steam and ridiculous ideas like the AP throwing out the idea that you need a licensing agreement with them just to link to their content, I thought I’d run an experiment both here on MMM between now and the end of August.

The idea is that what bloggers – including myself – send to mainstream news outlets in the way of traffic will be worth more to them in the long run, both from a monetary and brand familiarity point of view, than the money they’ll make from the small percentage of people that will pay for online access.

So between today and August 31st (including in this post) I’ll be using Bit.ly short URLs for all the links I include in my posts. Bit.ly lets me see how many times someone has clicked through to the source link. It also shows how many other clicks that’s generated, with my own as a sub-set of that overall number. I’ll use an assumed $.05 in ad revenue per click to generate an estimate of how much I helped those newspapers and magazines earn in that period, which might be generous but I don’t think is overly so.

The other half of this that I have in mind is that, if Steven Brill’s idea for a media industry wide clearing house for content payment should come to fruition and actually be implemented, this should be the amount that is taken off my bill for the next month. So if there’s a $10/month fee to access the news from the pubs I want to subscribe to and in the previous month I sent $6.50 in ad revenue generating traffic their way, my bill for the coming month should only be $3.50. I’ll sign up to be part of an affiliate program to get that sort of advantage – not a problem. Sign me up, give me a URL tracking code to use and I’ll be there first day.