Brand Ryan Reynolds

My latest contribution to Adweek is a look at how a promotion for Detective Pikachu fits right in with everything else Ryan Reynolds has done over the last two years.

Ryan Reynolds has a strong public persona, an immediately identifiable personal brand—dry, egotistical, quick-witted and slightly oblivious—that he has unleashed on his audiences to promote project after project.

Most recently, his signature self mockery is on display in a new video posted to the actor’s personal YouTube channel to help promote Pokemon: Detective Pikachu, in which he voices the little yellow Pokemon character that has become a ubiquitous visual shorthand for the brand.

via Ryan Reynolds Reveals the Method Acting and Personal Sacrifices Behind Detective Pikachu – Adweek

You Don’t Have to Be An Authority

In 2006 I’d already been writing Movie Marketing Madness for two years, first at Film Threat and then on my own blog. It was then that a well-known movie news/opinion writer linked to that blog and highlighted my stuff, describing me as likely being a single, lonely guy who had worked in advertising for years. I left a comment saying no, I was married, worked a full-time job that wasn’t advertising – though it was in the marketing field – and had two kids.

I wasn’t an expert in movie marketing theory and tactics when I started MMM, just someone with an interest in how it worked and in taking a different approach to analyzing and discussing new trailers and such. There was no reason I should have started writing about it and no reason my work should have achieved any sort of recognition.

Likewise, a non-fiction book I’m working on right now is on a subject I’ve only tangentially written about in the past, though I’ve done so more frequently recently. It’s something that caught my attention and sparked some questions in my mind and I’ve since thrown myself into it.

Expertise on a subject is important and I’m the first one to advocate for books, articles and papers from those who have spent years or decades studying a particular issue, industry or topic. Their work forms the foundation of knowledge and when it is discounted or ignored we all suffer.

There’s also, though, space in the debate for the outsider who comes in with a fresh perspective and an eagerness to learn, even as he or she is sharing that learning process in public as it happens. They often come at a subject without the biases and assumptions found in subject matter experts and may question some things that haven’t been held to much scrutiny in a good long while.

This is not advocating for ill-informed trolling or taking outrageous positions while willfully remaining ignorant of certain realities. That’s just being a jerk.

Writers, though, shouldn’t be afraid to sometimes write about topics they have little experience with. It’s useful to throw some new ideas out there and show that you’re interested in a subject and eager to learn more as you contribute and listen to the conversation currently happening. Do your research and become informed, but don’t feel as if you have to wait until you’ve achieved a PHD in a field, or that you have to have a decade of experience in order to make your voice heard.

New participants and perspectives should be and are welcome, assuming they are contributing in good faith and are willing to have their positions, opinions and conclusions held to some level of professional standard. Making outrageous statements just to “challenge the status quo” without grounding them in reality or erecting straw men to make a illogical point isn’t helpful.

If you want to explore a subject you haven’t previously, do so. Right now I’m pitching the book being written to different publishers and making it clear what kind of experience I do or don’t have, but still pointing out the *why* behind me taking on the subject and what I hope to offer to the industry. Don’t let previous lack of experience hold you back from exploring new areas that are of interest to you, just make sure you’re not jumping in and assuming you’ll be held up as an expert within minutes. Your voice is important but it will take time to gain stature as someone to be taking seriously.

Selling How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

My latest post for The Hollywood Reporter is a recap of the marketing campaign for How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.

As of Feb. 19, The Hidden World has already grossed over $175 million overseas ahead of its U.S. bow. And a 98 percent Rotten Tomatoes score also bodes well, but the movie arrives amid the slowest winter box office period in almost a decade, one where sequels in particular aren’t performing as well as expected. Here’s a look at the rollout of the film’s marketing.

via ‘How to Train Your Dragon 3’ Bets On Familiar Formula In Marketing | Hollywood Reporter

The Cubs Go Exclusive

It’s a rough time to be a fan of the Chicago Cubs, which is an odd sentence to write less than three years after the team famously won their first World Series title in over a century.

Back in the 1980s, before lights were added to Wrigley Field, all Cubs home games were broadcast on WGN-TV at a time that was great for a young fan growing up as a fan of the team. Games began at either 1:20 or 3:05, meaning by the time I got home from school I could catch at least the last couple innings. It was easy to go to the Wrigley ticket window and get tickets an hour before the game started. WGN Radio broadcast every game, home and away. There was always a free or relatively inexpensive way to enjoy the Cubs.

