Movie Poster Design Has Lapped Itself

There have been so many hot takes about how Hollywood is out of original ideas in the movies being made that the combined inferno could scorch the earth several times over. That’s not anything new, though, the same argument has been made in the press for decades at least, as I can remember reading those kind of op-eds in Entertainment Weekly about The Firm and other book adaptations, which were the predecessor of the comic book adaptation trend. But at least the marketing of these movies still strove for originality, even if certain components contained plenty of call-backs to other things the audience may like and identify with.

Now, though, it seems we’re working toward a world where not even the marketing teams can come up with original ideas. Two recent examples show how completely unrelated movies are looking at the past for poster inspiration for no apparent reason other than it evokes a sense of familiarity and nostalgia.

First was the recent Zac Efron/Robert DeNiro comedy Dirty Grandpa. The first poster for that movie used the format and style of the one-sheet for the classic Dustin Hoffman/Anne Bancroft movie The Graduate. Both show the main character walking into a room to see someone putting something on their leg. On the original it’s a woman pulling up a stocking, on the more recent it’s an old man pulling up an orthopedic sock. The photo placement is the same, the alignment of the title treatment and copy points are the same. It’s the same poster, just with the specifics swapped out.

Second is the recently-released one-sheet for the upcoming bros-in-war comedy War Dogs, which is meant to evoke the classic poster for Scarface that adorns countless college dorm room walls. The former features two characters versus the latter’s one and the title treatment and other details are different, but the overall look and feel here is meant to evoke the favorite poster of everyone who’s appeared on “MTV Cribs.” The two-tone color usage, the way Jonah Hill’s suit bleeds into the white background on that half of the poster and the way he’s holding a gun at his side.

So what might be behind this near-trend – we need one more in the next six months to call it a trend officially – of ripping off classic one-sheet design for new movies?

Well one thing that’s *not* is any sort of thematic connection. It’s not like Dirty Grandpa is also about a young man having an affair with an older woman. And it’s not like War Dogs is about the drug trade. There’s no connective material here, which means it’s just a case of blatantly try and create a false equivalency in the mind of the audience. The designers want to create something that’s not iconic in and of itself but which evokes something iconic to try and draft off the goodwill of what’s come before. There’s not anything new in that approach in the overall marketing world but this does seem to be new to the movie marketing world specifically.

What we haven’t seen yet is this approach pay off. That Graduate-inspired poster didn’t, it seems, help Dirty Grandpa soar at the box-office and I doubt the Scarface-homage is going to help War Dogs, the trailer for which looks like a mess. It may help with awareness since it creates a quick and ephemeral connection in the audience’s mind but that’s about it. There doesn’t seem to be, at least not in these cases, any moving of the needle on intent.

Again, it will be interesting to see if this goes on to become a full-fledged trend. But it’s a bit disheartening to see that not only is Hollywood not concerned about original ideas in the movies but that the marketing creatives are out of original ideas when it comes to selling them.

Genius Raises Questions About Who Owns Conversations

Last week a debate was kicked off in a post by Ella Dawson about the role of Genius, the website annotating service. Dawson explains that she was very careful about where and when she allowed comments on her posts because of the nature of what she writes about and spends a lot of time moderating those comments that do come in. Genius, on the other hand, is a tool that allows anyone to add any sort of notes or comments on top of and alongside any post or page on the web.

Mathew Ingram at Fortune has a good take on this issue and how it relates to online harassment, which is the crux of Dawson’s issues with how this played out. But to me it gets even more fundamental into who controls the on-domain experience.


If I set up a site and decide to limit conversations by either turning off comments or limiting them to X days that’s my choice based on what I feel is best for my site and my content. That could be because there’s just too much, because the tone of the comments is unacceptable in some way or just because that’s not what I’m trying to do here. While we can all long to return to the halcyon days of wide open commenting and other on-domain engagement, there are legitimate reasons for some site owners, be they individuals or big media owners, to turn off comments.

Genius, though, takes that decision out of the manager’s hands. It says “No, the decision you’ve made is wrong” regardless of the motivations behind that decision. But no one company knows best, no matter how noble their intentions. It’s indicative of the tech world today, though, since the idea here is to “disrupt” an existing model with a one size fits all tool that does as much harm as good.

