MMM in 2009

mmm-logo-red-name2009 was another…interesting year here at MMM. I think there’s been the usual mix of good and bad stuff that I’ve published. I took October off completely. I’ve found that the worst thing I can do for traffic is actually publish – seriously, my visit stats go up every time I don’t write anything and drop like a rock when I do. RSS subscribers are up to an all-time high and I continue to hear that a lot of smart people read my stuff.

Amongst – and making up a fair portion of – the mediocrity have been the almost 60 Movie Marketing Madness columns published this year. Some weeks there were none, some weeks there were three or even four. Sometimes they’re short, sometimes they’re 10 or more pages long. But these columns continue to be the cornerstone of this site and I still, for whatever reason, enjoy writing them and see no end in sight for either those pieces specifically or even this site in general.

So to wrap up the year I made a couple of changes and updates to the way I do things.

  1. I’m no longer publishing “Picking up the Spare” as a separate post but instead am adding those items to the bottom of the previously published columns. All previous “Spare” items have been added to the appropriate posts (ie, all the additional GI Joe stories are now at the end of MMM: GI Joe, etc) and this is how I’ll continue doing things moving forward. I think it’s just neater and makes the column more of a complete record rather than having half a dozen additional posts about it.
  2. I’ve updated the Best of MMM page with some good stuff from 2009. Check it out if you like for some of what I consider to be the posts I’m most proud of from the year

Happy New Year to all my readers. I’ll see you in 2010.

–Chris

  1. Bride Wars
  2. Fanboys
  3. He’s Just Not That Into You
  4. Confessions of a Shopaholic
  5. The International
  6. Watchmen
  7. Sunshine Cleaning
  8. Alexander the Last
  9. I Love You Man
  10. Monsters Vs. Aliens
  11. Adventureland
  12. Gigantic
  13. Observe & Report
  14. X-men Origins: Wolverine
  15. Star Trek
  16. Angels & Demons
  17. Terminator Salvation
  18. Up
  19. The Hangover
  20. Moon
  21. Whatever Works
  22. Year One
  23. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
  24. Public Enemies
  25. Bruno
  26. Weather Girl
  27. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  28. Shrink
  29. Funny People
  30. Paper Heart
  31. G.I. Joe – The Rise of Cobra
  32. Cold Souls
  33. Inglorious Basterds
  34. Extract
  35. Whiteout
  36. Bright Star
  37. Jennifer’s Body
  38. The Informant
  39. Paranormal Activity
  40. Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
  41. A Serious Man
  42. The Invention of Lying
  43. Peter & Vandy
  44. Couple’s Retreat
  45. Trucker
  46. An Education
  47. Where the Wild Things Are
  48. (Untitled)
  49. The Men Who Stare at Goats
  50. 2012
  51. The Fantastic Mr. Fox
  52. Up in the Air
  53. The Slammin’ Salmon
  54. Crazy Heart
  55. Invictus
  56. Avatar
  57. Sherlock Holmes
  58. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Hive conversations

As part of the launch of the Hive Awards, a series of videos was produced featuring Adweek’s Brian Morrissey instigating interviewing Noah Brier, Ian Schafer and Hive Award founder Alan Wolk. Below is the first of the three videos and you can check out the second and third installments at Ian’s site. Good stuff.

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=7648005&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1

The Social Media Bubble Part 1 of 3 from Hive Awards on Vimeo.

Movie Marketing Madness: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

If you had just one word to describe the public reputation of director Terry Gilliam what would it be? Here are some options: Troubled; Visionary; Auteur; Delayed.

All of these could be applied to just about any of the films Gilliam has made over the last two decades. How many times have we read variations on the following: “In the pursuit of creating his latest troubled film the visionary director has been delayed yet again as reality bumps up against his auteur sensibilities.” That happens all that time, right?

But part of what we love about Gilliam is that he keeps pushing the envelope and keeps refusing to work within the studio system. He’s ornery and we kind of need him to be the crazy uncle in show business, the one who shows up in a sports car with the girlfriend 20 years younger than him and refuses to even discuss it.