The barriers have been steadily going up since the mid-90s. When WGN-TV became an affiliate of The WB the network shunted about half of the Cubs games it carried over to UPN, a basic cable station. Since then things have become even more scattered around different channels, making it difficult for fans to find games on TV. On radio, broadcasts are now on WSCR.

The TV landscape will change further as Cubs ownership partners with Sinclair Media in a regional sports network named “Marquee.” That deal will effectively spell the end of free Cubs broadcasts, as the RSN will require an additional fee for cable subscribers. That will present a significant hurdle for some people who can’t afford access to the station, meaning a whole group of potential fans will never enjoy games on TV, an easy way to become attached to a team and a sport.

Narrowing the field further is the fact that cable subscriber numbers overall are declining, driven in part by cost and in part by streaming services becoming more attractive with original and licensed content. And the cost of tickets to see the game at Wrigley spiked in the wake of the World Series victory to the most expensive in the major leagues.

All of that makes becoming a fan more difficult logistically. People have less disposable income because while their wages may have risen, those increases have been outpaced by inflation, decreasing the buying power of each dollar earned.

Adding to that are other, more subjective issues. The Chicago Tribune, a corporate cousin of the Cubs when both were owned by The Tribune Company, has long been understood to have a politically conservative editorial stance. But Sinclair Media is even more of a right wing advocacy group, recently making headlines for requiring TV anchors read an inflammatory statement on-air regarding “false news,” meaning any news not found on its own stations. It lost in its bid last year to merge with Tribune Media, with regulators finding its proposed arrangement for station ownership was essentially a sham.

Additionally, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts recently had to address racist statements made by his father Joe in leaked emails, underscoring the family’s long-standing status as supporters of Pres. Donald Trump and other far right-wing figures. The elder Ricketts is no friend to the media in recent years, blaming those outlets for jumping on the email comments while the wounds from his abrupt and questionable shut down of the DNAinfo and Gothamist network of sites despite their popularity and potential were still fresh.

What has happened to the Cubs is indicative of how the media landscape has changed so dramatically so many times in the last decade. Free TV becomes Basic Cable becomes Premium Cable, all as the audience dwindles but revenues are maintained because the remaining subscribers are more wealthy and therefore more attractive to audiences.

At the same time, choices in what media to consume are being made increasingly on ideological affiliation. People are choosing what to watch, read and listen to only after determining that an outlet presents their preferred version of truth.

So the Cubs, once the epitome of how wholesome baseball was and could be, find themselves in the middle of a number of societal crosshairs. Watching the game on TV or in person is, because of the lack of free broadcast options, an expensive proposition not everyone can afford. And supporting the team – something that used to be an easy decision because in Chicago it was either that or the White Sox, which no one should be allowed to do – now implicitly indicates support for a hard right-wing agenda.

There’s a lot going on there that can’t easily be sorted out. As is often the case, it’s those who just want to enjoy the National Pastime free of such weighty concerns that are impacted the most.

Content Marketing Insights: Developing a Program Framework – General Principles

A content marketing program is more complex than some would have you believe. This is one in a series of posts laying out some best practices and essential steps to take when developing or evaluating a program for you or your organization.

When you, your team and whatever other stakeholders are laying the groundwork for a content marketing program the first step is to create some sort of structure for that program. These aren’t hard and fast rules on what content is or isn’t included or instructional how-tos on publishing and engaging.

Instead the Program Framework is a set of ideas and objectives the program will use as its guiding document. If content marketing programs are a journey – and they very much are – the program framework isn’t a map with specific directions. Instead it’s more of a repository for where you want to go, what you want to see along the way and at your destination, who’s going to decide where to eat and how you’ll decide whether or not the trip was a success.

A good program framework, in my experience, consists of five overall sections, the first of which is.

General Principles

When drafting the general principles for a program, remember to think big picture and not get caught up in granular tactics or even goals. These are the kinds of statements that make for effective principles:

We will share information that is relevant to our business and interesting to our audience and customers.

To be a resource for those seeking information on the kinds of products and services we offer as well as address the needs of customers and others.

To be fresh and funny while still conveying a clear message about all aspects of our business or organization.

Each of those can be fleshed out a bit and tweaked to your particular industry, business or audience, but the overall tone should be clear: That you want to lay out “this is what we’re all about and the kind of tone we will seek to take in our communications.”