There’s a valuable role a tool like Genius can play in the world of media or with something like scientific research papers, where additional comments can really add context and flavor to the original piece. But it has to be in a system where the site owner either opts-in or can more effectively opt out. Otherwise the potential for abuse, both of the technology and of the content creators, is too high. And the last thing we need is for more voices to be silenced because they don’t feel comfortable or safe.

After the Campaign: I Smile Back

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In my review of the marketing campaign for I Smile Back I wrote:

It’s a fine line the marketing team has been walking with the campaign. The easy route – and deceptive one – would be to find the eight moments from the movie where Silverman is laughing or doing something funny and use them to try and sell it as maybe a dark comedy or some such. But I don’t feel like they did that, instead really focusing on this being her first big dramatic movie role.

And it certainly is a dramatic role. Silverman is great as a woman who’s struggling not just with depression but with some deep emotional and mental issues, giving a moving and often unpleasant (but in a good way) performance of someone who can’t stop herself from giving in to her own worst impulses. You can’t take your eyes off her in the movie, even as you kind of wish you could because she keeps finding new levels of self-destructive behavior.

While the marketing didn’t give into the temptation to sell the movie with a few funny Silverman-featuring moments it also didn’t come close to plumbing the depths her character descends into. There are a few shots her knocking back wine or other alcohol or doing some sort of drug or another but really it gets a lot worse. The marketing has a few shots showing how much she loves and is devoted to her kids but there’s a major vein in the story about the kind of danger, both physical and emotional, danger she puts them in. The campaign doesn’t hint at that, nor does it really include anything from the last half hour or so of the story, which is where things begin their final downward spiral.

So no, the campaign didn’t misrepresent the movie. But I feel like a second trailer could have gone into some of these story elements that weren’t covered without having spoiled anything about how the characters wind up.

Movie Marketing Madness: Everybody Wants Some

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If there’s an overarching theme to Richard Linklater’s work it’s an obsession with the passage of time. That’s on display overtly in movies like Boyhood, which condensed that into just a couple hours or in the Before Trilogy, which not only took place in real-time themselves but also in real-time over the course of the three movies. Even in movies like Dazed and Confused he’s interested in how things change and how the people change with those times as we see torches being passed, roles shifting and more. Linklater is very interested in how things evolve and what impact that has on people’s lives.

Now he’s back with what’s being sold as a “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused with Everybody Wants Some. Instead of being set in the mid-70s this one is set in the mid-80s and follows a group of college freshmen baseball players who are feeling out their place in the world now that they’re free from parental supervision. That involves getting to know the members of the opposite sex a bit more freely, figuring out who they are as individuals themselves and more. Of course not all of this exploratory behavior is exactly responsible but it’s all going into who these people are. And it all speaks to Linklater’s tendency to check in at regular intervals with certain character types, even if they aren’t the same actual characters.

The Posters

everybody_wants_someThe first poster displays the title treatment in the image of a cassette tape that’s being unwound, which instantly tells you what era it’s set in. That’s reinforced by the stack of tapes at the bottom featuring albums by Dire Straits, Queen, Van Halen, The Knack and more. copy in the middle declares  it’s “Here for a good time, not a long time.”

The second poster sells the movie as a college-based bro-tastic party. So all the main characters, most of whom are dudes, are in a dog pile in front of a sweet looking car that’s in front of a frat house that has windows blown out and a lawn chair on the awning over the door. Like the first poster this one gives prominent placement to Linklater’s name, showing he’s become something of a brand name himself, and tags it as a “spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused.” This one makes the movie look like more of a successor to Animal House, though. That may or may not be a good thing and may or may not be accurate.

The Trailers

The movie’s first trailer works overtime to sell it as being along the same lines as Dazed & Confused. We meet many of the main characters, get the basic outline of the plot and generally spend a lot of time seeing what kind of hijinks the characters are getting into. It’s clear here that we’re following a distinct period of time, specifically in how a couple of college guys are navigating the on-campus world.

If you liked Dazed and Confused you’re going to like this trailer. If not then much of this may be lost on you. The connection between this movie and that one – however tenuous it may be – is hit at least twice, including once through the use of a critic quote. Outside of that it looks like the kind of meandering, character-driven movie that Linklater has done a couple times in the past to great success, so if you’re into his style this trailer likely worked well for you.