The latest movie to encounter troubles on its way from the director’s head to the movie screen is The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. The movie tells the story of the head of a traveling theater troupe who owes his success to constant gambling with the devil. But now the devil has come to collect his winnings – Parnassus’ teenage daughter. It then falls to Tony, part of the troupe, to save her from the devil’s clutches.

But it wouldn’t be a Gilliam production without problems on the set. This time those troubles came in the form of the death of Heath Ledger. No, The Dark Knight was not his last movie. Ledger was in the middle of shooting Parnassus when he passed away, making this the actor’s actual final appearance. Instead of recasting or using a body double for his incomplete scenes, though a trio of actors – Jude Law, Colin Farrel and Johnny Depp – have stepped in to finish the role in a move that seems both respectful and suitably deranged given the types of stories Gilliam is apt to tell. So let’s look at how it’s being sold.

The Posters

Only one poster seems to have been produced for domestic U.S. audiences, though others were created and geared for international distribution.

The U.S. one-sheet makes it incredibly clear that we were entering into another world with Gilliam and his actors. The main image background is that of a curtain tent, just the kind you’d expect to see as part of a traveling circus or other show like it. Below that curtain is a wonderous landscape with hills in the background. But between those hills is a doorway that breaks the gloom of the cloudy skies and presents a bright and fanciful image with odd looking buildings looming, balloons flying through the sky with a black and white tiled road leading to it.

While the visuals evoke a sense of wonder and fancy the cast is not neglected at all. Ledger and Cole are seen at the top, in front of the curtain, and Plummer and Tom Waits are positioned flanking the doorway. At the very bottom of the poster the entire cast is featured in smaller boxes of their own, including Ledger in the middle and all three other actors who have picked up his role.

It’s a decent poster that certainly makes it clear – even without his name appearing above the title treatment – that it’s from Gilliam since anyone who’s familiar with his work will recognize this as either being from him or certainly inspired by him at the very least. And for that audience, those fans of Gilliam, it immediately transports them to the world he’s created, which is what they’re mostly looking for from the director to begin with.

The Trailers

The trailer was actually the first bit of domestic marketing that was released and it’s pretty cool. It certainly strikes a more epic tone than the trailers for some of Gilliam’s other recent movies.

The spot starts out by introducing Parnassus and just what the stakes are – He very literally made a deal with the devil that gave him eternal life. But in return any child of his becomes the property of the devil upon their 16th birthday, which is now approaching for Parnassus’ only daughter. But then someone appears that could help. We then get a look at the performances of Heath Ledger and the men who stood in for him after his death: Jude Law, Colin Farrel and Johnny Depp.

In addition to that we also get a good look at the film’s visuals, which appear to be outstanding. *This* is what a Gilliam film should look like. There are crazy costumes, outrageous magical landscapes and characters that are drawn so broadly they may as well be actually drawn. The music that plays combined with the quick cutting and fast paced edits make it an experience not unlike a carnival ride, which may be completely accurate for the film itself and certainly do a good job of bringing in the audience.

Online

The movie’s official website puts the trailer in the middle of a reworking of the poster art, with a link to “Download the Press Kit” below as well as an area to find “Showtimes” near you.

There’s also a “Click Here to Find out More” area that’s pretty interesting. First in that section is Support the Site which actually takes you to a blog that’s been updated with media appearances by Gilliam, links to reviews of the movie and more. There are also links here to the movie’s Facebook profile, which is a re-purposing mostly of the same content you’ll find on the blog, a not-very-active Twitter account and a UK sit devoted to Gilliam called “Dreams.” Basically these are the ways you can connect to the movie specifically or to Gilliam and his vision more generally.

After you’ve checked all that out you can Enter the site.

“Cast & Crew” puts the major players on the Imaginarium’s stage and lets you click them to find out more about the actor, which is a good way for a movie like this to present that information.

I’d say there are about 25 stills in the “Gallery,” mostly production photos but with a couple shots of Gilliam behind the scenes thrown in for good measure.

the “Media” section says it has the Trailer (it does) as well as some Scenes and other material but I couldn’t get any of those links to work. If they weren’t there I would hope it would say “coming soon” or something but it doesn’t so I’m hoping that’s just user error on my part.

