In which I carefully avoid using the phrase “personal brand”

If you were your client, would you be honking you off?

Here’s a sampling of the advice that we routinely give to clients:

  • Post to your blog regularly
  • Make sure your posts are conversational but also on-topic and in-line with the editorial mission of the blog.
  • Tweet frequently
  • Make sure your Twitter updates are on-topic for the most part and in line with the position you’re trying to stake out. Occasional “fun” or personal updates are good too, since they help make you more human, but don’t veer too far in this direction or you will lose many of your industry-related followers.
  • Publish your blog posts to Twitter, Facebook and other outlets using trackable links.
  • Write open ended posts that encourage questions and don’t come off as pandering or, quite frankly, snooty.

So, if I were my client, I’d be up to my ears in frustration. And as I plan for 2010 these are some of the things I’m looking to rectify. It’s important to set goals and then execute against them, even if what you’re doing is just fun and personal.

Movie Marketing Madness: The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr Fox PosterNo one has ever accused, I wouldn’t think, director of Wes Anderson of lacking a unique cinematic vision or style. If you’ve seen any one of his movies and are then shown, without any setup or information, a scene from another you’ll probably be able to peg it as an Anderson movie pretty quickly. The overly stoic characters who express themselves with eyebrows and sighs. The patterned wallpaper on the sets. The father issues. They’re all hallmarks and put them together and you’ve got an easily-identifiable Anderson film.

Make what you will of that style but I’m a fan, if for no other reason than because so few directors in this day and age actually have such a distinctive signature that they put on their movies. Not that other directors are hacks, but those who you can pick out of a line-up are few and far between. So if nothing else you have to stand up and salute the fact that he’s willing to indulge the passions he so obviously feels and break away from the pack in doing so.

Anderson is now bringing that vision, which he’s honed in traditional live-action arena, to the world of animation. The Fantastic Mr. Fox is an adaptation of a book from Roald Dahl, the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And to bring the book to life Anderson has chosen to tell the story through stop-motion animation, a brave and interesting choice not only because it’s outside the conventional wisdom (which, despite recent films like 9 and Coraline, says CG is the only real option) but because he’s never done it before. As we’ll see as we get into the campaign that’s going to become an issue in some regards. But let’s start at the top.

The Posters

The first poster for the movie is, well, kind of awesome. It shows all the main characters dwelling just below the surface of the Earth, something that’s conveyed by the human legs at the top of the image, above the underground dwelling with all the animals.

Two things are made clear in the poster:

First, that there’s a loving family at the center of the story, something that’s conveyed through the image of the husband and wife in sort of a dancing embrace and the playful kids around them. In addition to that there are colorful supporting characters, including the business-skunk with a drink in hand and the explorer gopher.

Second, we’re immediately clued in to the fact that those people are in some peril, a situation made clear through the fact that those humans above our main cast are all sporting shovels, with one even holding a couple sticks of dynamite. So that’s the conflict in the movie.

The fact that the source book comes from the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is given precedence over Anderson’s being the director, hinting at the notion that Fox is marketing this more to the family movie crowd than fans of Rushmore, Tennenbaums and Anderson’s other movies. He’s a major component in many of the campaign’s other elements so he’s not being abandoned but in this regard the studio is reaching for an audience outside his core group of fans.

Fantastic Mr Fox Poster - ClooneyFantastic Mr Fox Poster - DafoeFantastic Mr Fox Poster - GambonFantastic Mr Fox Poster - SchwartzmanFantastic Mr Fox Poster - StreepFantastic Mr Fox Poster - WilsonFantastic Mr Fox Poster - Wolodarsky

A series of seven character posters came next, taking many of the primary characters from the movie and putting them against a cool pop art kind of background and giving each a bit of explanatory text at the top. Since this is an animated film these posters are designed to show off the names of the cast in the movie as well as give an additional peak at the look of the characters.

