Keys to remaining relevant

Just a quick off-topic note. Over on OpentheDialogue I put up a post on the seven key steps to remaining relevant as a media organization. I thought it was pretty good, so wanted to give it a little help.

Mach 5 from Speed Racer at Detroit Auto Show

speedracer_mach5.jpgWarner Bros. will be bringing the Mach 5 race car from Speed Racer‘s cinematic debut to the Detroit Auto Show January 19th – 21st.

Obviously the studio is hoping the appearance of the car will ignite some buzz about the movie not only in movie-oriented outlets but also in the auto industry press as well, potentially exposing the movie to a new audience. I’m sure pics of the car will migrate from sites like AutoBlog to Cinematical and so on as the auto press covers it.

Semi-Pro promotional tour dates announced

semiprotour.jpgFunnyOrDie (via JoBlo) has the dates for the comedy tour Will Ferrell and a handful of comedians are embarking on as part of the promotional push for Ferrell’s new comedy Semi-Pro. Ferrell and others are heading out to colleges throughout the month of February to bring both the FunnyOrDie and Semi-Pro brands to audiences there.

Trailers for the movie – and possibly even more – are sure to be part of each date’s events. The FoD page also promises news, pics and more.

The movie opens at the end of February.

I can has poster?

You know you’ve got a genuine pop culture phenomenon on your hands when your movie poster winds up appearing on I Can Has Cheezburger with a walrus on it.


If there’s a guard with a face that comes off I’m in

The best part about these Silence of the Lambs minimates is that the Jodie Foster/Clarice figure can easily be re-purposed by the manufacturer or collector as a Gillian Anderson/Dana Scully figure.

Audience: We’ll tolerate ads. Studios: Good, cause that’s the plan

watchingcomputer.jpgAt the end of this AdAge piece on the transformations the movie rental has recently gone through and the changes ahead of it, writer Brian Steinberg makes the completely valid point that people don’t really want or need another set-top box. That’s important since a lot of these moves include just that.

He also writes:

Should consumers adopt these technologies, the next question will be whether they will welcome advertising adjacent to the video they pay to watch in comfort. The solution won’t be running pre-roll video ads before a downloaded video starts to run, said Universal McCann’s Mr. Cohen. Instead, he added, it could lie in figuring out what type of consumer is doing the downloading, then delivering a message targeted at that individual.

Funny he should bring that up…

A recent panel of network and studio executives at CES expressed the growing opinion, given form by a number of business decisions, that ad-supported free content online is going to win out over paid downloads. People, they find, are willing to tolerate ads in their streaming content if it means they don’t have to pay outright for it.

The studio panelists then make a number of startling admissions.

  1. They’re making money off of digital downloads. It isn’t up to what they make through traditional distribution yet, but they’re not losing money. (Don’t tell the writers)
  2. That even includes Apple’s iTunes. (Don’t tell..well..anyone)

Wow. This is like my dad admitting that Ford cars do in fact have their good points.

In all seriousness, though, I think that executives admissions that this is something they’re moving toward is a good thing. Hulu, various network sites and other distribution points have primed
the audience for this free-with-ads model and it seems to be gaining traction. If the market has adjusted to the point where ad support of free content is generally accepted then that’s the direction they should skate in, though the notion of download-to-own shouldn’t be totally abandoned. Right now the technology is simply not up to that task. But it will be, and content producers should be ready to serve that customer niche as well.

But getting back to advertising in the content, both producers and advertisers should remember that it’s the audience experience that should come first and foremost in prioritizing goals. Producers should not give advertisers carte blanche to infiltrate the experience since it’s eventually going to lead to the same sort of backlash that gave rise to sales of DVD box sets and paid downloads. Measurement and tracking of content as it crosses media platforms will tell everyone involved what sorts of ads work and what don’t, leading to a better experience for everyone.

Movie Marketing Madness: The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything – A Veggie Tales Movie

Veggie Tales are a big hit in my house. It’s by no means the only thing our kids watch, but as Christians we think it’s great that the stories are both entertaining (they’re funny on levels both kids and adults will appreciate) but also contain a positive Christian message. Some of the stories wind up being a little scary to younger kids but overall they’re wonderful shows that give parents looking for an alternative to some of the tripe that’s out there.