“Links & Reviews” right now just has links out to the trailer on Apple, cast interviews on various sites and such like that, with no reviews to be found. Many of those are on the above blog but here they’re labeled as still “coming soon.”

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Not much of the paid variety. I seem to think I’ve seen a handful of online ads for the movie but that’s been scarce and there’s been nothing, to my knowledge, in the way of TV commercials or other such advertising.

Media and Publicity

The film racked up a good amount of frequent flyer miles, making its initial appearance at Cannes and then later screening at the Toronto Film Festival and the Hamptons Film Festival. With a movie like this that kind of schedule is key since it needs not only the people in attendance but those following the updates from the festivals to succeed. Indeed much of the resultant buzz pegged this as a true return to form for Gilliam after a few years of misfires and unsuccessful experiments.

Gilliam also made the trip to Comic-Con – his first such appearance – to get the buzz going for the movie, an appearance that came with a bit of footage designed to show off not only Heath Ledger’s performance but also the general look and feel of the movie. Some of those clips were later released online, but they’re very much snippets that are free of much of the context that would make them clearer to the viewer.

But mostly the media coverage was of the same sort of tone as this New York Times (12/11/09) piece and talked about the tragedy of Ledger’s death coming half way through production and the way this sort of trouble seems to follow Gilliam around from film to film. It’s an unfortunate narrative but one that the filmmaker doesn’t seem to be able to shake, due largely to his insistence in working outside the system, something that gives him more freedom but also opens him up to all sorts of delays because of financing and other problems.

Overall

It’s not a bad campaign. I quite like the trailer and the poster and especially the blog that was part of the official website. And Gilliam and the rest of the crew have done their best to execute a good media push, something that’s going to be important for movies like this which need to reach their core target audience first and everyone else if it has time. It needs to get Gilliam fans out to see it, with the rest of the general public more or less written off, with the assumption that it’s not going to appeal to them in the face of so many other cinematic choices available to them.

But while it does achieve those goals, I think, it’s probably going to fall between the cracks of the general consciousness as it’s drowned out by the massive, massive campaigns for Avatar and Sherlock Holmes. It’s good, though, and I’m glad to see such a cohesive and well-constructed effort for a movie that at one point looked like it was going to languish in obscurity.

Too cool for the room

After watching “Dollhouse” here’s usually the progression of my thoughts:

  1. That was so cool
  2. OK, so let’s figure out how these new revelations fit with what we know already
  3. OK, so let’s figure out how these new revelations fit with what we know is coming via Epitaph One.
  4. Why isn’t this the most popular show on TV?
  5. Wow, this show handles interesting moral issues in a really unique way that provides no clear answers and lots of room for people to think about it themselves and come to their own conclusions and is full of characters who consistently defy expectations.
  6. #5 is probably the answer to #4.

If you took the last six or seven episodes from the first season (plus the best parts of the other episodes) and all but two or three from season two you’d have one of the finest examples of how to tell a story using the medium of television ever. I’m glad it got more of a run than “Firefly” did but will be sorry to see it go. It also kind of stinks that the final few episodes aren’t on until the middle of January.

Movie Marketing Madness: Sherlock Holmes

“Get a new attitude and come back when you’re ready.”

That phrase seems to be a favorite both of parents with children who need an attitude check (especially around this time of the year as stress levels are approaching “Chernobyl”) and movie studio execs who have been thumbing through the list of properties they own and find one that hasn’t been rebooted in the last 90 days. Any characters that might be seen as old fashioned and “classic” are given to a screenwriter or two with orders to go ahead and retain the setting but revamp the attitude, giving them more of a 21st century feel, dialogue and mindset.

Such seems to be the case with Sherlock Holmes. Born in the novels of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the world’s greatest detective was a character who could walk in to a room and immediately take in his surroundings and make deductions about everything – and everyone – in it. A lifelong bachelor, he would then retire to his humble Baker Street flat and practice his violin, preparing for the next adventure with his business partner and roommate Dr. Watson.