The Trailers

Fantastic Mr Fox PicThe first trailer is all about introducing the audience to the look and feel of the movie, as well as giving a quick introduction to most of the main characters. There’s a small hint that Mr. Fox and his family and friends are engaging in some sort of attempt to do…something. While there are lots of clips of them planning and plotting it’s never made entirely clear what it is. That’s alright, though, since it’s pretty charming as it is. The distinctive Anderson look is obvious, as is the fact that the voice cast is putting its all into the performances that drive the characters.

The second does dive further into the movie’s story, showing that the adventures being planned by Fox and friends are an attempt to foil the plans of three nasty, mean humans. We get a bit more background on the characters and their motivations, as well as some pretty good jokes about the world these characters live in. It also contains more credits for the cast and a few pull quotes from the early reviews the movie has generated. It still very much has a good look at the production style but it’s more traditional it how it lays out a case for a movie with engaging characters and not just a cool look.

Online

Fantastic Mr Fox Pic 3The movie’s official website opens, after making like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape and digging tunnels, with the poster key art recreated on-screen.

Around the screen are various options. First there’s a promotion with Fandango that gives you a free iTunes download of one of the songs from the soundtrack if you buy tickets in advance. We’re also prompted to “Read the Fantastic Reviews,” which opens a pop-up with critic’s quotes and, surprisingly, links to those stories so you can read the full review.

There’s also a link to “Make This Thanksgiving Fantastic.” That opens a new site where you can play the Feast Like a Fox” game, which actually verges on incorporating the augmented reality technology so many people are talking about in that you control how many plates of food Mr. Fox eats by moving your hands in front of your webcam. You can also send a movie-themed e-vite to your friends and family to have them over for the holiday.

Back to the main site, it’s divided into two big categories – Meet the Characters and About the Film.

Under Meet the Characters you can access most of the main characters and, when you click on their names, you get a description of who they are as well as a Wallpaper and Icon you can download with their face on it.

About the Film is where most of the traditional content lies.

“The Film” contains a two-sentence synopsis of the plot that, given how much thought seems to have gone into other aspects of the site, seems a bit brief and disappointing.

The “Cast” and “Crew” sections have the career histories of the stars and creative folks – including Dahl in the latter section – that contributed to the movie.

Both Trailers and two Featurettes can be found under “Video.” and there are about 15 or so stills, a mix of movie photos and behind-the-scenes shots, in the “Gallery.” “Downloads” collects the Wallpapers and Icons that are individually available on each character’s featured page.

The “Fun” section has an interesting mix of offerings. There’s a link to the Dig Deeper blog, which seems to be made up of video posts and posted concept and character art detailing the film’s production. There’s also the Whackbat game that’s played within the movie. If you’ve watched the trailer or video spot that includes this game you’ll know that there’s no reasonably explaining the rules, so suffice it to say you try to hit the flaming pinecone just right and in the right direction and then the players thankfully move themselves around the field. There’s also a link to the iPhone app that’s available for $.99 in the iTunes store.

Finally on the site there’s “Partners” where you’ll find links to Borders, though just to the main page and not a movie-dedicated section, and a page called The Wonderful World of Roald Dahl, which shows all the tie-in books that have been produced and which you can buy, all of which are available on the Roald Dahl official site.

The Fox Searchlight site also has links to much of the same stuff as well as a prompt to engage in the Fantastic Plan. Like the “Feast” game, this one lets you control how fast Fox and his friends dig through the ground and to the farms of their nemeses. If you get there fast enough you can unlock exclusive content like Wallpapers and such.

The Searchlight site also has some of their usual social-media friendly content like a stream of Twitter updates that include mentions of the movie, links to recent press coverage, plenty of pictures and video and other good stuff. A lot of that is then replicated on the movie’s Facebook page.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Aside from Border on the official website I haven’t heard about any cross-promotional partners that have teamed with Fox Searchlight for the movie.

But there has been plenty of advertising. I think I’ve seen a smattering of TV spots, mostly trimmed down versions of the trailers, as well as plenty of online ads. These have mostly recreated the poster key art. These have ranged in execution from pre-load ads that take over a page as you’re trying to visit it to simple banners or square units.