When, in 2002, Big Idea decided to expand the Veggie franchise to the theatrical screen, the results were decidedly mixed. On the one had, the movie turned out to be profitable and was one of the top grossing family films of the year. On the other hand, the studio took on too much of a load in the ramp up to the movie, had to lay off a number of staff and wound up being sold to a larger parent as a result.

But now the Veggies are back in theaters with The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything: A Veggie Tales Movie. This one sees the titular Pirates once again embarking on a quest that takes them outside their usual routine (of not doing anything) and helping those who call upon them.

TPWDDA marks a departure for the Veggie Tales brand. It’s the first show or movie they’ve produced that is not based directly on a Bible story. While the filmmakers have made it clear there are Christian themes in the film, it’s still a major departure from the usual formula (Bible story + slight story tweaking + Larry the Cucumber = Finished video). So for as much as the “It’s not a Bible story” might aid in the marketing to non-Christians still seeking good family entertainment, there’s also a risk that the core Veggie audience will be turned off by the move.

Let’s dive into the campaign and see how Universal is handling it.

The Poster

Only one poster was produced, and I absolutely love it. The instantly recognizable characters are right there at the front of a pirate ship in all their bright, colorful glory. The title treatment, which plays down the Veggie Tales name but still features it prominently, is right there below them.

It’s the kind of poster that is easy to see on a kid’s bedroom wall, or repurposed (as it is) for the cover to the movie’s soundtrack. The bright colors and sense of fun are easy to pick up from the image and gives the audience not only instant brand awareness (Oh look…It’s Larry! And Mr. Lunt!) but also conveys the idea that this is a large-scale adventure with a wide array of familiar characters.

The Trailers

The first trailer for the movie actually began appearing on some of the regular Veggie Tales DVDs back, I think, in 2006. That gave it instant access to an audience of existing franchise fans and began to build awareness of the coming movie very early. The trailer is a mix of a little bit of finished – or at least nearly finished – footage from the movie, a couple interviews with the men behind the microphones as well as concept art from scenes yet to be animated. It’s a very nice way of saying, “We’ve got this new movie coming out in 2008, here’s a preview.”

The second trailer was released in the summer of 2007 and, honestly, was the first reminder I’d had in a while that the movie was coming.

This one is much more a traditional trailer, at least in most regards. It starts off with footage of scary pirate ships like those in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. An ominous voice over warns of the adventures that are about to unfurl when all of a sudden the action is interrupted by singing vegetables. It then progresses into a brief outline of the movie (someone is lost and that person’s family enlists the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything to help, believing them to be heroes) alongside a bunch of jokes about just how ridiculous these vegetable pirates are. It’s a good trailer that likely would have the kids who like the Veggie Tales videos laughing, especially when Mr. Lunt asks if anyone knows where the bathroom is.


When you first pull up the movie’s official website, the first thing that greets you is the same artwork that graces the poster. There’s a ton of stuff that’s there even before you fully enter the site. There’s the option to Join the Pirates Fan Club, Get the Soundtrack, Enter the Sweepstakes and check out movie-branded toys and clothing. There’s also a link to the general Big Idea press room and a Partners pop-up that shows KFC was also on board (sorry) the movie’s campaign, with the movie gracing their kid’s meals.

Once you do enter the site there’s a bunch of interactive content that is available. When you mouse over any of the characters that appear you get a brief audio clip from that character.

The first section of actual content is “About the Film.” There’s a very good Story synopsis that sets up the very nicely as well as provides a brief primer on Veggie Tales as a whole in lieu of all the usual fluffing that’s done of a studio or producing team or something. The About the Characters section is one of the best that I’ve seen on a film site. Instead of being written like an outline, with no cohesive feel, it’s instead written like a column about the characters and it all sort of blends together, introducing each character in turn and doing a nice job of it at that.

That same sort of style is carried over to the The Crew section, profiling the creators and contributors to the Veggie Tales series. Finally in this section there’s a nice series of Production Notes that cover most of the high-points of the film’s making. Not as in-depth as on some sites but it doesn’t detract to how well the other sections are put together.