These principles are, as you may notice, platform agnostic. At no point do they mention any one outlet because they should be applicable to as many platforms as the program encompasses while allowing for new ones to be added. You can adhere to those principles whether you’re talking about Instagram, email, a blog or whatever new platforms will come on your radar two years from now.

There will, of course, be shifts that occur in those principles since, while they are flexible enough to be relevant most anywhere, business goals and needs will change over time. So if responding to customer questions becomes less of a priority, or direct sales become a bigger element of the program, it’s alright to revisit this statement of principles and make revisions.

That being said, doing so lightly can lead to confusion and cause more problems than it solves. This is the basic foundation of the program and should be treated as such.

Going back to the analogy of taking a trip, this is the part of the planning process where you say “We are going to Disney World for four days.” You haven’t laid out what route will be taken, what form of transportation you’ll be taking, where you’re eating meals or how much money you’ve budgeted. It’s just the high-level statement that should be easily understood by all involved parties.

Changing the statement of general principles is akin to saying “We’re now going to New York City for five days.” The entire premise on which what’s coming next has changed, leading to the need to secure buy-in and agreement from those involved all over again.

In that way, the general principles of a content marketing program are both vague and specific. They can be applied to many aspects both present and future of the program and don’t tie you to specific tactics or goals, but they also explain to everyone who touches the program what there is to be gained.

Selling Alita: Battle Angel

My latest contribution to The Hollywood Reporter is a recap of the marketing campaign for Alita: Battle Angel.

With a screenplay from James Cameron and direction from Robert Rodriguez, Alita: Battle Angel should be on the tips of every sci-fi action fan’s tongue. Yet the 60 percent rating the movie has on Rotten Tomatoes indicates a lackluster response could await the movie. To try and counter that, Fox has worked to build up the movie as a can’t-miss cinematic experience, promising audiences massive spectacle in the movie.

via ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ Marketing Bets on Cinematic Spectacle | Hollywood Reporter

Flickr’s Changes Offer Multiple Warnings For the Future

April Glaser offers a number of good thoughts related to the impending changes to the photo-sharing site Flickr, which is about to start forcing people to pay for a Pro membership if they don’t want their pictures – at least those over 1,000 – permanently deleted. For anyone who’s been using the site for any length of time, that 1,000 photo limit is likely incredibly restrictive.

Particularly, Glaser notes that Flickr and other photo storage services from Amazon, Apple and other companies have long operated by promising users that their pics will always be available on demand, replacing memory with ease of access. That value proposition is the same one made by most other social networks and online publishing platforms. Think of how Facebook displays reminders of what you were doing a year ago or other prompts. They want you to put your activities and memories there so you can find them when you want to relive a moment.

When they go belly up or change the terms of service, well…that’s on you, unfortunately. When a platform goes down or wants to restrict the kinds of material that can be published such as what Tumblr recently announced, you have little choice in the matter. You’ve invested the time and energy in building up an archive and network of connections, so leaving is a difficult if not impossible choice.

Flickr’s decision to monetize its power users is lousy for those affected but understandable on some level, similar to how media companies are increasingly putting up either paywalls (metered or complete) or adding membership layers where paying customers can access additional material and reports.

Glaser’s conclusion that trusting private, for-profit companies to altruistically store our media and memories isn’t a great model for society is spot-on. Unstated is that those who still aren’t charging for access are probably monetizing those photos in other ways.

It’s entirely likely, for instance, that Amazon and Google are taking the photos people upload and using them to train their facial recognition AI. Both companies have reportedly used platforms like Mechanical Turk and others to have people look at photos and tag them with objects, colors and other details, presumably including photos users have added themselves. You, then, are providing the foundational data on which these companies are building algorithms that can be used in various sketchy ways.

Indeed teaching AI seems to now be the point of social media and other online platforms. Even if it’s not, the fear is out there, which is why so many people (including myself) see things like the #10YearChallenge as a means to get us to show these systems how we age so it can get better at predicting such things.

The tradeoffs we’re making in exchange for using private platforms are becoming increasingly intrusive and dangerous. They’ve gone from “you’ll see more targeted ads” to “you’re granting us the ability to learn everything about you and use that information in ways we’ll never tell you about.” That goes beyond fears that one day we’ll be charged for the privilege of accessing material we thought was ours.

