Twitter May Get Bonus-Sized

My latest on Voce Nation:

The entire Twitter ecosystem is built for short updates. Longer posts would break how Tweetdeck, Hootsuite and other apps look. The workaround here would be a “Read more” link to expand a longer post but Twitter is mostly about scrolling through and seeing quick updates. And everything Twitter has done over the last couple years has been about bringing more information into the feed – Cards, auto-loading videos and photos, etc – not trying to hide content. This would go against everything Twitter has done to make consuming and engaging with content more of a lean-back experience.

Source: Rumor: Twitter Mulling Dropping 140 Character Limit « Voce Communications

Young People Really Kind of Hate Ads, So Turn to Content Marketing and PR

Millennials aren’t huge fans of advertising – particularly what for them is irrelevant advertising – and The New York Times is on it. The changing media habits of those under 30 are causing all sorts of agita for advertisers and marketers who want to reach that group and so are figuring out how to do so using emojis, hashtags and other tactics that they believe will speak to them.

This is, quite frankly, great news for PR and content marketers.


Let’s address content marketing first. The NYT story points out that many of the people surveyed and questioned said that ads interrupted whatever experience they were in the middle of at best and were completely useless to them and actually annoying at worst. They are intrusive. Ads always have been and always will be, but they’re the price that is paid for “free” content, whether it’s on/in an app or on TV.

But content marketing – the kind of social publishing that we do every day – *is* the experience. And more than that, it’s largely an opt-in experience. Outside of paid posts on social networks (which are ads and therefore subject to the same opinions as any other ad) if someone sees what Brand X has posted on Twitter, for example, it’s because either they’ve taken the positive action to follow that brand themselves or someone they follow has shared one of Brand X’s updates. In the first case, it can be assumed that those people are open to receiving the brand’s messages. In the second case those messages are received as endorsements from those friends and so are more positively received because hey, if that person thinks this is cool enough to share then maybe I should check it out. It’s basic word of mouth.

For PR this is good news because people still do read the news, even if those media habits are changing. A recent study from Media Insight Project shows how this same demographic are finding the news, sometimes purposely sometimes by happenstance. But they are finding it. And since PR’s core mission is to influence opinions through the media, as long as practitioners are aware of these changing habits and are adjusting their strategies then that will continue to work.

Because PR is organic with media it’s not going to be subject to the ad blocking software that is gaining more and more popularity and threatening to upend media business models left and right. And it’s not going to get caught up in however native advertising ultimately gets regulated (because it *will* get regulated…and heavily).


Even there, though, we’re going to have to stay on the forefront of changing behaviors. The MIP study above shows that people are increasingly – and this has been a behavior that’s increased steadily over the last 10 years – expecting the news to find them instead of deliberately consuming that news. So PR is going to have to make sure they’re working to make sure the stories they’ve secured are reaching the intended audience. And comScore says more and more people are spending more and more time in apps while at the same time mobile website visits are also increasing. So it’s not just enough to push out a blog post. We’re going to have to make sure that content is making its way into a native app of some sort and being shared on platforms that will lead to website visits.

Advertisers are surely freaking out as they try to figure out how to work “on fleek” into their next campaign so it can appear to be relevant and hip to the younger audience. But for PR and real content marketers – those who are concerned about actual content, not just those who have decided their banner ads should be called “content” – this is a time to double down on what we do everyday because it’s those tactics that are going to endure whatever shakes out in the ad-supported media world.

Movie Marketing Madness: The Walk

walk_ver2We all have different things that get our adrenaline pumping. I, for instance, get no kick from champagne. Mere alcohol doesn’t, you know, thrill me at all. But I get really excited as a roller coaster hits the top of the peak and the ride is suspended in zero gravity for a split second. I get no kick in a plane. But you present me with a blank page and a topic to opine about and my heart gets to racing. My sources of excitement may not be everyone’s but they’re mine and yours are yours and hey, whatever floats your boat, right?

For some people that thrill is found in death-defying stunts. That’s the subject of The Walk. The movie tells the true story of thrill-seeker Philippe Petit (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his 1974 attempt to walk a high wire between the two towers of The World Trade Center, then pretty new to the New York City skyline. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, this is the same story that was covered in documentary form a few years ago in the widely-acclaimed Man on Wire. So with many people having seen the real story, the challenge here is to sell a feature film that may take certain licenses with reality in the name of storytelling. Let’s see how it’s being sold.

The Posters

walkThere’s kind of an Ocean’s Eleven vibe coming off the teaser poster, which features a Saul Bass-like design. The two WTC towers are presented as perspective-based lines against a bright blue background, five silhouettes walking along one of them as if they were walking along a sidewalk. This one certainly wants to sell an atmospheric, stylized movie that’s high on attitude and charisma since it looks very much like a heist movie of some kind. Which it kind of is. Or at least it’s a “scheme” movie. Either way, this poster gets points for creativity.