Media and Publicity

Fantastic Mr Fox Pic 2Since the animation style for this movie is so different from what audiences have come to expect over the last few years there was also a featurette posted to Apple that showed off how the puppets, their costumes, the sets and everything else was created and the labor and love that went into the creation of this unique world. It also showed how much of the voice work was captured in real-life locations that mimicked those being created for the movie, so a scene in a truck actually had Clooney recording his dialogue in a truck and such like that. It’s very much an effort to get people talking about the movie and its unique style and, based on the amount of pick-up this featurette got on movie blogs and elsewhere, I think it succeeded in achieving that goal.

While there was plenty of buzz around the release of each successive piece of marketing material, the next major bump came in the wake of a story about how Anderson had, for all intents and purposes, directed the movie via email (LA Times, 10/11/09), something that apparently was more than a little upsetting to the crew working on the stop-motion animation. That story had other elements as well, but that’s the one that most everyone who read it picked up on and, because it was placed at the top of the story, that was obviously the intent of the writers.

That story appeared just days before an industry junket was held in London where some of the biggest industry writers were invited to sit down with the film’s cast and crew and lob softball questions. And then the director’s approach and interaction with his crew was revisited a month later (LA Times, 11/13/09) for, really, no apparent reason than to be able to print a bunch of outtakes from the first interview. It was ostensibly about Anderson’s exacting style and attention to detail but really came off as a half-hearted hit piece that had an odd tone to it.

Luckily there was plenty of more positive press around the movie, from interviews with the cast and crew to exclusive content and other more general musings and buzz from people looking forward to seeing it.

Overall

There is a lot to like about this campaign, especially if you’re a fan of Wes Anderson’s style and story-telling. You’ve got dry humor, kids who just want to please their slightly disconnected but generally well-meaning fathers and an elaborate plan that winds up bringing everyone together in the end. What’s not to like?

But what this campaign does is tell the story well, and that’s ultimately the challenge most campaigns fail to meet. The trailers, posters and even the website certainly make the case for the movie as a pleasant and entertaining way to spend an afternoon at the movies, which is all you can really ask of it.

It certainly is reliant on the hooks of not only Anderson’s name-recognition but also that of the star-studded cast, though even that comes loaded with the fact that many of them are Anderson troupe regulars (Schwartzman, Murray, Wison, etc). But even then it manages to achieve the secondary, though no less important goal of making the movie appealing to families, especially families who are either already familiar with Dahl’s source book or who are looking for an alternative to the computer-animated, pop-culture reference-filled fare put out by many of the studios.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • In the UK there were McDonald’s Happy Meals that tied in to the movie as well as promotions in Gap Kids stores there that gave kids activity sheets to fill out and create with and try to win tickets to the movie.

Movie Marketing Madness: Me and Orson Welles

Me & Orson Welles Poster“The theater…the theater…what happened to the theater?”

That’s the opening line to a song titled “Choreography” that’s part of the holiday classic film White Christmas. Featuring all sorts of what was, at the time, modern dance, the routine basically wonders what happened to the classic theater style in a time of interpretive dance and other craziness.

In 2009 there’s a similar sort of “what happened to what was formerly called the ‘legitimate stage'” going on. Serious shows and edgy fare are few and far between as movie adaptations and revivals crowd out any stage big enough to be worth measuring.

So it’s an interesting time to look back at one of the all-time giants of stage AND cinema mounting a production of Shakespeare’s Julies Caesar. This look comes in Me and Orson Welles, the new film from director Richard Linklater. The movie brings the audience in to the story from the perspective of a young man, played by Zac Efron, who falls bass-ackwards into a role in Welles’ production and who then must navigate not only the formidable presence of Welles himself but also the road to romance with a young production assistant played by Claire Danes.