Video Lures More Media Companies

Publishing company Complex has become the latest media outlet to license original programming to a streaming service, in this case both Netflix and Hulu. The first will get six shows while the second gets 10.

Complex’s situation is a bit different, as the article points out, than efforts by publishers like Vox Media and others in that it’s licensing programs already being produced as opposed to original shows like “Follow This” that Buzzfeed created (briefly) for Netflix.

That so many companies see deals with subscription services as a good business decision (many of these shows have already been cancelled in some manner or another) says a good deal about the state of the media landscape on a number of fronts.

Podcasts Are Great But Not Everything

There’s been a lot of buzz about the podcast market lately, especially in the wake of Spotify’s acquisition of both producer Gimlet Media and do it yourself recording and publication app Anchor. Spotify clearly wants to get in on some of the growing ad dollars coming into the category, the same thing driving other publishers, though some have opted out after seeing initial efforts failing to gain traction.

Podcasts are opt-in media, though, and serendipity in discovery is sometimes missing, meaning the barriers to people finding your podcast are high and often determined by the hosting company. That’s why some (including myself) found the Spotify deal for Gimlet so worrisome, because the company is likely to make these platform exclusive, undermining the free and open feeds that initially formed the foundation of podcasting.

For all the buzz around podcasts, the audience is still relatively small compared to the subscriber bases for services like Netflix and Hulu. These shows have the potential to achieve much wider reach by using streaming as a new distribution outlet than they could if they were just going through a podcast provider or being offered on the brand’s own distribution channels.

Note That These Aren’t Social-Based

There was a time not too long ago when existing and new media brands were making a big deal around going “social only,” eschewing a hub website in favor of distributing all text, video and audio content on other platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Medium, YouTube and others.

But Facebook Watch, that company’s much-hyped video destination, is sucking wind having failed to connect with audiences or advertisers. Twitter has fared slightly better but has done so largely by not trying to create a single point of engagement, instead working with companies like Bloomberg, Cheddar and others to create original programming that isn’t quite so reliant on the algorithm to aid discovery.

Buzzfeed and others certainly do produce a fair amount of social-exclusive material, but they have also seen that doing so isn’t the only way forward. Deals like the one Complex made show that Netflix, Hulu, Apple and others really are, to borrow a phrase, the new TV while Twitter, Facebook and Instagram – which has also seen its IGTV platform fail to launch – are minor distribution points and are more valuable as promotional outlets than viewing destinations.

There are two lessons to learn from these examples, then:

First, go where people are. Innovation and experimentation is great, but you can’t force drastic, sudden shifts in audience behavior and preferences.

Second, know how people act. Facebook and Instagram aren’t used as long-form consumption platforms, something exemplified by how Facebook Instant Articles is a thing you heard a lot about for a while but which was quickly abandoned and is now largely forgotten. They are for quick hits and casual touch content.

We’re seeing a lot of experimentation and pivoting happening right now, both on the production and distribution ends of the game. It’s likely there will be even more as services begin to shake out, strategies become solidified and audience preferences become more entrenched.

Never Sleep Again Thanks to Will Smith’s Genie

Writing about the first appearance of Will Smith as Genie in a new Aladdin TV spot for Adweek was just a form of therapy.

When Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of Aladdin was featured on an Entertainment Weekly cover story last December, fans were slightly concerned. Will Smith was not, on the cover or any of the interior photos shared in the issue, blue like the animated character voiced by Robin Williams in the original. Quick to set minds at ease, Smith posted on Instagram that, yes, he would be blue in the actual film.

Now we know that Smith’s assurance was less a promise and more a threat.

via Will Smith’s Aladdin Genie Finally Appeared During the Grammys, and Viewers Were Creeped Out – Adweek

Revisit 90s Web Design With Captain Marvel

I wrote about the Geocities-inspired website Marvel Studios launched for Captain Marvel for The Hollywood Reporter.

The story is set in the 1990s, some 20 years before the emergence of Iron Man and the rest of the Avengers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So it’s only fitting that Marvel has created a site that not only evokes that era, but also re-creates it in glorious, Trumpet Winsock fashion familiar to anyone who ever waited for a site to finish loading while hoping their roommate didn’t pick up the phone and kill the 14.4 mbs Internet connection.

via ‘Captain Marvel’ Retro Website: Dream of the ’90s Is Alive | Hollywood Reporter