The theatrical one-sheet takes quite literally the opposite perspective. Instead of looking up at the ascending towers we’re now looking down from above them toward the streets of New York City with Gordon-Levitt as Petit walking across his highwire that’s strung between the towers.

This one is every bit as effective but for different reasons. Instead of selling an attitude like the first one, this poster is all about selling the spectacle. It’s telling the audience that the movie will have a certain size and scope, despite being about a single individual. That’s underscored by the “Every dream begins with a single step” tagline at the top and the bright, bold call to see it in IMAX 3D, which in and of itself screams “large scale visual action.”

The Trailers

The first teaser trailer starts off by zooming up the side of one of the WTC towers while we get Zemeckis’ credits including Forrest Gump, Cast Away and other movies, all of which are meant to remind us that he’s big on spectacle and amazing visuals. When the camera reaches the roof we see Levitt as Petit step out onto a girder that’s extended over the side of the building and take the measure of the distance between the buildings, finally finding his balance and looking like he’s fearless there at the top of the world. The camera then pans out and up through the clouds while still looking down, trying to give some perspective on how big and yet how small this achievement would be.

It’s a good trailer that certainly is big on setting the scale of the movie, something that, like the posters, is underscored by the final call-to-action to see it in IMAX. It’s not concerned with the details of the story since everything you really need to know is right there: This guy is going to do something most of us would never ever consider doing.

The next trailer starts off the same way but consolidates the whole “seeing him step out on the girder” sequence and skips giving us Zemeckis’ credentials. What we get more of here is the story. We see Petit arrive in New York and announce his plans to a random customs agent at the airport, at which point we meet the gang of people who will help him pull off his seemingly impossible stunt. Along the same lines I talked about above, this plays very much like a heist movie, with a ragtag group cobbling together a plan to pull off a scheme under the nose of the authorities.

What this trailer makes me think is that it will be interesting to see how Zemeckis pulls the movie off. Usually these kinds of stories have a looser, jazzier feel than the director is usually known for. So if the push pull of the the styles comes off as discordant the movie could be a mess. But if Zemeckis is able to still create a sense of fun along with the tension while still staying true to his own brand of visuals it looks like it will be an enjoyable movie.

An IMAX trailer was also released that was pretty similar to the theatrical one above but with a longer running time – about 4:30 – that included a couple of extended scenes not shown in the other trailers.

Online and Social

Like many such sites, the movie’s official web presence is built on Tumblr, with the theatrical trailer playing as soon as the site loads. Unlike other recent sites, though, this one isn’t designed to look like a traditional website. So there are no content sections like “Video” and so on. Instead you just scroll down through the posts that have been published, including promotional artwork, trailers and TV spots, GIFs, images and more.

walk gif 1

There are two sort-of sections. One of which shows dates and locations where you can partake in a virtual reality experience based on the movie. The other is about “The Impossible Dream,” a tie-in with Levitt’s hitrecord project that encourages people to declare what their impossible dream is, an effort that was inspired by Petit’s own impossible dream, which was to walk across the World Trade Center towers.

The Facebook page for the film is filled with the same sort of promotional art and videos that are on Tumblr. There are some more photos from premieres and other events along with occasional links to press stories but it’s most just about pull quotes from early reviews and encouragement to buy tickets. Same goes for Twitter, though there are more Retweets of fans talking about how excited they were for the movie and of the cast talking about it coming out soon. Instagram has the same images along with reposts from the cast as they made press appearances and shares of images from fans who partook in a photo tool that made it look like they were suspended between the WTC towers.

Advertising and Social

A number of TV spots were created that all hit the same “You have to see this amazing spectacle…and do it in IMAX” beat that the latter trailers did, only in 30 seconds.

I’ve also seen plenty of Promoted Posts on Twitter and saw news that billboards were being run that took the perspective of looking up at Levitt on his wire between the towers, both of which were visible on either side of the image, giving a real sense of the scale of the movie.

Media and Publicity

Because of the talent involved, the movie has received a steady stream of publicity and media coverage. That ramped up during festival season as it screened at the New York Film Festival to mostly positive reviews and where the cast participated in a press conference (THR, 9/26/15) to talk about turning the story into a movie and so on. Coming out of those early screenings there was buzz (Variety, 9/26/15) that the movie was a viable awards contender based on the sheer spectacle of it.

walk pic 1

Levitt was featured in Gotham in an interview conducted by Channing Tatum since apparently the two of them are good friends and it provided a nice hook for the story.


There are two things that jump out at me from the campaign:

First, as I’ve mentioned repeatedly above, there’s a pretty consistent theme of “spectacle” here that runs across the different elements. The studio *really* wants you to be blown away by the visuals and especially wants you to see it in IMAX. This is hit even more heavily here than it is in some super hero movies or animated kids movies. The extent to which they hammer this home over and over again reminds me of how studios used to sell movies as being in widescreen format back in the 50s when they were competing fiercely against TV. Which is kind of the case now as well, even more than it has been. They are selling this as a unique theatrical experience.