Holmes has now been given a facelift and the requisite new attitude in Sherlock Holmes, the new film from Warner Bros. that stars Robert Downey Jr. as the titular hero, Jude Law as his right-hand man Watson and Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler, one of the only female characters to make any notable appearance in the Holmes mythology. Far removed from the classic Basil Rathbone films, this movie portrays the detective as a slovenly playboy who, while retaining some stock Holmes characteristics as being an excellent boxer and a master of deduction, recasts his persona as being more quirky than stoic. Directed by Guy Ritchie, this version of the character is, as I said above, meant to bring the character into the 21st century and make him more of a conflicted hero of the kind we’re meant to relate to in this day and age.

The Posters

The first batch of posters, which began appearing a while ago at the ShoWest trade conference, were designed to introduce us to the characters and give us a sense of the attitude and style the movie would be giving to them. Character-specific one-sheets were created and released for Irene Adler, Lord Blackwood – the film’s primary villain – Watson and Holmes himself, all of which also sported a quick little bit of copy meant to describe that character. So, for example, McAdams’ Adler is given the line “Dangerously Alluring” since she’s supposed to be both more dangerous than she seems and exactly as alluring as she seems. All of these characters are given a foggy, kind of grimy London background, with Big Ben and Parliament (I’ll give you all a moment to go to YouTube and look up the National Lampoon’s European Vacation clip…..alright ready to continue?) barely visible through the fog behind them.

The final theatrical poster brought Holmes and Watson together in the center of the design, with a variety of things behind and around them. Pictures of Adler and Blackwood are on opposite sides of the poster, with other items such as the 221 Baker St. streetlamp, a pistol, a variety of medicine bottles and Watson’s dog arranged around the like they were on bookshelves or something. The color scheme is the same – that sort of iron gray/green – and this time there’s an absolutely awful copy point just above the credit block, “Holmes for the Holidays,” that proves almost all puns are unnecessary puns.

The Trailers

The first trailer, released quite early this year, is, whatever it’s faults might be, a lot of fun. Starting off with ominous voiceover by the film’s villain Lord Blackwood we’re quickly told that this is a game being played between him and Holmes that stretches the boundaries of nature itself. Holmes isn’t seen until well into the spot’s running time and Watson well after that. But we get the general idea that the film is an amusement park ride that’s equal parts Jack Sparrow and Indiana Jones, with lots more action sequences and humor than you’re going to remember if you grew up on the Basil Rathbone flicks being shown Sunday afternoons on “Family Classics.”

The second trailer is 92 percent the same, with the addition of just a few bits of dialogue and footage. But there’s barely enough additional material her to even call it a second trailer. Instead it’s more of a re-edited version of the first spot since the timing is identical on the character reveals, Rachel McAdams still doesn’t get any dialogue and we’re still no closer to anything resembling a clear idea of the plot outside of the initial warning from Blackwood and a brief bit about him rising from the grave. Unfortunately those omissions, which were excusable in the first trailer because it could be written off as teasing the film, become more noticeable when you realize the second one has not filled in any of those gaps.

Online

The official website for the movie opens, as many do, with the theatrical trailer playing, something you can bypass by simply opting to “Enter the Site.”

Expanding the menu at the bottom of the screen shows that “About the Film” is the first content section available. There you’ll find a Synopsis that’s short on plot but heavy on its attempts to convey the fact that the movie is “dynamic” and exciting before going into the credits of the cast and crew. That then leads directly into “Cast” and “Filmmaker” sections that give more information on the actors and creators of the movie. Finally there are some decent Production Notes that you can download as a PDF.

“Video” is the next section and has the Teaser Trailer, the Main (theatrical) Trailer and two TV Spots. By my count there are well over 30 stills – including a nice mix of production photos and behind-the-scenes shots – in the “Photos” section. You can download a handful of Wallpapers, all the Posters, some Icons and a Screensaver in the “Downloads” section.

Under “Soundtrack” you’ll find samples from Hans Zimmer’s score for the movie as well as links to download it from iTunes or buy it from Amazon.

We’ll come back to “Partners” later but that’s the next section listed. “Sweepstakes” just has links to the sites that offered prizes to their readers connected to the movie. The “Twitter” section opens a pop-up window filled with recent tweets regarding the movie.

