Movie Marketing Madness: The American

Last year we saw George Clooney play a man who enjoys being a lone wolf. His character in Up in the Air, Ryan Bingham, spent 320+ days in the air flying from one place to the next working on laying people off, for which he needed to be as dispassionate as possible about not just the damage he was inflicting on others but also his own life, which was filled with as few accouterments and connections as possible. He could move from one place to the next on a moment’s notice, get the job done and be out before the dust cleared.

His character in this week’s new release, The American, seems to bear more than a little resemblance to Bingham. In this movie, though, he plays a contract killer who works on his own much of the time. When he tries to take a vacation from the killing he winds up in a small Italian village where he tries to find some piece, befriending a priest and beginning a love affair with a beautiful woman. But the violence he’s perpetrated all his life follows him to this idyllic location and he finds himself not the hunter but the hunted.

The Posters

The poster is a wonderfully retro affair with its minimal use of color and other design elements. Clooney is front and center, running toward the camera with gun and in hand and a very stern look on his face. The combination of those two things and the loose suit he’s wearing give the audience the impression that he’s a spy or some other sort of similar operative. And the large woman’s face that forms the background makes it clear there’s a woman involved in the plot who, it can be safely assumed, is going to make life difficult for Clooney’s character.

The Trailers

The trailer is all about making Clooney seem as cool and collected as possible and it works on that front as well as presenting a compelling case for seeing the movie. We start out eavesdropping on a phone call between Clooney and someone else. Clooney wants out of his life, which we later see involves lots of violence, but he’s convinced to take one last job. So it’s off to Italy where we assume he’s stalking his prey but where he also meets not only a couple of beautiful ladies – who likely aren’t what they seem to be -but also an old priest who he strikes up a friendship with. It’s clear there’s danger in the air Clooney navigates around Europe and we see lots of high-power rifles being aimed and then lowered for any number of reasons.

We also get quite a bit of background on Clooney’s character, with his employer stating that he as a long list of enemies, a sequence showing him cleaning his weapon (not a metaphor) while the priest talks about him having the hands of a craftsman and other such hints. All in all it’s an effective trailer that does a good job of showing the movie as being a character study, albeit one with lots of action, sex and intrigue.

A second, much-shorter trailer – it was only 48 seconds long – really boiled the movie down to its essence: Clooney is some sort of high-precision assassin with someone gunning for him, a couple lovely ladies in the mix and a priest who he has an unusual friendship with. It’s awfully short, not much longer than a TV commercial, and so doesn’t break any new ground or really do much of anything that’s interesting other than show off those core three or so main selling points.

Online

The movie’s official website is actually quite a nice production.

The first content section is “The Story” and is where you’ll find a good overview of the movie’s plot and who all the characters are. Information on the people who portray those characters and then those behind the camera can be found under “Cast & Crew.”

There are about 20 stills from the movie, including a few with director Corbijn, in the “Photos” section. “Videos” has both trailers, a handful of TV Spots and some extended clips as well as a featurette.

More information on the movie can be found in “In Depth,” which has some Focus-produced articles that turn the spotlight on Clooney and Corbijn especially. There’s also the “News & Press” blog for the movie that has links to stories about the movie, a blog that confirms what I’ll say later that there wasn’t exactly a ton of press around the movie.

The official site also hosted a blog written by Corbijn that has him sharing updates from the set, talking about working with the actors and other anecdotes. Not surprisingly it features plenty of photos taken by Corbijn, all of which of course look great.

The movie’s Facebook page is pretty good as well, with plenty of updates about the movie’s marketing and other actives, with lots of people commenting that they’re excited about the movie coming out.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

For a movie that has a distinctly artistic feeling it was a little surprising to see a handful of TV spots created. I guess it shouldn’t have been considering Clooney is the star here. The spots present Clooney as some sort of mysterious character who has a troubling secret but the chase scenes seem to be an attempt to give it a Bourne-esque feel for the audience who might be more inclined to see him as an international man of mystery than as a troubled retiring assassin.