Second, in lieu of a larger franchise to tie this into the studio is using Zemeckis as a franchise in and of himself. “No, this isn’t part of a comic book shared universe, but hey you like these other movies from this director so you’ll probably like this one.” That’s the same tactic Warner Bros. has used for movies like Inception and Interstellar from Christopher Nolan, where Nolan’s previous work has been heavily incorporated into the campaigns, particularly his work on the Batman movies. Movie nerds are going to know about the Zemeckis connection already, but the campaign wants to create feelings of familiarity with *something* about the movie here and the director’s previous work is the most readily available string to pull.

How Tied To Individuals Is a Media Company’s identity?

This post by Laura Hazard Owen is a fascinating one. It’s her take on the soft relaunch of GigaOm, the site where she and others used to contribute and which was unceremoniously taken down earlier this year when it suddenly announced it was out of money and could no longer continue as a going concern. Owen and other writers fled to other outlets but now GigaOm is coming back in some form or another, albeit with seemingly a new roster of contributors.

gigaom logo

How you answer the question poised in the title of this post comes down to, I think, whether you’re the kind of person who Retweets breaking news from a media brand or from an individual writer.

When you visited GigaOm or subscribed to its RSS feed – or the recently shuttered The Dissolve or FilmThreat or anything else – you got the breadth of content from an array of writers on a variety of topics, all centered around the site’s core editorial mission (tech, movies or whatever). But when you followed any of the contributing writers you mainly got their pieces along with whatever else they curated from others on the site or elsewhere.

So GigaOm being shut down or now brought back hasn’t impacted my seeing what Mathew Ingram, Stacy Higgenbottom or others have been writing. Same for the writers from The Dissolve. But those writers were almost uniformly also contributing to other sites at the same time they were writing for GigaOm and The Dissolve. So my – and I imagine others’ – picture of those writers was never exclusively tied to one site. And those sites were always viewed as being a collection of freelance writers.

That means that my view of these sites isn’t tied to who is or isn’t writing the posts and so on. Like baseball teams in the era of free agency, players come and go but it largely doesn’t impact my fandom for the team itself. The editorial mission of the site can continue, either by bringing on a new staff of writers or even, as I wrote earlier, by using social media to keep executing against the mission even if there’s no core hub to link back to.

I’m not saying writers are interchangeable. They’re absolutely not. Quite the opposite in fact. They’re more important than ever because social networks have given them the opportunity to step out from behind the media brands that used to stand between them and the audience and interact and promote directly. That lets them build up followings of their own and speak to a unique audience that may not overlap completely with the brand itself.

Movie Marketing Madness: The Martian

martian_ver2If I were to write some lengthy treatise about how Mars has long captured the imaginations of the people of Earth I’d hardly be the first person to do so. From ancient stories to popular entertainment, Mars has always been part of our mythology because, well, it’s so red and so right there when we look above us into the night sky. And outside our own moon it is, I think, the only other part of our solar system we’ve actually put machinery on. I don’t want to get too deep into armchair philosophizing since that really isn’t my field but I think it’s safe to say that when most people think of exploring outer space, what they’re often picturing is Mars.

Into that pantheon comes The Martian. Based on the 2011 novel by Andy Weir (which I just finished reading and which is a lot of fun), the story revolves around the Ares III manned mission to Mars, the third such team to explore the planet. When a catastrophic storm hits their base the entire team has to abort the mission but leaves behind Mark Watney (played here by Matt Damon), who is presumed dead but who turns out to be not. Watney must rely on his skills and the materials available to him to try and survive alone on Mars while NASA and his crew weigh the odds of his survival and plot a series of rescue attempts. The movie, like the book, switches between Watney’s point of view – told through his journal entries – and that of his crew on the Hermes ship back to Earth as well as the NASA engineers and administrators who are making decisions back home.

The Posters

martianThe movie’s first (and only?) teaser poster does what it can to get the point across. It’s an extreme close-up of Damon’s face in the helmet he dons while walking around the Martian surface. Over his face in big bold letters is “Bring Him Home” like it’s some sort of public advocacy campaign ad. The title treatment and credit block appear at the bottom of the poster.

It’s pretty effective at getting the main message across, which is that Matt Damon is starring in a movie set on Mars and that it’s basically a rescue story. There’s not a whole lot to say about the graphic design of the poster since…well..there isn’t a whole lot. It’s the same basic idea as countless posters before it, with the example that comes most readily to mind being the poster for The Social Network that had Jesse Eisenberg’s face staring at the camera and the “You Can Make…” copy over it. But again, it does what it needed to do.

The theatrical one-sheet moves Damon’s face up toward the top of the poster and shrinks it a bit, so he’s kind of looking down at the viewer. Below him you see a solitary figure – presumably him – walking away from the camera across the red landscape of Mars. The title and credits are still at the bottom but this time the other copy is at the top telling us “Help is only 140 million miles away,” which nicely underlines just how on his own Watney is.