There are about a dozen or so still pics in the “Photo Gallery.”

“Video” contains two trailers, including one that I hadn’t seen before that’s really good, two TV spots and A Look Inside. There’s also a part labeled Clips but that’s still shown as “coming soon.” The Look Inside is basically an extended clip of the “Rock Monster” song that appears in the movie, with various facts about the Veggies popping up from time to time, a-la Pop Up Video. Some are factoids, some are very promotional in nature such as when the Veggie Tales show airs on NBC and such. But it’s funny, so it works.

“Downloads” takes you to a Screensaver and a selection of Wallpapers and Buddy Icons. “Printables” is a bunch of Veggie-activities that you can download and print out to enjoy like Stickers, Book Covers, Coloring Pages and more.

If you visit “Meet the Veggies” you’re taken to character profiles that include a brief description, a short video clip featuring that character and a handful of audio clips. More audio is found under “Talk Like a Pirate” which gives you a fun definition of various pirate phrases along with clips of that word or phrase.

Finally there are three games under, appropriately, Games.

I didn’t say so after each section, but the entire site is most definitely geared toward kids eight and younger. The games, the printable projects and just the overall site functionality make it clear to me that Fox created the site with the single-digit crowd in mind. That’s absolutely a good thing since that’s the audience for the movie and their parents have to be comfortable with their kids seeing it as well.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

I’ll admit to being a bit surprised when I saw a bit of outdoor advertising for the movie in New York City and Chicago. Pa Grape appeared on a taxi cab-top ad in NYC and both he and Mr. Lunt got the character poster treatment in outdoor ads in Chicago. In the final week or so before the release I also saw taxi-top ads with the same imagery or Mr. Lunt, Pa Grape and Larry the Cucumber as well.

The studio also was mentioned as a sponsor of Noggin, the commercial-free cable channel that plays Nick Jr. programming for young kids, throughout the Christmas holiday and New Years time period. True to Noggin’s mandate there weren’t any actual ads, but the announcer would break in occasionally and mention that Noggin was being brought to us by The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything: A Veggie Tales Movie while the movie’s title treatment appeared on the screen

That, I thought was a risky sponsorship move. Yes, it brought the movie’s name to a solid target audience of kids aged 2 to 7, but it counted quite a bit on the idea that interest would be generated among those not already fans of Veggie Tales by the name alone. If you don’t already know about the Veggies, this alone is not likely to spark your interest, especially since I don’t think there was any sort of strong call to action to visit the Website or anything. Yes, existing fans will be reminded nicely, but it does little to draw in new members of the audience.

Universal also lined up a number of promotional partners for the movie’s release. A good number of those will be targeted specifically at Christian audiences, with books and such that are in line with the usual Veggie Tales products. There will also be outreach to churches and youth groups that is specifically tied to the movie, with promotional kits being mailed out to thousands of churches.

Other efforts, some of which will be less overt in the acknowledgement of the franchise’s Christian roots, also include movie-themed books and other items. The characters also made appearances at events like minor-league baseball games, music festivals and more.


The campaign, I think, does a pretty good job of reaching its target audience of kids 10 and under. The funny, punny posters and ads, the way they sponsored Noggin for a weekend that was sure to have plenty of watchers and a Website that was very kid friendly, combined with trailers that feature the usual Veggie wackiness, are going to be very familiar to kids who already are fans. And parents will feel assured by the campaign that the movie is a faithful extension of the franchise they already consider kid-appropriate, which is an important goal to achieve.

There is quite a marked down-playing of the Veggie’s usual Christian message, but that’s alright I think. It seems like, based on the clips that are available and the material in the campaign, that the core themes are still intact, just not as overt if they had been expressed through a retelling of an actual Bible story. I wasn’t exposed to any of the church-outreach efforts Fox engaged in so I can’t comment on how that might have differed from the mainstream campaign, though it likely was quite different.

Remaining relevant in seven easy steps

“Relevancy” is a word that’s thrown around a lot these days. Ads online are “contextually relevant” to the content they appear next to. Brands strive to remain relevant to customers who have many (a plethora?) of choices in whatever category that brand operates in.