The Posters

The poster is a mixed bag. While it seems clear on its face – the theater audience, the obvious love triangle, the fact that everyone is literally in Welles’ shadow – it actually becomes less so when you look more closely. That love triangle isn’t positioned into any sort of stare-down or anything, they’re all looking off-camera at someone who’s pointing to an LOLCat on their computer. And the inclusion of Welles there means he is literally standing in his own shadow. And Efron looks like he’s just awoken from a coma.

But it does work from a consistency standpoint in that, as we’ll see, it matches the trailer’s look and feel pretty well. And it is suitably dramatic – especially the title treatment – and so represents the theatrical tone of Welles legacy and such.

The Trailers

Me & Orson Welles PicSimilar to the poster, the trailer certainly puts its stake in the “Theatrical” category in terms of presentation. We’re introduced at first to the character played by Efron and the basic plot point that this period we’re watching him through is the week that changed his life. We’re also given a clear look into the character of Welles and how demanding and egotistical he can be. But it’s the blooming romance between Efron’s and Danes’ characters that moves things along and which will obviously create some of the tension of the movie as her affections become a point of contention between the young genius and the young nobody.

But the biggest thing that comes through is that, despite who the people might be, they’re all just actors around Welles and his room-filling personality. We get glimpses of him in the radio studio and a quick shot of him pulling a little magic to impress a lady. As Welles himself shouts to those assembled on stage, they are all there simply to fulfill his vision and that’s more or less how the characters in the movie are presented as well.

Online

Me and Orson Wells Pic 3The movie’s official website starts off by asking whether or not you’re in the U.S. or the U.K. Once you choose appropriately – in this case the U.S. – you get thrown into the site where you can view the marketing content.

Up first is “Trailer” which is exactly that, the movie’s one trailer. The section does come, though, with a Clearspring widget that you can put on your own site if you’d care to.

Next is “Synopsis” and there you’ll find just a simple two-paragraph recap of the movie’s story. “Press” has pull quotes from a half-dozen newspaper critics praising the movie, though without links it’s impossible to see the context those quotes appear in.

“Gallery” has, by my count, 22 photos, mostly still from the film but also including a couple of behind-the-scenes shots with director Linklater.”Cast and Crew” has the credits and career history of those who made the film happen.

Finally “Downloads” has Wallpapers either for your PC or your Mobile device as well as a handful of Icons you can use for your IM chats.

There’s also a great section that’s only linked to at the bottom, outside of the rest of the menu, called “About Orson.” There Linklater posts archival pictures of Welles, including a shot of him on the stage of the production the movie depicts, photos of books and scripts and a couple of film snippets. It’s not a timeline, but it’s very cool, with Linklater writing short descriptions of the items we’re looking at. I love these sorts of sections on the sites of historic movies and this adds a lot of flavor to the movie, showing that it’s based on facts and research and not just made up out of whole-cloth.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Little to nothing that I’ve seen. I may have come across one or two online ads but that’s about it – nothing on the TV front and nothing in the way of promotional partnerships.

Media and Publicity

Me & Orson Welles Pic 2The movie had its coming out party at the 2008 Toronto Film Festival to some decent buzz but then languished without a distributor for almost a year until it was finally announced a deal had been struck to have Freestyle Release distribute it in the U.S. When it did reemerge, that deal showed it wasn’t a traditional release partnership. Instead there was quite a bit of the DIY mindset behind it (Los Angeles Times, 9/15/09), with the focus being on the eventual DVD release since no mini-major had the interest or the bandwidth to distribute it.

The original War of the Worlds broadcast, one of Welles’ early career-making achievements, was “presented by” the movie on the date of its original airing. This re-broadcast was online only and not available for later streaming, which is disappointing, but it’s still cool that they did it anyway.

Overall

I think the biggest problem with this campaign is that it feels…tacked on? The thought that keeps running through my head here is that after sitting in limbo for so long the campaign, once started, seems kind of rushed and not at a level that it should be for a new movie from one of the major directors of the last 15 years. Part of that is certainly coming from the fact that, instead of the support of a major (or minor) studio it’s being released in what is a more truly “independent” – albeit with significant infrastructure – way.