Media and Publicity

The movie got a bit of publicity but not the kind that preceded Up in the Air or some of Clooney’s other movies. Some of the bigger stories (outside of those about Clooney’s love life and other personal matters) included a look at just how vastly European the movie’s production truly was (Los Angeles Times, 8/29/10) and then, just before release, the fact that Clooney was awarded the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award (Hollywood Reporter, 7/21/10) for his efforts in that area, including the recent “Hope for Haiti” campaign.

Overall

There’s a lot to like about this campaign, mostly in the realm of its efficiency. What I mean by that is that each component of the campaign does a lot without there being a lot. So that one poster really makes an impact that you don’t notice there’s just the one. Likewise with the trailers – you don’t need that second one since the first does a good job of highlighting the major selling points of the movie without overdoing it.

The website is focused not on flash and sizzle but instead on just showing off what it’s going to take to sell the movie. While there may not be a lot of extras there is lots of information about the movie in the form of news stories and other write-ups that add depth to the marketing. So while it’s not the biggest scale of marketing – though there was plenty of TV advertising done in the last couple of weeks prior to release – it does convey its key messages pretty well. All that remains is to see if the right audience was listening.

3D presentation and the ticket price issue

One of the more interesting narratives from the last year or so is the one around the pricing of movies at the box-office. Specifically, with 3D presentations becoming more and more common the movie industry finally has something that it hasn’t for a long time: variable pricing.

(And no, I’m not counting matinee/evening show differentiations here. I’m talking about walking up to the window and having a choice between Price A and Price B for the same product depending on how you want it presented.)

According to The Wrap, average admission price is up about five percent this year, thanks largely to 3D, which costs you more at the ticket window. But, as this story (Hollywood Reporter, 8/26/10) speculates, there’s a consumer backlash that’s going to hit now or going to hit later, mostly because the Hollywood studios have been converting all sorts of garbage into 3D and then expecting people to pay more for it.

But if Hollywood and their business partners in the exhibition industry are serious about maintaining this pricing model they’re going to have to do what every other consumer industry does: Make it part of the marketing and then occasionally run price-based promotions.

3D presentation is already part of most movie’s marketing campaigns. Any film getting the third-dimensional treatment will have that prominently displayed on the posters, in the trailers and everywhere else.

But exhibitors are going to have to get in the game here and begin making the case for why seeing it in 3D is worth the extra coin. More than that, they’re going to have to start incentivizing this behavior with the good movies so that it carries over into the not-so-good releases. And to do so they’re going to have to adopt some of the same price promotion strategies that other retailers do. Otherwise 3D will die on the exhibition side of the equation long before all the planned 3D movies hit screens.

After the Campaign: Brief Interviews With Hideous Men

(I’m a lousy reviewer of movies. But I am in interested in comparing how accurate the marketing campaign was in presenting the movie accurately when I later wind up seeing the movie itself.)

After reviewing the marketing campaign for Brief Interviews With Hideous Men I came away with the sense that the movie would be an uncomfortable viewing experience. While many aspects of the campaign came off as comedic – especially the trailer, which featured clips of some of the interviews, many of which seemed to be funny – it more or less came off as a black comedy of sorts.

But the movie itself is much darker than that, truly showing the characters in it – especially the men – to be hideous. There aren’t more than one or two real laugh-out-loud moments in the running time. Instead there are plenty of moments that will make you squirm uncomfortably in your chair.

Many of those moments come from the same scenes that seemed more straight-forwardly funny when excerpted in the trailer. But in their entirety and with the context of what’s fully being said they come off as a lot less charming and likable, which is the entire point of the movie.

The major issues between the campaign and the actual film come in that many traditional narrative structures are thrown out in the movie that appear to be pretty standard in the trailer and rest of the marketing. Recollections of a character seem to be blend into one another and it’s unclear at various points whether what we’re seeing is actually happening. But in the trailers all this looks very cut and dried.