This one is slightly better but that’s largely because the copy isn’t quite as on-the-nose. It’s still not winning any graphic design awards, but again it conveys a simple message, this time honing in more on the movie’s setting rather than just focusing on Damon as the primary selling point.

The Trailers

The first teaser trailer starts out with Watney talking about mankind’s inherent desire to help those in need, those who have been abandoned in some desolate place, a situation he himself is now in. We then cut to Jeff Daniels as the NASA chief talking to the press about the aborted Ares III mission, including how Watney was killed. But we – and they – then see that nope, he’s still alive. So the rest of the trailer is about Watney doing what he can to survive until a rescue mission can be mounted, along with hints that the rest of his crew are going to go against NASA orders and mount just that attempt, which comes with risks of its own. The trailer ends with the same “Help is only 140 million miles away” copy that was seen on the theatrical poster.

It’s a pretty effective trailer that presents what amounts to a ticking clock story as Watney fights against the odds and elements to stay alive while everyone else works against the massive distance and other logistical problems to get to him. It’s clear here that Damon is in “cocky wise guy” mode, an attitude that helps keep the tone of the trailer light and not super-serious, despite the actual story elements.

The theatrical trailer hits many of the same beats, it just rearranges a few of them. We still get all the scenes of Watney trying to survive in a habitat that was only made for a couple months at most and NASA’s hand-wringing over whether or not to save him. But this one is less focused on setting up the initial parts of the story and showing more of the cool space stuff that the studio clearly feels will be the movie’s big draw.

That’s not to say it’s not effective – it is – but it’s a much different picture than the first trailer created, presenting less of a human-scale drama and more of an action picture with dramatic elements. That’s exemplified just by the opening narration, which in the first trailer was about the need to rescue your fellow human being but which here is about struggling to survive in the harshness of space.

One final trailer was released less than a month before the movie’s release. It’s not hugely different than the previous ones but that also means it’s just as effective, showing the reaction to Watney’s “death” and the discussions around whether or not it’s worth it to try and save him.

Online and Social

The official website for the movie opens with what amounts to a reproduction of the key art, showing a big version of Damon’s face right there when the site loads. As you scroll down from there the first section that appears is a call to action to buy tickets, which is a lot more direct than other sites, which seem conflicted as to how to get you to do that.

martian pic 1

The “Videos” section that’s up next is really nice. The two main trailers are there along with lots more, including the in-world clips and videos that have been released over the last few months. It starts with the “Farewell” video that is like the crew being interviewed before making their final departure to Mars and keeps going through other profiles, fictional “archive” clips and so on. It also includes a “Bring Him Home” video that takes you around the world to see how the entire planet is rallying around Watney’s survival.

Just a little over a month before release the team released a video with the internet’s favorite scientist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, talking about the Ares 3 mission that was about to kick off. The in-universe video goes into the (seemingly real) science that would be necessary to send a manned mission to Mars while also touching on elements that are specific to the movie like the docking station in low-Earth orbit and such.

Those are really fun and well-produced and help flesh out the world of the movie, adding in some character and world-building details that they obviously didn’t have time for in the movie or which would have just bogged things down. I’m not usually a fan of this kind of in-world execution but these are particularly well-done.

The film’s Facebook page is…alright. There are lots of big promotional images that countdown the days until release, short videos of either the cast being interviewed or of a profile of one of the characters or something like that. And obviously in the last few weeks there are plenty of galleries from red carpet premieres and so on. The Twitter profile is much the same, though with a few additional things and a bit more retweeting going on. Same goes for Instagram.

Tumblr is a bit more interesting. It has the same crew profile videos that are found on Facebook but then there are images that trace the real and imagined history of Mars exploration. So that includes real-world events like the 2012 landing of Curiosity on the planet and everything that came before that as well as “future” events like the 2026 “Resource” prospector mission. That’s a nice touch that continues the world-building we saw on the official site and gives the Ares III mission from the movie some historical context we can all understand.

There was also, which let you upload your own photo and put some text over it in the style of the teaser poster, with the final image being sharable on various social networks.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots for the movie hit the same basic beats as the trailers, showing how Watney and his team are on Mars, then have to abandon it when a storm flairs up, with Watney left behind and presumed dead. There are some that offer a bit more context in the decision by NASA not to attempt a rescue and his team defying that order, but all in all they’re just condensed versions of the trailer and work for exactly the same reasons those trailers do.

martian bingThere was a very cool promotion with Microsoft that created Bing Maps for the movie’s locations on Mars. So people could navigate the area that Watney finds himself stuck in, viewing a mix of both actual photos from Mars and clips from the film’s trailers. It also included, which challenged people to solve one of the story’s key problems with some sort of technological development like an app, software and so on. People can work with tech experts via Skype (natch, since that’s owned by Microsoft) and compete for a cash prize for the most elegant and best solution.