A red-band trailer debuted later on IGN. This one starts out by introducing us to Jake and his place in the frat, including hearing the rules that no one apparently lives by. Being a bunch of athletes everyone is super-competitive though some are more concerned about breaking the rules than others. Following that there’s a bunch of footage we’ve seen from the earlier trailer but new stuff as well. All in all this sells a wild, fun ride and this one plays a lot better in my opinion than the green-band version that came out first.

Online and Social

The official website isn’t a massively-featured one but certainly gets points for conveying the tone and feeling of the movie. In the header of the site we get full-motion video clips from the trailer behind the title treatment and the same kind of copy that was seen on the one-sheets.

At the top there are just a few buttons to push. “Get Tickets” does exactly what you think it does. And “Watch Trailer” opens up the YouTube page for the green-band trailers. “Soundtrack” brings you to a list of the songs on that album and offers links to buy it on iTunes of Amazon.


There’s also a “Meme Generator” here that lets you scroll through a selection of stills from the movie. When you find one you like you can complete the “Everybody Wants ______” sentence and then download it or share it directly on either Facebook or Twitter. It’s a nice touch but it really exposes how not being able to publish to Instagram on the web is a big missing piece of that network’s feature set.

Back to the main site, if you scroll down there are a bunch of cards/images for each of the major characters that has their name and some quote from them. They all look like they were taken by Kodak Instamatic cameras and they can all be reblogged (the site is hosted on Tumblr) or shared elsewhere.

There’s some good stuff on the movie’s Facebook page, including extended clips, the same character-card graphics from the official site and more. It’s all very engagement-based and designed to sell the movie as a raucous good time. Same goes for the Twitter profile, though that has more RTing and fan amplification. And the Instagram profile focuses, of course, on those graphics and other images.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

In a nice touch, Alamo Drafthouse in Austin created limited edition movie-branded beer that will only be available in select locations in Texas.

TV spots like this one were run to sell the movie in the same vein as the trailers, as a riotous good time at the movies. Most of them focused the party atmosphere in the movie, showing many of the shenanigans the characters, mostly the guys, get up to at and around their frat.

I’m sure there was online advertising run and outdoor ads placed, but I haven’t seen any of them.

Media and Publicity

Later on at the movie’s New York City premiere the stars came out as Linklater took the opportunity to talk about how excited he was for this movie, how his own college experiences informed the story, what it was like to work with another group of young actors and lots more.

The movie was announced as the opening film of the 2016 SXSW Film Festival, a nice move that gave it a nice boost as well as a contextual one considering Linklater’s Texas roots. That premiere was largely positive and critics and others in the screening came out and immediately started calling it one of Linklater’s best. In conjunction with that the director talked about the making of the movie, his own experience with high school sports and other topics. He kept talking about how long the movie was gestating as an idea and what his experience in that time added to the finished product.


The cast also did some publicity, sitting for interviews with various press outlets like this interview with Zoey Deutch, who plays Beverly, about her experiences on a set filled with dudes. The release of all the marketing materials also provided nice spikes for the movie’s publicity since this is a widely-anticipated release.


Look, I’m on board for the movie. I love Linklater’s movies and dig his voice and style, especially his desire and willingness to innovate in small ways that feed the story, whatever story it is he’s telling. So this campaign works for me in a big way just based on his involvement and my inclination to enjoy his stuff.

I do feel, though, as if the campaign may be working at cross-purposes to the movie itself. If it’s not being missold, which I don’t think it necessarily is, it does seem as if it pulls out some aspects of the movie like the party atmosphere at the expense of others. After all, if we’re really saying this is “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused, it’s necessary to look back at how much heart that movie had, something that’s lacking in the marketing for Everybody Wants Some. My guess is, based on my experience with Linklater, there’s plenty of that heart to go around, but it’s not part of what Paramount is selling here.

Movie Marketing Madness: Miles Ahead

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When Steve Jobs came out last year many people took issues with the number of artistic liberties the story took with what they were apparently expecting to be a straight biography of the Apple founder, particularly since it was based on a book that *was* an actual biography. But the movie invented lots of scenarios and situations in the interest of breaking some new ground and not treading the same ground as other 78 Jobs features and documentaries that have come out since he passed away. Still, the structure of the movie and that it wasn’t “true” seemed to rub some critics and audiences the wrong way.