Did the campaign misrepresent the movie? Not intentionally. But with a movie that explores such ugly subject matter and is setup in a less than traditional way in terms of story-telling, it’s only natural that some nuances are going to be lost in the marketing. In some cases, such as this one, what’s lost is a lot of context, which can lead to a jarring experience for the viewer.

That’s why the press campaign for movies like this are so important for people to be clued in to. I had a better sense of the movie’s true tone from my reading of some of the reviews and other buzz that came out of its Sundance Film Festival appearance than I did from watching the trailer.

Not sure how to take this…

I think this is kind of interesting.

I’ve been writing Movie Marketing Madness for over six years now and, while traffic to that site is alright, my posts there don’t get linked to very often and don’t seem to generate the sort of discussion I often hope they do.

But my occasional columns for AdAge, particularly the last three or so, seem to be big hits, generating a good amount of comments (one piece got about 25) and spurring some discussion of the topic I address on other blogs I respect a lot.

Could it be, despite what we’ve been told by so many new media evangelists, that there are still advantages to being featured in the traditional press?

(By the way, that last bit is sarcasm. I know there is and have never been one of the doubters of that. Just clarifying.)

Facebook diverting fan’s attention

If you’ve been reading MMM for the last six or eight months you’ve probably noticed I’m increasingly frustrated with the official websites that studios are throwing online for their movies. Lately the online efforts just seem half-hearted at best, with the bare minimum of information being provided there about the movie but with major gaps – no profiles of the actors, a weak synopsis, just one of the three trailers – existing.

This seems to be most prevalent with the sites from the major studios, while those movies from smaller distributors usually get a more robust site, likely to compensate for the fact that they’re not doing a ton of advertising and not having huge public relations pushes.

I’d been suspecting that shift away from an emphasis on the official website was coming as the studio marketing teams put more of their attention toward managing a Facebook presence for their movies.

I bring this up because of a report (AdAge, 8/23/10) showing a number of consumer brands who have the top ranking Facebook pages are seeing traffic to those brands’ official websites drop as engagement rises on Facebook.

I’m the first one to say that Facebook ought to be part of a brand’s online social media strategy, provided there are plans for actual engagement and conversation on that page and it’s not a “set it and forget it” attitude that’s being taken. That holds true for both consumer-facing and B2B companies, who can still benefit from the features that Facebook allows for.

But it’s important to remember that Facebook pages are not owned by the brand that creates them. I’ve drawn the analogy before about them being equivalent to a storefont in a strip mall that’s owned by someone else but which is just rented by the brand itself. That means you, as a brand manager, can set the rules for the people who enter the store but the owner of the building can at any time change the terms of the rental.

Just look at the recent brouhaha over Facebook’s elimination of the boxes on user’s sidebars, something that means all the nifty little applications people used to collect are now hidden. The brands that created them have no control over that and now have to realign their strategy with this new reality.

This sort of situation is why, despite whatever numbers there might be thrown out there, it’s still a good idea to have a web presence that is on-domain and completely owned and which the company/brand controls from top to bottom. No one can dictate the terms of service to you on your own website.

There are always people out there (most of whom are just looking for consulting fees) who are going to advise that companies neglect – or maybe even completely skip – the official site and instead focus solely on Facebook. But they’re wrong, just as the same sort of people when they were advising a completely focus on creating a corporate MySpace page. Again, not a bad idea (at the time) but something that needed to be a spoke in the strategy and not the hub.

Instead what needs to be focused on are tactics that can make that owned hub more engaging with the audience.

Let’s look at movie websites, most of which fail the engagement test outside of one or two casual games that might be tacked on to the page.