One of the videos on the site had Watney exercising in what turned out to be a fictional commercial for Under Armour. The company actually is a promotional partner for the film with a micro-site containing not only that video but lots more about how the the company’s products are helping to train the Ares III crew and how you can be your best with UA fitness wear.

Media and Publicity

There was plenty of press about the movie as the cast and crew did the usual rounds of the media and talk-shows and such. But honestly, the most interesting stuff came where the movie intersected with real life.

First, a little over a week ago the crew of the International Space Station got an early look (Recode, 9/20/15) at the film, which they found inspiring and not terrifying. The latter would have been my reaction since it seems the equivalent of watching Alive on an international flight.

Then most notably just days before release NASA held a press conference announcing that there is evidence water exists on Mars in some form, a finding that kind of throws off a large chunk of the story’s premise (Wired, 9/28/15). Twitter of course blew up with jokes about how this was a pretty big stunt for Fox to pull to promote the movie and the studio even got in on the action with a couple videos, one simply tagging Watney’s “Surprise!” line that’s seen into the trailer onto NASA’s official announcement and the second with Damon as Watney talking about how he wishes he’d been able to find some of that water while he was up there.

The movie also did a few screenings at recent festivals, where it gained buzz as a people-pleasing potential awards contender. There were also stories like this one (Variety, 9/28/15) that played up how the movie was all about a love of science and trying to create that same love in the audience.


If there’s a weak spot to the campaign it’s the posters. But that’s because the weak design on display on those can’t reach the same fun heights as the videos and other portions of the push, particularly the fully-fleshed out in-world videos and updates that really help to add to the movie, making the audience feel a bit primed for the story before they ever set foot in the theater. Again, usually those kinds of executions come off as more than a little wobbly, but these work really well. And thank goodness they did because with thinks like this past weekend’s Super Blood Moon and then the “water on Mars announcement,” the stage had been set for the studio to break the fourth wall a little bit, even if I still find the distribution of those assets (fictional videos on a studio website marketing a movie) to be not great.

So overall this is a strong campaign that lives and dies on the charm of the actors involved. Thankfully those in-world elements make it clear that the entire cast from Damon on down are strong and seem to be in full “be as charming as possible” mode here, so it works. The trailers present a taut drama with plenty of action elements that promise to leave audiences tense and anxious, even if everyone (not just those that have read the book) knows how things will turn out. It’s a strong campaign for an early fall people-pleaser type of release.

Bookmarking Is Still Useful, But Differently

No, bookmarking isn’t dead. But to be fair, this post at The Next Web doesn’t actually claim it is. But it does open the discussion to how bookmarking has changed over the last decade or so.

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 5.04.44 PM

We all have our own personal usage habits and it’s dangerous to imply large-scale trends based on those personal habits or those of the people around us. But for the sake of adding a different point of view, here’s mine:

I never really used bookmarks for individual stories. That’s largely because I was always really bad about cleaning out my bookmarks, so when I did so I would then go in months later and have to delete dozens of stories. So I would use bookmarks for the sites that I liked to visit daily for current news on a variety of topics.

Then when I was introduced to RSS I shifted all of that there. All those bookmarks were immediately replaced by RSS feeds so I never had to go hunting through site sections for new content again. It was all right there and it was glorious.

I still use bookmarks pretty liberally, but for productivity purposes, not to save things to read later. So I have my various WordPress installations bookmarked and the URLs for the various CMS solutions I use for clients. If it’s a “read it later” type thing I put it in Pocket, where I will eventually deal with it. I used to use Delicious for various things, but…well…yeah, we all know how that turned out. 

So yes, based on this case study of one, bookmarking has certainly changed. It’s by no means “dead” since I’m still actively using it. But the reasons for doing so have evolved. And I’m not even a power user of bookmarks, meaning I don’t synch them between devices or anything like that. 

How about you?

Hollywood Has Issues With Niche Film Tracking

Here’s the key bit in this Variety story about how studios and press continue to initially undervalue and then be surprised by the success of movies like God’s Not Dead, Straight Outta Compton and more:

There are issues, too, with how studios and analysts read tracking. Privately, distribution and marketing executives say that traditional tracking is better for assessing how films play to broad audiences, as opposed to targeted demographics. Predicting the inclinations of a specific band of prospective filmgoers requires drilling deep into the data.

That’s a pretty broad oversight. That’s like a ship’s captain saying he’s sure that they’re going across the ocean but he’s not that concerned about weather patterns because that would require digging deep into the data.

straight outta compton still

I’m not a stats guy, goodness knows. But if you’re approving the production or purchase of a movie that obviously is going to have significant appeal to a specific segment of the audience then one would hope you’d have the research to know just how big that segment is and therefore have a good idea of how the investment is going to pay off. There are resources within studios to market to these niches, so how come they’re so consistently undercounted?