But what there is of the campaign is pretty good. I like the trailer a lot and feel like it speaks to a couple different audiences – those interested in Welles and his history, Efron fans, romantic moviegoers – effectively. And while I might have nitpicky issues with the poster it’s not bad and I certainly get, and even think it hits, what points it was going for. The website is a tad more disappointing, but what are you going to do about that?

White Gold and the Battle for Milkquarius trailer

OK, just can’t resist this since it’s pretty funny. Via a press release:

TN-589220_whitegoldprimageSAN CLEMENTE, CA – 11/20/09 – White Gold™ – the ragged musician turned rock god thanks to the transformational powers of milk – makes his film debut in 200 movie theaters across the Golden State. With a movie trailer, White Gold promotes his very own 20-minute online rock opera, “Battle for Milkquarious” (www.milkquarious.com). It also encourages teenagers to participate in “White Gold’s Milkdonkulous Giveaway,” where young people could win a total of $50,000 for their California public high schools’ arts, drama and music programs. White Gold’s big screen debut is the latest addition to the teen-focused advertising campaign by the California Milk Processor Board (CMPB), the creator of GOT MILK?

The one-minute, 20-second rock opera trailer will appear right before the main film attraction in National CineMedia (NCM)’s FirstLook pre-feature program at 200 AMC Entertainment Inc., Cinemark Holdings, Inc. and Regal Entertainment Group theaters throughout Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, San Diego, Fresno, Santa Barbara, Monterey-Salinas, Bakersfield, Chico and Palm Springs from Nov. 20 to Dec. 17, 2009. The trailer describes the rock opera “Battle for Milkquarious” and White Gold’s quest to save his girlfriend Strawberry Summers and his hometown of Milkquarious from a potentially deadly milk shortage.

Unfortunately the trailer that’s playing in NCM’s network isn’t online, but you can view a few clips from the movie on YouTube.

Dollars

So if we finished all our Christmas shopping two weeks ago does that mean our spending won’t be counted in the annual hand-wringing over retail sales figures? Probably not, but it should be. That’s just one small reason why the news is broken, because all these breathless stories over the state of the economy don’t look beyond the press releases that are distributed by various parties with skin in the game.

DIY Days videos

I would have loved to have attended DIY Days, an event coordinated by Lance Weiler and others, but thankfully there are some fantastic videos on Lance’s The Workbook Project site that can bring the sessions to us. Below is a presentation by Jon Reiss and, after that, one from Weiler himself. There are a bunch of other videos on the site for viewing and sharing so check them all out.

http://blip.tv/play/kG2BsZkpAg

http://blip.tv/play/kG2BsY8YAg

Heading to WordCamp Orlando

wc-mco-logo-goingDecember’s going to be a busy month. Not only am I attending GasPedal’s SuperGenius conference in Chicago but a couple weeks prior to that I’ll be heading down to Florida for WordCamp Orlando:

WordCamp Orlando is happening December 5, at Rollins College, in Orlando, Florida. We’re bringing together a collection of developers and publishers from around the country to share in their love of words and WordPress. Follow us on Twitter, visit our Facebook page, and Register (it’s only $15 bucks and includes a snazzy after party).

You’ll notice on the site that the event is being sponsored by Voce Communications…hey, that’s where I work. Wow, never put those together before.

The Orlando area is where our incredibly talented Platforms team lives and work – the guys who do all the WordPress development and design work that provides a magnificent home for the content that the rest of the Voce Connect team works with clients on creating. I’ll put their work against anything else that’s being done in the WordPress space and I’ve come to a new appreciation of what the software that runs MMM is capable of just by watching how they bend it to their wishes on various client projects.

Check out the speakers page on the WordCamp Orlando site and you’ll see there are some great folks that are going to be there and some fantastic looking sessions that they’ll be running. Plus there will be the Genius Bar with a host of WordPress experts answering questions and otherwise looking smart.

Anyone who’s in the area (or wants to come in) should definitely register and attend. WordCamp SF a couple months ago was a lot of fun and really interesting and I’m sure this will be no different.