Instead of creating a more or less static Flash-based page that doesn’t provide any reason for people to come back all that often, what if it were designed in such a way that it were constantly updated and comments from fans and visitors were welcome on-domain. All of a sudden Facebook (or whatever comes next) becomes a component of an overall engagement strategy and not the only piece of that strategy. Even better, the studio creating that improved website owns the engagement that happens there and can dictate its own terms instead of being beholden to Facebook’s.

Outsourcing the sole outlet for engagement is not a long-term strategy. Facebook will eventually be replaced by something else and there will be a whole new set of terms and operating conditions to adjust to. By taking control of where the conversations are taking place there are a world of new opportunities for brands to take advantage of.

QOTD: 8/25/10

Via Chicagoist:

Seriously, if Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” is the best the summer of 2010 can come up with were are all seriously fucked.

I really can’t believe you said that out loud

Via Voce sys-admin extraordinaire Sean Osh.

In support of the web-based backbone

(This was originally posted on Voce Nation a couple days ago)

By now I’m sure that just about everyone who’s interested in such matters has read – or at least heard a bit about – Chris Anderson’s latest treatise, the one where he declares “The Web is Dead.” In it Anderson makes the case that web-browsing is becoming anachronistic as more people begin using apps in one of a variety of touch-pad environments.

I get what Anderson is saying, but I think he’s making the rhetorical error of believing that there’s a true cultural shift happening because he sees app environments and developments make headlines and this is the experience he has with his friends and coworkers, most of whom are high-tech early adopters. You may recognize this thinking as being similar to that which had Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World being the biggest film of 2010 mere days before it limped to a fifth place finish its opening weekend. Anytime there’s a tight-knit community of enthusiasts who are largely agreeing with each other there’s the risk of extrapolating that group’s passion to the larger population.

We need to, in order to fully accept Anderson’s point, concede that apps in whatever form we’re talking about are different from the software-based programs that people have been using on their computers for 20 years or more. Which, substantively, they’re not. I download the Tweetdeck application to my Mac desktop and it uses the internet but not “the web,” a differentiation helpfully pointed out by Colin Crook in some internal back-and-forth within Voce on this topic. But the experience I have using the Tweetedeck app on my phone isn’t all that different from using that desktop software. Apps are simply the next evolution of software.

Is there a shift away from browser-based functionality? To some extent. People may use Evernote to draft a blog post that they then paste into the WordPress app on their iPad, all using the internet but never touching the web. I’m guessing, though, that outside of some people who think they can do their entire job for a week or more just on a tablet device that doesn’t encapsulate the experience the vast majority of people are having.

On the backend most of these things still have web-based components. The blog that post is displayed after that copy/paste process above is finished still exists on the web. Similarly it’s always been a ridiculous argument to say that feeds are what matters and not websites since those feeds need to be generated from a website in some manner or another.

Look even at Twitter. If you want to engage in an update-based conversation there you need to setup an account, which brings with it a web presence for your username. People may choose to interact via text message but that web presence is essential for publishing. With the introduction of “Fast Follow” it’s possible to follow a profile via text without going through the account creation process, but that’s consumption only. Publishing still requires the web.

Getting even more philosophical, there’s never really been a pure “web experience.” It’s always been through an application, whether that’s Netscape Navigator or Chrome. So the user experience has, to some extent, always been app-reliant.

Nick Gernert, who heads up our Platforms Services team, added the following as well:

The web is beautiful in that it’s platform agnostic. We make a website here and we know it’s going to be working on OS X, Windows, Linux, PS3, Wii, mobile device, whatever (safe for maybe a few browser inconsistencies). There’s a lot of comfort in that as a developer and a lot of efficiency to be gained as a result.

That can’t be said of apps currently. You make one thing for the iPhone, another for a BB, another for Android and yet another app for Mac and PC if you’d like desktop clients. While the experience of these apps can be great and increase your overall satisfaction with the service, they can become a bear to maintain because now you’re supporting five apps instead of one. Suddenly the potential beauty of your app can be its detriment when bugs arise or certain platforms are neglected over the more commonly used ones.