Which is why it will be interesting to see what the reactions are to Miles Ahead. The movie is a biopic of the famed jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, he of “Sketches in Spain,” “Birth of the Cool” and other iconic records that pushed the boundaries of the instrument and the musical form. Davis is played by Don Cheadle, who also wrote and directed the movie. But instead of following the usual format for a movie like this it instead creates a fictional situation where Davis has to track down recordings he feels have been stolen with the help of a journalist (Ewan McGregor) who’s on assignment to interview him. The experiences of Davis’ life are then presented within that framework.

The Posters

The official theatrical poster shows Cheadle as Davis about to get into a car, which isn’t all that exciting. The image is a bit blurry but there’s nothing all that engaging about it. A couple of critics’ quotes appear at the top praising the movie and Cheadle’s performance and above the title treatment we see the badges of the festivals it’s appeared at. Below that title is the copy “If you gonna tell a story, come with some attitude,” which is pulled from the movie itself.

The Trailers

We’re immediately shown Cheadle as Davis in the first trailer as he tells people to tell the story right if they’re going to do it. We cut to him meeting McGregor’s journalist, something he does not take kindly to. Then we jump back Davis’ earlier days as he starts out in the business and meets his future wife. There’s a story about how someone has stolen a recording he’s working on and works to get it back but mostly the rest of the trailer cuts back and forth between time periods in Davis’ life to show how uncompromising the musician is in his pursuit of whatever sound he’s working on.

It’s kind of a great trailer that, true to its subject matter, has a great voice and point of view. It’s clear the movie will present Davis as a troubled genius while hitting some of the usual stations of the biopic cross. But Cheadle’s performance is the real draw here and that presents a strong case for going and seeing the movie in and of itself.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website opens with the trailer appearing in a pop-up video player.

The first main section of content is “About” which has a good Synopsis of the story along with The Making of Miles Ahead, which goes into the issues the filmmakers had with schedules and other technical issues and GoGo Nation, which lists the names of those who contributed to the IndieGoGo campaign to make up for a budget shortfall.

The people in front of the camera, with the exception of Cheadle, get bios and in-depth filmographies in the “Cast” section. Cheadle gets his due with the rest of the behind-the-scenes crew in the “Filmmakers” section, where everyone gets equally extensive write-ups.

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There are about two dozen stills in the “Gallery” and you can find out everything you need to know about Davis himself in the “World of Miles Davis” section, which has links to his website, social network profiles and more.

“Reviews” has some blurbs from early screenings of the movie and “Find a Theater” lets you figure out where it might be playing near you.

There’s not a whole lot on the movie’s Facebook page. Links to press stories, uploaded videos like trailers and some engagement bait. But there’s lots of activity if you go back to 2014 and follow how Cheadle and the other filmmakers were using it to drum up interest in the IndieGoGo, including offering lots of perks and other incentives. The Twitter profile for the movie has lots of the same activity, but with more RTing and such, though there’s little to no engagement with or amplification of fans.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing that I’m aware of on this front. There may have been some online advertising done but I didn’t see anything. It’s also a safe bet there were some outdoor ads run in the cities in which the movie is opening this weekend.

Media and Publicity

The movie was slated to debut at the New York Film Festival and the official trailer for that festival provided a few quick glimpses at the movie in advance of its own marketing efforts kicking off. Clips from the movie would continue to be released here and there to keep things going.

The big coming out party would be held at the New York Film Festival, where Cheadle had to spend some time defending the film’s artistic liberties but where it received a mostly positive reception. At that screening Cheadle and some of this cast would talk about how, as the director, he would stay in character as Davis in an effort to bring that kind of sensibility and attitude not just to his performance but to his approach to the film as a whole.

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The difficulty in making the movie – indeed of even conceiving of the framing device for the story – was consistently the subject of press stories, including this substantial Rolling Stone interview with Cheadle as well as this New York Times interview. In it he talked about how they took an intentionally unconventional approach to portraying Davis and his life, not wanting it to be standing biopic structure. He also admitted, as he had elsewhere, that the financing for the movie never really came together until they were able to cast a white guy in a major role, which is where the invention of McGregor’s fictional journalist entered the picture.