The Variety story offers a couple easy possibilities, mostly involving the white male studio leadership being too focused on what movies are going to appeal to all four audience quadrants to see anything close to the true value of movies that fall outside the “blockbuster” category. And there’s a lot of truth in that, I imagine. But while I agree with the story’s statement that social media can often offer a better predictive model than the one that’s currently in place – that’s the gist of this post – I also think there’s an extent to which this is a problem that is, to some extent, artificial.

While it is somewhat demeaning to constantly label anything that doesn’t feature white dudes beating up or talking to other white dudes a “surprise hit” I actually think there’s method in this madness. If – and this is purely conjecture – the predictive numbers for a movie are lower than what everyone believes it will actually do than the executives get more out of it than if a niche movie’s success were presented as a fait accompli: 1) They get to look even better by having supported a movie that did better than it was believed to have any right to and 2) The studio gets an additional news beat from the media that are all too willing to play along.

Again, this is just speculation. But with studios passing on movies all the time it’s hard to believe they don’t have some idea will perform well. True, not everything does. But those that do can’t all be surprises.

Yes, social media can help solve a lot of these problems. As I stated in my previous post, it can dive much deeper and naturalistically into people’s sentiment and opinions and therefore give a better snapshot of what to expect. Even so, with more and more activity moving to the dark web of apps like Snapchat and others where there’s no permanent record of someone’s intentions or conversations, that tracking is going to get more and more difficult.

So while better tracking can help fill in the gaps, the point remains that feigning surprise of something that appeals to less than 70% of the population is going to be seen as ignorant at best and sometimes discriminatory at worst. Studio heads would do well to both adopt better data tracking so they can have a more accurate picture of their movies’ chances at success and a better attitude about the niche audiences that are potentially going to turn small investments into big hits.

Movie Marketing Madness: Hotel Transylvania 2

hotel_transylvania_two_ver5It took a long while but I finally figured out the kind of movie I don’t mind Adam Sandler in: The ones where I can’t see him. While I’ve enjoyed his turns in Punch Drunk Love and Funny People my favorite Sandler performance it turns out is in the first Hotel Transylvania. At least when he’s animated you can’t see how little effort he’s putting into his role. Plus, I thought the movie was at least mostly entertaining. It never took itself too seriously but wasn’t so painfully filled with as many jokes for adults as for kids, something that too often weighs down what should be a pure play kids movie.

And now it’s getting a sequel. Hotel Transylvania 2 picks up the story from the first one, with Dracula’s (Sandler) hotel now catering to both humans and monsters alike. That’s largely because his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) has married a human named Jonathan (Andy Samberg) and they have a kid. But Dracula fears that exposure to the human world will lure Mavis and his grandson away from him, so he sets out to bring out the kid’s monstrous nature so she will stay with him at the hotel. Not only do Dracula’s friends get involved in the effort but they also enlist the help of Dracula’s own father Vlad (Mel Brooks).

The Posters

hotel_transylvania_twoThe teaser poster showed Dracula, Mavis, Frankenstein and the rest of the gang just striding toward the camera like this was some sort of heist caper. Below them is the tagline “Drac’s pack is back” along with the release date.

It’s alright but it’s relatively uninspired, even for a teaser whose only job is to implant awareness of the movie’s basic existence into the audience’s consciousness. It’s just a white background and the characters along with a small bit of copy. There’s no design or anything else at work here, it’s representative of minimal effort being allocated. So it does it’s job, but it’s not putting in any overtime.

hotel_transylvania_two_ver2The next one is only slightly better. This one lines up all the primary characters, this time including Mavis’ son, from front to back in order of height, each one looking over the shoulders of the one in front of them. Still not great, but better.

The theatrical poster takes the “monsters walking toward the camera” conceit of the first teaser, switches around the order they’re walking in and plops in a background behind them showing the titular hotel. Joining them this time are the kids, including Drac’s grandson and the three wolf cubs that were a part of the first movie. The emphasis on the kids is underlined by the copy “They’re back to raise a little terror” which, in case you missed it, has a nice double meaning.

There were also some character banners created that singled out each character, placed them on a solid color background and…not much else. But this kind of thing is more or less a prerequisite for movies aimed at kids, a check box to be filled.

The Trailers

The teaser trailer was really just an extended scene from the movie. Dracula is determined to show his friends that his grandson is indeed a vampire and can fly. So he takes him to the top of a tall rickety tower and throws him off, kind of like someone throwing a kid in the pool to teach them how to swim. But after he does so and the kid keeps falling it becomes clear that this isn’t happening so Drac swoops down to save him, at which point the tower topples over catches on fire (for no discernable reason), sending Frankenstein running through all kinds of wooden structures, all of which also catch on fire.

It kind of works, dammit. I want to be all cynical about it but I just can’t. And even if I were, I’d have to admit that it at least achieves the goals it’s meant to. It sets up the return of these characters, introduces the grandson, lays out the central point of tension in the story (is the kid part monster or not) and is pretty funny. It does everything it needs to do to raise awareness in the target audience. It also makes clear that the humor here won’t exactly be subtle, but it doesn’t really need to be, does it.