There are price considerations also that move beyond the philosophical and into more practical areas. Data charges are common which limit some usage of the very functions, including apps, that make a smart-phone so smart. And the phones themselves are still more expensive than many people can manage on top of the computer and web connection that allow them to send far-off grandparents pictures of Johnny’s first steps.

The bottom line is that the web isn’t going anywhere in the foreseeable future. Too many services count on it as the backbone of their infrastructure, some precisely because of the fact that it’s accessible regardless of the platform being used.

Note the word “campaign”

I finally checked out a story in Forbes (08/17/10) wherein the magazine’s staff picks out what they feel to be the 20 best social media campaigns of the last 12 years or so. The story, as usually happens with such things, got me riled up a bit. I’m a bit agitated mostly because this is yet another example of a focus in the press on campaigns, meaning those efforts that have a definitive starting and ending date. And I feel like the attention that they receive in the press is disproportionate to that paid to social media efforts that are on-going.

I don’t mean to take away from the hard work and creativity that goes into these advertising and marketing campaigns. There are a lot of bright people that work on them and they turn out killer stuff sometimes.

But on the other side of the coin are programs like the ones we run at Voce that are ongoing and which day in and day out require more than a little sweat equity, both on the part of the agency-side team and those working on the project at the client company. Three of the blogs Voce has designed, developed and continue to help manage editorially were recently featured on Mashable as being among the 15 best corporate blogs out there, a nice bit of recognition.

Those clients – and the others we work with on such programs – are great because every day they realize there’s work to be done and they’re the ones that are going to have to do it. More than that…they want to do it. There’s an eagerness every day to make it happen and put the work in to making the blog work. They know that no one is going to do it for them.

They also know that putting the day-to-day effort in on programs such as these have more long-term benefits than many of the time-specific campaigns that get so much recognition. Josh touched on this topic when he wrote about maximizing long-term search value. So many times I’ve heard about client blog posts being among the top search results for information people are searching for years after that post has been published. Likewise, those strong search showings as well as growing ongoing readership means a number of clients have been able to decrease other marketing spending because the blog is becoming such a direct revenue source.

It’s about time those sorts of programs started being counted among the best social media efforts being run. There’s a commitment that goes in to them that deserves the same sort of recognition that is usually reserved for these nice, tidy campaigns, few of which last long enough to iterate or evolve significantly.

Movie Marketing Madness: The Switch

There’s a great line from When Harry Met Sally about waiting too long to have a baby. While she’s telling her girlfriends over lunch that she’s left her longtime boyfriend because he didn’t want a family, one of Sally’s friends points out that her biological clock must be ticking. But Sally corrects her and points out that, no, the clock doesn’t really start ticking for another four or five years. My guess is that had she not then gotten around to dating – and eventually marrying – Harry she would have said something similar three or four years down the road.

Unwilling to wait until the clock really starts ticking (or maybe because it already has) is Jennifer Aniston’s character in the new movie The Switch. Aniston plays a woman who is tired of not being able to settle down in a relationship with a guy and so decides to have a baby through artificial insemination. This comes as quite a shock to her best friend (Jason Bateman) who has harbored an unrequited love for her for a dozen years. But after drinking too much at a shower of sorts he accidentally spills the “material” she was going to use and, in a drunk panic, replaces it with his own, though he doesn’t remember doing so the next morning. After she does indeed become pregnant the movie skips six years or so and the similarities between the child and himself begin to become evident, potentially providing the catalyst for the two friends to finally get together.

The Posters

The movie’s one poster is pretty simple, adopting the tri-stripe deign that has plagued hundreds of other one-sheets. Aniston gets the top slot, adopting a shocked expression that is designed to make us think something she just. cant. believe is going on off-camera. This is a familiar expression for Aniston, one that’s immediately recognizable from countless episodes of “Friends,” usually resulting from something Ross was doing to try and win her heart.