Cheadle kept talking about the journey the story took to a finished film in this interview conducted by current jazz trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, who’s been compared to Davis and who is seen as continuing his experimental legacy. McGregor did some press as well with interviews like this where he talked about working with Cheadle, taking direction from another actor and the movie in general.


What I get from this campaign is a lot of hustle, by which I mean Cheadle in particular is out there working hard to drum up interest for the movie. That certainly speaks to his passion for the story and how he had to work to get funding not only from traditional investors but also via the IndieGoGo campaign. He’s made the movie happen through sheer force of will and now he’s working to sell the movie in the same manner, by just getting out there in everyone’s face.

And it works. The marketing feels a little disjointed at times – the trailer has an interesting flow that takes a couple viewings to really get – and there’s no real consistency between the various elements. But regardless of some issues with the execution it all works in the direction of selling a movie that has a unique and interesting point of view and story. Cheadle is, of course, the centerpiece here in a push that sells the movie as a buddy caper that just so happens to involve a musical legend.

After the Campaign: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

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In my review of the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice marketing campaign I wrote:

What I find most interesting is that it seems determined to double-down on the one part of Man of Steel that was the most controversial: The big fight at the end. Many reviews of that movie criticized the extended battle between Superman and Zod as being sense-numbing as they crashed through building after building in cartoonish fashion. The marketing for BvS: DoJ takes the fight between the title characters, which could take anywhere from 15 minutes to 50 minutes of actual screen time, and makes it the focal point of the trailers and other materials. That leaves little room for, well, anything else.

So there are a few things going on here and yes, I will be discussing spoilers. So bail out now if you want to avoid them.

Ready? Let’s go.

First: The trailers are chock full of the usual “putting two scenes together that aren’t actually connected in the movie” shots. In fact I’m hard-pressed to find a sequence in the trailers from the big fight that flows as it does in the movie itself. Even more than that the amount of time spent in the campaign on the battle between Batman and Superman is completely out of proportion with what’s actually on screen in the finished movie. While there’s lots of talk about how much Bruce Wayne doesn’t trust Superman’s absolute power, the actual confrontation between the two of them doesn’t amount to a lot of time in the final film. So the campaign is definitely guilty of over-selling the face off that the title promised by a fair amount.

Second: Looking back at it, the most accurate of the trailers is actually the second theatrical version. Why? Because it sells the strongest aspect of the movie, which is the Batman-centric plot. Within the 2:31 runtime of the film is a solid Batman movie that I’d love to see more of. But that gets to a bigger point that while Batman gets some time in the campaign to have his story and motivations fleshed out a bit (even if they’re not portrayed 100% accurately) Superman does not. That’s a clear indicator of where the studio feels the audience’s interest actually is, but it means the Man of Steel gets short-shrift in a movie that’s not only a sequel to his solo outing three years ago but one in which his name appears.

Overall the campaign sold the movie accurately, though there are surprises a plenty waiting for the audience in the movie itself, and not all of them pleasant. But there’s only so much of a 2:31 movie you can fit in the trailers, TV spots and more, particularly when the movie uses dream sequences not to advance the actual story but to either setup sequels or seemingly as an outlet for whatever random ideas the screenwriters came up with that couldn’t be shoehorned into the core story.

And there’s a lot of story here, though it’s littered with non-sequitors that advance the plot in fits and starts, without any logical progression of events and with lots of amazingly coincidental timing of various threads converging.

Also missing from the campaign, though it’s easy to guess at, is just how completely Wonder Woman (not Diana Prince, who’s given nothing of interest to do, but Wonder Woman) and Alfred steal the damn movie. Seriously, I could watch grumpy Jeremy Irons completely own every scene he’s in for hours. And Gal Gadot, once she becomes WW, kicks all kinds of ass. I can’t wait for her solo movie where she’s given more to do than think she’s going to steal back a JPG file.