The “Solve the Mystery at 221B.sh” section is actually tied to a “viral” campaign that kicked off around the time of 2009’s Comic-Con, when people were handed cards by Warner Bros. that, when the numbers on them were put together, formed an IP address that eventually resolved to the actual URL. The game that’s housed there is actually tied to Facebook Connect and requires you to play via Facebook to find a partner and then solve a mystery that leads directly into the opening scene of the film. While I think that such a continuation or expansion of the story is a great idea, I think the fact that it requires a Facebook account and limits game-play to Facebook is an unnecessary hurdle.

Also along interactive lines is “Unlock Your Sherlock,” which takes you to an MSN site where you can try to hone your powers of deduction to solve a couple of simple mysteries just like Holmes would.

The movie’s Facebook page has videos, photos and updates on the movie’s publicity campaign as well as continued prompts to play the online game that’s tied to the social network. But other than the inclusion of more TV spots than the official site it’s as unremarkable as most profiles are.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Despite the fact that only two were included on the official site there were six or more TV spots created and put in pretty heavy rotation, especially in the week before the movie opened. That week also happened to be the one *after* Avatar opened and so I would imagine air time was a little easier to come across in the wake of that campaign.

The Warner Bros. marketing department stepped in (Los Angeles Times, 10/31/09) after Microsoft reportedly pulled out of a deal to sponsor a TV special from “Family Guy” creator Seth Mcfarlane that the software company at the last moment deemed inappropriate. But WB was only too happy to take advantage of the opportunity, which would give them access to an audience of young hipsters that would then, hopefully, find the more action-oriented and sarcastic tone of the Holmes revamp appealing

There was an interesting promotional package worked out between Warner Bros. and MTV Networks (Mediaweek, 12/13/09) that had the actors and director basically shooting interviews for each of MTVN’s nine cable channels that framed the movie as being in-line with the brand identity of that channel. So interviews for VH1 focused on the romance in the movie, interviews for Comedy Central focuses on the humor and so on. These “takeovers,” with the interview segments framing entire programs or blocks of programming, were then aired on each channel in the week or so leading up to the film’s release.

For a period picture there were a decent number of promotional partners, which are usually hard to round up for such a film since the opportunities for product placement within the movie are pretty limited.

One such partner is the California Lottery, which is giving away studio tours and the eventual Holmes DVD to players of the Sherlock Holmes VIP Movie Experience.

The VisitBritian campaign has the movie’s key art and trailer on its site as well as a a promotion to take a tour of all the Holmes-related locations around London.

Visa offered users of its Signature card the opportunity to attend an advance screening of the movie, a trip on which they could use all the other advantages the card could bring them by way of amenities and perks.

7-Eleven’s promotion was kind of odd, with something about collecting all four coffee traveler mugs, which then had fingerprints you needed to match to the examples on the chain’s website, which then just encouraged more playing of the 221b.sh game. In stores you could also pick off scratch-off tickets that had clues and gave away other prizes.

Online security firm LifeLock seems to have signed on just because they were looking to draft off the movie’s name recognition and hopefully be subsequently associated with reliability and security.

kgb542542 also inked a cross-promotional deal (MediaPost, 12/16/09) with the studio to promote the movie through a deal that let users send questions to the text answer company that it would then answer as usual. kgb created a TV spot featuring movie footage to promote the partnership and advance tickets will have trivia questions about Holmes that those getting the tickets can send in and receive responses to. There’s also exclusive marketing material being offered to those to send the message “sherlock” to kgb in the lead-up to the movie.

Popular Twitter (and other social network) software TweetDeck got in on the act by creating a custom skin for the film that turned the background of the application into a slate-grey color, changing all your friends’ avatars into black-and-white photos and adds little Victorian-type decorations to the bottom of each column. The themed skin is actually part of the 221b.sh game and the Tweetdeck page about the skin points to that.