The bottom is given to Bateman, who’s grimacing while holding a sample cup. If you’ve watched the trailer you know he’s considering what to do with the suddenly empty cup but unfortunately on the poster he looks like he’s weighing how disgusting it might be to take a shot of whatever’s in there.

The poster sells the stars primarily and counts on the audience finding their ability to react to things in a funny way attractive. The copy about it being “The most unexpected comedy ever conceived” works a little too hard to sell the pregnancy angle but without a solid visual to hand on to it does what it can.

The Trailers

The first trailer is utterly predictable and spells out just about every imaginable key moment from the movie itself but is still fairly funny, thanks largely to the efforts of Bateman.

We meet Bateman’s and Aniston’s characters and get a quick insight into their relationship, which is that of long-time friends despite Bateman having feelings for her that he’s never expressed. So he’s supportive if disappointed when Aniston announces she’s planning to be artificially inseminated by a stranger. But an accident in the bathroom with the sample leaves a drunk Bateman with a decision to make, one he doesn’t remember the next day. Cut to seven years later when the resulting child now six years old and Aniston moves back to New York, resulting in Bateman realizing what he did and trying to figure out how to deal with that.

It’s funny enough but doesn’t really leave a whole lot to the imagination, which is likely the point as movies like this need to be as familiar and non-threatening as possible in order to succeed. So it practically pleads with the audience that it’s not going to pull any twist dark endings on them.

Online

The movie’s official website opens up with The Trailer playing with photos from the movie framing that player.

“The Story” gives an overview of the movie’s plot and make a big deal of promoting that the film comes from “the people” behind some other cute semi-independent movies that have come out in recent years. More on that later.

There’s a section for “The Soundtrack” as well as a link to where it can be downloaded in iTunes, though since I don’t recognize any of the artists there I can’t say the emphasis is because they have a collection of hot singers.

Finally, “The Gallery” has about 16 stills from the movie.

The movie’s Facebook page has updates on new clips and other marketing materials being released and other news, including some photos from red carpets and. There’s a big emphasis here on the relationship people have with their friends, up to and including a “Baby Maker” app that lets you combine the faces of you and someone else to see what kind of baby you’d create.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There were a number of TV spots that were primarily focused on showing off the verbal sparring between the two stars. Some focused on the pregnancy and some focused on the relationship between the two characters.

Online ads largely took the form, based on my exposure, of video units that played some film clips in one section while another recreated the poster art.

Media and Publicity

Not much in this area. Aniston and Bateman did some press tours and interviews, but there weren’t really any big stories that broke through into real buzz generators. As is usual with Bateman films, some of the press talk turned to the eventuality of an “Arrested Development” movie, with Aniston even getting in on the fun by saying she’d love to appear in that movie if or when it happens.

Overall

OK, so the marketing may have taken a few liberties and engaged in some hyperbole about the pedigree of its filmmaking team, but that’s not that huge a deal to anyone outside of Hollywood insiders.

Other than that it’s an alright campaign but nothing that is going to knock anyone’s socks off. The movie is kind of being discarded as chaff by Miramax, the result of it going through a protracted acquisition game. But the marketing is still funny enough and despite some obvious slacking (I’m looking at you, website) it makes a half-hearted but effort to reach the audience that finds the two stars charming and engaging, presenting a movie that is absolutely safe as an entertainment option to middle America.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 08/23/10 – Aris makes a compelling argument that the movie might have been more successful at the box-office if it had appealed more directly to men, especially in the publicity and press components.
  • 08/24/10 – Part of the post-mortem includes speculation that Disney – which agreed to distribute the movie even though it was picked up by Miramax, which is now in limbo – may have skimped out on the marketing push. I don’t know if I buy that – I saw plenty of advertising for it – and it may be, as the article then goes on to speculate, that Aniston herself just couldn’t guarantee a big opening despite what amounted to a full effort on her part.