The movie’s $170m box-office take has started all sorts of hand-wringing in the film media world along the lines of “critics don’t matter” since it was almost universally-panned by the professionals. So what, goes the thinking, is the role of the critic if they can’t convince people they shouldn’t be wasting their time on movies like this? There are lots of reasons for this and BvS is certainly not the only movie – even in the last year – to be labeled “critic proof.” But this time it seems to be especially spite-filled since critic positions are dropping left and right at major news outlets. So put those two things together and you have an environment ripe for those remaining critics at trade pubs to decry how the unprofessional bloggers wield more influence than they do.

I’m of two minds on this. On the one hand, the democratization of film criticism is a demonstrable good thing. More people opining on movies means more opportunities for smaller movies to be championed and rise from obscurity, something that’s even more true in an age of more distribution options. So someone can really get behind a movie that might just be on iTunes and Netflix and hasn’t benefitted from a big Hollywood release marketing and publicity push.

But on the other hand, how that power is used is something I’m not always a fan of. Because many of these folks didn’t go through the ranks of the professional film world they’re lacking in certain chops and structures, when means they indulge their inner fan a bit more than someone with a strict editor might. That leads to a world that only helps these “critic proof” movies because they’re the ones whose every trailer is dissected in 17 different posts, whose spy photos from the set are analyzed over and over again and so on. They’re feeding the content beast but the content they’re producing isn’t all that different from what their competitors are, leading to a buzz bubble.

It would have been difficult for a movie like Batman v Superman that had so much awareness and buzz to fail. Not saying it couldn’t happen, but it would have been hard. The reality is it’s easier for critics to build movies up than to tear them down. So while critical positivity helped Spotlight and others do better than they may have otherwise, their impact on hurting BvS was, if there was any, minimal. No, what will do a movie like this in is word-of-mouth. Everyone went and saw it this past weekend, but how they’re talking about it with their friends and social networks will determine the long-term fate.

Movie Marketing Madness Recap: 3/25/16 New Releases

I Saw The Light

…the campaign sells a movie that doesn’t sugarcoat some of the problems Williams went through in his short but prolific life. Sure, it still presents him as a man who was heralded as a genius both while and after he was alive, but the marketing shows that the ways he fell short of being someone to truly look up to and idolize, at least personally. Williams may be a relatively obscure figure – he doesn’t have the broad cultural awareness of someone like Johnny Cash – so the challenge is to make the movie, through the campaign, relevant to the bigger audience, a bar I’m not completely sure is cleared here. But for those who enjoy a good biopic or those who *are* hip to Williams’ role in music, there’s a lot to latch onto here.

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Get a Job

…it’s not bad for a movie that’s been on hold for four years. There’s nothing here that’s going to blow anyone’s doors off and it takes the easy way out on a lot of fronts. But the trailer sells what looks to be a totally pleasant video-on-demand rental. It makes the case that hey, these two leads have some decent charm and charisma and the story isn’t going to task your mental facilities too much so come on in and enjoy.

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

You can’t say the marketing isn’t both consistent and on-brand. Everything here is washed out, devoid of strong colors and drenched in rain and fire. It’s perfectly in line with the universe begun by Man of Steel and with Zack Snyder’s overall directorial brand. All that carries over from the posters to the trailers to the site and more.

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My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

The campaign sells a movie that is indeed charming but which is going to appeal to…actually I think this is going to appeal to the same demographic, or at least the same people, as the first one. The 2002 movie wasn’t exactly aimed at young people and this one isn’t either. It’s for people who want something mildly amusing on a Friday night, either at the theater or at home, with their significant others. This isn’t “wacky” romcom territory, it’s more heartfelt. So if you liked the first movie you will likely be interested in this one, though it may not be enough to pull you out to the theater.

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Getting People’s Attention On Upcoming News

There’s a lot of interesting experimentation going on in this story as various news sites try different ways to keep readers engaged and interested longer editorial features. But the one that sparks my imagination the most is the one from The Washington Post, which teased a story in advance of publication and asked readers to sign up to be alerted by email when the story was live.

An approach like this solves, at least partially, one of the biggest problems that have emerged as we shifted away from first direct site visits and then consumption via RSS, whether through a reader or something that masked the technology like MyYahoo. Namely, the fact that we’re dependent in a social discovery paradigm on happenstance. If we aren’t looking at Twitter we’ll miss the story. If enough people don’t share it on Facebook, we’ll miss the story. And it may be something we’re going to be super-interested in.