The theatrical trailer doubles down on story, showing more clearly how Mavis wants to move somewhere safer for her son, something that doesn’t sit well with Dracula. So he and his monster buddies do what they can to bring out the monster in the kid, unfortunately to no effect. We get a brief glimpse of Vlad but mostly it’s about showing the hijinks and crazy stunts the monsters engage in to try and prove the kid has a little vampire in him.

The extra running time and additional context here don’t help. While there are still just two or three elements that are focused on it feels like the trailer is trying to do too much for some reason. It feels crowded. Maybe it’s some of the throwaway gags involving the hotel staff or the extended scene that opens the trailer, but this one doesn’t flow all that well for me. The target audience isn’t likely to notice whatever nits I’m deciding to pick here so I can’t say it’s ineffective, it just feels a bit off for me.

Online and Social

Let’s start off with the official website which, as seems to be the norm these days, is built on Tumblr. There’s a big prompt next to the picture of the primary cast of monsters encouraging you to “Watch the Trailer” that, when clicked, brings up the theatrical trailer. Going back to that cast montage, when you click on one of their images – or the images of any character throughout the site – it will play a small audio snippet of dialogue from that character.


At the top of the page there’s menu that starts off with “Story,” which is a brief synopsis that – likely because of the movie’s demographic target – doesn’t get into cast and crew filmographies and previous credits.

“Videos” is actually nicely stocked with both trailers as well as a three-part “Making of the Teaser Trailer” that goes into the character and other designs of the sequence that’s featured in that trailer. There’s also a few video interviews with folks within Sony that are moderately interesting. Finally “Fun & Games” has some cute casual games and other activities like a branded photo bomb tool that are fun if you’re really into the movie’s characters.

Scrolling down on the page you can sort the updates on the blog by “GIFs,” “Memes,” “Photos,” “Videos,” “Activities,” “Mobile” and “Fan Art.”

“GIFs,” “Memes” and “Photos” are pretty self-explanatory. “Videos” here does not contain the same trailer and featurettes that were available above but instead are shorter clips and snippets from the movie. So just short little things like Johnny running through the hotel, Mavis dancing and so on. Cute, but non-essential.


There are recipes for monster-themed pastries and more along with art projects and so on in “Activities.” The “Mobile” section prompts visitors to check out and use the Monster Photo Bomb tool as well as download one or both of a couple GIF and emoji keyboards that have movie-branded material. There are also calls-to-action to follow the movie’s profiles on Pinterest and Snapchat. “Fan Art” is a collection of fan art based on the movie that’s been curated from Tumblr, Instagram and elsewhere.

Moving off-domain, the film’s Facebook page is a pretty standard affair, particularly for a movie that’s aimed mostly at kids. That means it’s light on news about the movie, instead focusing on large, bright (and therefore hopefully engaging) images, short videos, quick activities like “Make your own vampire name) and things like that. There’s an emphasis on both “buy tickets now” prompts and visuals that mark occasions like back to school, Grandparent’s Day and so on, so it’s clear that this page is meant for the younger parts of Facebook’s user base.

The Twitter profile is more of the same, with the occasional Retweet from Sandler or another of the film’s stars thrown in. There are a few more “real-time” posts for trailers or clips debuting during an episode of a TV show and character appearances at a zoo, but for the most part it’s just the same images, prompts and such. Same goes for Instagram.

Pinterest is another matter. The profile there is meant to be from Mavis Dracula herself, despite the URL being branded with the movie’s shorthand title. So it’s filled with recipes, craft ideas, fashion tips, activities for the kids and more. I’m not a huge fan of this tactic and never have been since, as we see here, it’s almost impossible to keep the fourth wall intact. The profile is from a character, but the profile URL has the movie’s branding. So does she know she’s in a movie? See what I mean? Marketers just can’t commit to the idea fully so they should stop trying to do character executions like this. I get what they’re going for – Pinterest is overwhelmingly female in terms of users so the idea is to present material that’s coming from a “person” that fits with the the kind of content that performs well on the network. But the inability to actually make it a 100% in-world voice takes the kneecaps out of the idea, meaning they may as well have not done it.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There were, of course, a number of TV commercials ran. While most hit many of the same beats as the trailers, they were packaged a bit differently and thematically. So this one uses “back to school” as the theme to put footage in and around.

Others were more traditional, like this one.

Man, does the marketing team love that scene of the monster having toilet problems. But hey, you go with what works. 

The studio signed vocal group Fifth Harmony to do a new song for the movie. The group would also take part in other promotional events like Twitter chats and so on.

The movie hooked up with Goodwill for a co-branded campaign (Brand Channel, 9/23/15)encouraging people to go check out their local Goodwill stores for all their Halloween costume needs. The emphasis there was not only on finding cheap clothes but also supporting the store in its efforts to provide jobs and more in the communities it operates in. The campaign involved TV and radio ads as well as in-store events at select locations.