Relevance to the mind of the consumer is, like trust, something that needs to be earned. And like trust it needs to be earned time and time again, at every touchpoint through which the brand interacts with its audience.

All of that is especially true when we’re talking about media choices. Established players need to work harder than ever to remain relevant to an audience that sees more of what they’re looking for in blogs and other outlets created by people who they feel a connection to.

So what is a media company to do?

  1. Start your own blog: Seems like every media outlet is going bloggy. Inc. just launched four new ones to add to their existing roster of blogs that cover a variety of business niches. The Chicago Tribune, like other papers, has a ton that roughly replicate parts of the paper. Creating journalist-produced blogs is great since it can add depth and personality to news coverage. But it’s also important for these writers to join the larger community writing about their beat (whatever it is there will be one). That’s the kind of practice that brings about more readership, more engagement and ultimately leads to trust and relevance. Blogs do not exist in a vacuum and so their writers need to be commenting elsewhere, linking out generously and otherwise acting like a part of a village.
  2. Pay attention to what others are doing: Entertainment news brands like Entertainment Tonight have found themselves flanked online by TMZ and others and are only now looking for ways to catch up. I’m sorry to say but it’s probably too late. The online audience is now turning to sites like TMZ and others for their celebrity gossip and not ET. Established players have a finite window of opportunity to mimic developments by upstarts before the audience decides those established brands apparently aren’t interested in servicing this particular need and move their attention elsewhere. They’ve essentially broken the trust and it’s harder to earn BACK then it is to earn in the first place.
  3. Recognize that online is its own entity: If you’re looking at your website simply as a way to gain print subscribers (or TV viewers or anything else) then the online strategy you have is probably not going to work out. There’s no halfway here. If you’re faking it and don’t seem to be fully committed to being an online outlet the audience will be able to sense that a mile away. That sort of thinking also likely means you’re not interested in playing in the larger sandbox, resulting in no one sending traffic your way, no one interacting on the site (what’s the point?) and just getting little to no traction in general. The web needs to be more than simply a means to an end, it needs to be the end itself.
  4. Don’t mess with the trust of others: Whether you’re CBS looking to utilize Digg to expand online content, a newspaper who adds Sphere links to stories or anyone else, don’t mess with the success of an existing brand in order to bend it to your control. If you’re really interested in harnessing the power of something the audience is using and trusting then the best approach to meshing it into your business is to do so in a hands-off manner. Don’t try to game the system, don’t try to utilize control over how its used and don’t – and this is the most important part – honk off the existing user base. That’s a good way to make sure that powerful tool you’re integrating loses almost all its power, defeating the purpose of the purchase or partnership.
  5. Go where people already are: You can hope and pray and strategize all you want, but the simple truth is that the Internet is now simply too big for one outlet to try and become the sole outlet for whatever content it might be we’re talking about. That’s why networks are sending their shows to Fancast, Joost, Hulu, Veoh and a multitude of other sites. The old network model simply doesn’t hold water any longer and so, if you want to reach eyeballs, you need to go where those eyeballs are. Everyone has their own favorite online video site so there’s little to be gained by signing “exclusive” deals or deciding your homepage MUST be where video is viewed.
  6. Make it easy for people to take it with them: The distribution of content is not restricted to officially partnered with sites. Make it easy for people to grab video widgets, graphics or any other materials they want so they can put it on their own blogs, Facebook pages or any other site they wish. They’ve just increased the reach of your content and you didn’t have to sit in 50 hours of meetings with lawyers to make it happen. They’re site is better and your stuff reaches more eyeballs. Isn’t that the very definition of a win/win?
  7. Let people play: We live in a creative society online. People are either creating their own stuff or mashing up existing works and you know what? That’s really OK. Seriously, settle down and realize that someone likes your TV show clip, movie trailer (natch) or other video enough to mess around with it a bit. Even if they’re poking fun at it a little bit, that’s simply because they’re trying to add a bit of humanity to content they considered too self-important or stuffy to be relevant to them. They’ve adjusted the content and adjusted the relevance. That’s a good thing – you should be thanking them for that, not filing C&Ds.