But with this “Coming Soon” approach where people take the positive action that yes, they’d like to read this when it’s published, the issue of awareness is minimized. A list of what’s coming down the pike in the near future can be promoted via social, sure, but also via an existing email list, making people aware that X story is coming soon and asking them to sign up for it. Then when it’s published they’re again alerted via email.

This is behavior that people are already trained to engage in. We sign up for beta access to social networks and apps, we get alerts when new features are added to products we’re using and so on. And we *like* being teased before release. It works on the audience. If it didn’t, movie studios wouldn’t be increasing their usage of 15-second teasers announcing a full theatrical trailer is coming a week before it’s released.

There is, of course, the potential for these alerts to become smarter over time. If I keep signing up for alerts about stories dealing with movie marketing, Cubs baseball or other topics I’m interested in then the system managing these alerts can make sure I get anything related to those going forward. But that needs to be in addition to stories that I *should* know about like those covering politics, environmental issues and so on. Basically, it can’t get so smart in anticipating what I’m likely to ready that it stops sending me stories that I need to read based on an editorial judgement.

However this is implemented I think there’s a lot of upside in the reminder era of media. With everyone’s attention more scattered every day it’s more important than ever to be prodded about something we may be interested in or didn’t have time to finish.

Targeted Ads Mean Loss of Common Cultural Conversations

The points made here about which platforms are still important to certain demographics is absolutely worth taking and remembering since those aren’t always the same ones getting all the media buzz. But also worth noting is the point at the end about how digital isn’t about mass reach, it’s about finite and specific message targeting as marketers try and reach the *right* audience. That’s something that’s only going to get more and more thinly sliced as technology improves.

That also means, though, that advertising and marketing are becoming and will continue to become less and less of a cultural touchpoint.

Let me unpack that a bit. Rightly or wrongly, everyone in my generation and previous ones knows about The Marlboro Man. He was in commercials, on billboards, in magazine ads and everywhere else. If you say “Marlboro Man” to someone my age they’ll know just what you’re talking about. It’s a common cultural language.

In a world of customized messages, though, we lose that. The person next to me may be getting an ad for Starbucks sale on at-home coffee pods just like I am, but the ad is going to be different depending on what the ad server knows about each of us. Mine might have bolder colors and a more masculine message since I’m dead butch and only use my phone to do dude stuff, I swear. My neighbor, on the other hand, may receive a softer message since they spend their days researching how to help the pandas and what hours a local charity needs volunteers.

So the immediate value of the ad message may be greater since that customization may result in higher click-throughs or other actions. But the long-term value is decreased since nothing rises to the level of common cultural experience that transcends media and time.

It occurs to me that that’s why the Super Bowl, at least for the time being, will continue to be a big advertising event. It’s the one time when a mass audience is all seeing the same message at the same time, enabling it to be conversation fodder across demographic lines. Even that is threatened, though, as it’s likely online streaming of that and other sports events will only increase. That online viewing will be supported by ads that are based on our online behavior and other factors. There may still be the mass ads that everyone sees, but there will be more pressure for advertisers to really target the audience specifically, meaning I’m going to see something other people don’t.

There are certainly better things to talk about than ads and marketing. But it also means that word-of-mouth that results from those paid efforts is going to be impacted. If we’re not seeing the same thing, we’re not talking about the same thing. That common touchpoint is lost as we can’t have a single conversation based on sometimes drastically different experiences.

Social Media Usage by Fortune 500 Companies

New from me on Voce Nation:

University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research is out with its latest update on social media usage by Fortune 500 companies in 2015 and there are some big surprises here.

First, far fewer companies maintained active blogs last year, just 21% , or a little over 100 companies. That makes two years in a row that usage declined, with this tactic peaking at 34% in 2013 and beginning a decline in 2014. That means fewer companies see the value in long-form content, though the study doesn’t make it clear whether it’s counting blogs that may be hosted on Tumblr or Medium. Many brands have migrated their content publishing to those platforms in the last couple years and it would be interesting to know if those are included in these stats.

Source: Blogging and Other Social Media Usage Slips Among Fortune 500 « Voce Communications