Media and Publicity

As you would expect with the film being such a vivid re-imagining of a classic character, much of the publicity focused on just how this film departs (New York Times, 1/21/09) from previous cinematic outings by the character. That story and many others like it also centered around how director Ritchie was bringing his own visual style to this re-imagining and how much of the success would be dependent on Downey’s considerable charm and swagger, with his stock (both within Hollywood and among the audience) higher than ever in the wake of Iron Man.

Unfortunately one of the first events designed to start word of mouth buzz for the movie, an appearance at the ShoWest trade show, didn’t turn out as positively as the studio was probably hoping for. In addition to the debut of the previously mentioned posters the first trailer was also shown there and was greeted with mixed to negative reactions, with some in attendance criticizing the visual style of the footage, some taking issues with accents and some just saying it looked corny. It wasn’t all bad, though, with some saying it looked pretty good, akin to what was done with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

Warners got some of that momentum back a few months later by being one of two studios to have Downey – along with others from the movie – appear at Comic-Con in San Diego. There the cast and crew tried to work the uber-geek crowd by positioning their interpretation of Holmes as a precursor to the superheroes of today.

Three months before the first movie was even released came news that the studio was already beginning development on a sequel, such was their faith in the success of this relaunch and their desire to be in a position to move quickly on another installment should this one do well.

In addition to all this the last couple of weeks before release were filled with the usual cast and crew interviews on TV, newspaper stories about how this version of Holmes differed from preceding ones and so on and so forth.

This being the internet and all it shouldn’t be surprising that there are whole communities of people who are fans of the Holmes character and mythology and have come together online to share their interests with each other. One of those sites, The Baker Street Blog, is run by Scott Monty, he of Ford Motors fame. When’s he’s not curating conversations around Fiesta Movements and other such Ford initiatives he’s getting his Sherlock on – and has been since 2005 – talking about this, that and the other thing, with much of his updating lately, of course, being about the developments with the movie.

Overall

While I dig the consistency in branding the campaign shows – the movable type used for the title treatment is repurposed on the website, in the trailers and elsewhere and all the promotional partners did a good job of incorporating the look and feel of the poster art – there are a few areas I feel the effort falls short.

That’s particularly true of the trailers, with the second one being so similar to the first as to be almost indistinguishable. And while I realize the studio is trying to reinvent the character of Holmes for the 21st century, I thought the lack of acknowledgment of its history on the web is almost inexcusable. The producers and everyone else involved in the movie had no problem staying on message in their media interviews about how their vision of Holmes is, in their opinion, more true to the original character than previous films have been so it shouldn’t have been that hard to create a section of content to that effect on the site – something that gives a bit of background and introduces the reader to the whole history of Sherlock and his world.

But all in all this campaign does deliver where it needs to, which is in making Sherlock Holmes appear to be relevant to today’s audience by recasting him as a scoundrel more than a stuffy private investigator. The trailer(s) convey that attitude nicely as do the posters and various supporting materials. Many of the promotional partners feel wedged in (7-Eleven? Really?) but a movie with this many expectations all but demands some level of tie-in support.

Earned, owned and paid media – and the convergence thereof

OK, so I more or less agree with Forrester’s lumping of “types” of media in marketing parlance.

The one quibble I have with it – and it’s admittedly small – is that “earned media” still means things like getting a client in the newspaper since that practice has not gone away, it’s just that other activities have been added on to it.

But the question those of us in my industry usually run in to is something along the lines of “Well, but what do I do with my owned media?” They see the value in having a blog, Twitter account or whatever but aren’t sure they’ll be able to keep it active.

One of the answers I usually give in response is, in addition to industry news and thought leadership type updates/posts, a lot of what is being done in the Paid Media and Earned Media channels. Link to those blog posts your social media team worked so hard on, the newspaper story a PR person spent six months pitching. Write up an overview of the new ad campaign the company is launching.

All of that is an easy source of content that requires little additional research or legwork. It can’t be *just* that but should also incorporate, as I said, pieces and updates designed to advance program goals (pageviews, sales leads, whatever) as well as those smaller updates, the kind that aren’t big enough for a press release or full PR effort but which are still important to communicate and which are going to be appealing to some subset of your audience. But those are easy ways to come up with regular content, by doing what online media is supposed to do: Listen and link.