Media and Publicity

Outside of the pops that would come when new marketing materials would hit there wasn’t even a lot of press about the movie. Director Genndy Tartakovsky did a few interviews like this one (Tech Times, 9/23/15) that talked about not just this film but the animation landscape as a whole. And there was some press around Fifth Harmony’s involvement (Music Times, 8/27/15) but that’s about it. It’s not surprising considering this is a kid’s movie that doesn’t exactly offer the same editorial angles as some of the award-contenders coming out this season, but it’s still awfully quiet out there.



The word I keep coming back to is “appropriate.” This is a very appropriate campaign for the target audience. The trailers play up the familiar while also offering something new – the particular trick for sequels – and are fun and engaging. And the online components, from the Tumblr site to the social networks are all made up of material that’s pretty well designed to attract and engage that same audience. There’s almost nothing here for adults (unless, like me, they genuinely enjoyed the first one) but that’s alright since it’s not adults that are going to make or break the film’s box office success. I like this one a lot from a strategic point of view as I feel it meets most of the assumed goals.

Studios Abandon Owned Sites In Favor of Tumblr

In content marketing circles there is a concept known as “hub and spoke” that I happen to be a big adherent of . The idea is that content originates on the “hub,” which is usually an on-domain website or corporate blog and then radiates out to the spokes, which are the managed networks like Facebook, Twitter and so on. Because content on social networks can be ephemeral – an issue only exacerbated by the rise of apps like Snapchat and so on – and is hard to archive and therefore resurface, it’s important that you have a single repository of what you publish. That way you can find things and resurface them in new blog posts, can share them again on Twitter in light of some related breaking news and so on. And most importantly, you’re not subject to either the terms and conditions of a social network or the whims of investors, who can influence not only the presentation of your content but also its very availability.

Movie studios have never been big fans of this strategy, mostly still producing websites that are more or less static and not using social networks to drive traffic back to those sites unless it’s to get people to buy tickets. And now it seems they’re moving even further away not just from the tactical benefits of this strategy but also from the central idea of “own your stuff” that’s behind it.

That’s because as I’ve seen more and more, studios are increasingly building the official websites for movies on Tumblr. Just in the last two or three weeks I’ve seen the official sites for Sleeping With Other People and Hotel Transylvania 2 that are built on the popular blog network. Yes, they’re nice sites, but they’re still Tumblr blogs, albeit heavily customized ones.


What the studios seem to be going for is ease of media hosting and the network benefits that are built in to Tumblr. The content on these sites is largely geared toward what works well there, including lots of GIFs and other media, and all of these assets are easily shared by visitors on their own Tumblr blogs or on their Twitter or other social networks profiles. The studio’s design team does a little bit of CSS work and then it’s off to the races with content that’s just pining to go viral.

For any other company in any other industry I’d be throwing red flags left and right if someone I worked with came and suggested this as a strategy. Using Tumblr as your primary web presence means that not only are you sacrificing long-term content viability – who knows when Tumblr will disappear or change things around to break that precious CSS – but it all lives on Tumblr’s servers, not your own. That makes you subject to their ToS and means you can’t manage or troubleshoot downtime, you just have to wait like everyone else when it goes down or when problems emerge.

This is where Hollywood once again differentiates itself from other industries, though. While I’m still not a huge fan of this tactic, studios have never been as concerned about evergreen or long-lived content as companies operating in, for instance, the security software industry. It’s not as if studios are constantly resurfacing old material years later in the context of breaking news. They may occasionally share an old GIF on Twitter as part of #TBT, but that’s almost exclusively media that was native to social networks to begin with.

That’s not to say that there’s no value in studios embracing what I would call a traditional hub-and-spoke strategy, which is built around an on-domain blog with content distributed outward. There is. A lot of value, I believe. Platforms like WordPress would allow for them to build a framework that would allow for official sites for new and upcoming movies that are much more sustainable than Tumblr allows for.

I get that studios often aren’t thinking long-term about marketing content. They want to drive audiences to the theater opening weekend and then it’s on to the next effort. But with a few tweaks – some large, some small – they could put a much more sustainable framework in place that would allow them to see value from those marketing assets that are posted well beyond a single film’s release window.

Size Isn’t As Important as Relevance


Today’s post on Voce Nation:

Focusing on overall user numbers doesn’t tell the whole story. What’s more important is finding whether or not the right audience is on these networks. Instagram has 400m users, but if the right 250,000 who are going to reliably engage with and get something out of your posts isn’t, then it’s a largely wasted effort. Conversely, an app could have 200,000 users, half of whom are right in your target audience, so it makes sense to get involved now and not wait for it to be “big enough” for people to feel comfortable with.

Source: Instagram and Pinterest Keep Growing, But Does Size Matter? « Voce Communications