Tracking Ads to the Physical World Is The Next Threshold

As part of remarks made at a recent industry conference, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told anxious advertisers the company was working to not just provide better ad tools but also on ways to tie those ads to physical sales. Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey made similar comments, promising better measurement for advertisers.

Facebook announced last year that integrated maps of physical stores into ads and then showed advertisers who acted as a result of those ads. What seems likely is that it and other companies will take this kind of tracking even further. Let’s put two facts together to see how they add up to something even more intrusive.

First, Facebook knows when you’re in a store to enough detail that it can not only show a relevant ad but show an ad that’s relevant to the *section* of the store you’re in at the moment.

Second, Facebook knows when you’ve been exposed to an ad, whether that’s on mobile or desktop.

Put those together and you have the ability to know when someone visited a store after seeing an ad and, with just a little tweaking, can likely tie that to exact purchases and revenue that can be used to…yes…target further ads. This solves the age old question of outdoor, TV and other advertising that lacked direct response, which is whether or not that billboard on I-55 actually lead to a Snickers bar purchase and when that happened.

Imagine the following: You see an ad on Thursday on Facebook (LinkedIn or Twitter or any of their associated audience networks that take ads to other sites) for a sale on jeans at Old Navy. Facebook knows you’ve seen that ad because you had to scroll past it to see your friends’ pictures from Aruba. You don’t take an action then but when you’re out on Saturday you stop into Old Navy and get not only some jeans but also a t-shirt and some socks. The location-tracking Facebook is capable of knows you were there and can report to Old Navy it took three days but you finally acted on that ad. That’s valuable enough.

Now if you provide some details that Old Navy enters into its CMS it has a list of the products you bought and the amount you spent. It wouldn’t take much to tie those details into Facebook’s database and create a comprehensive report showing you spent $67.43 on four items three days after seeing an ad and based on the items you both bought and looked at (remember, Facebook can apparently track you down to the square foot), serve you ads later on offering you more deals at Old Navy.

As ad revenue growth begins to level off at Facebook and ad volume hits the extent of audience patience, expect the ads it serves to be all that more intrusive, which means more tracking. Retargeting online shows that’s already in full swing there, now it’s likely to come to you via your real-world behavior as well.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Google’s Feed Is Another Attempt at Algorithm Over Intention

Google is rolling out Feed, a personalized stream of news and information it feels will be relevant and interesting to users, to Android phones now with iOS and desktop web versions coming soon. You’ll be able to offer the algorithm suggestions and tell it when something doesn’t strike your fancy to help improve suggestions and follow certain topics that are shown.

That’s just another example of a company essentially deciding you’re not smart enough to be left in control of your own media experience. Instead of offering a blank canvas for you to fill in on your own, Feed gives you a select set of materials already arranged in a particular order it feels is optimal, leaving the user only enough freedom to rearrange things slightly.

More that even, we’re asked to train systems in what we like. All those likes and dislikes and other nudges are meant to help the AI that powers news display learn more about us and theoretically offer better content.

What really jars me is that there’s an inherent lack of logic behind all of these requests – be they from Facebook, Google or any other company – for readers to train the AI that powers these services. If the reader is so smart and so in tune with what they want, then why put an algorithm between them and their feed? Why not let them take the positive action to follow a social profile or subscribe to a feed and let them sort it out and manage the inputs as they see fit?

It’s because this isn’t about letting people create the media experience they want. RSS did that. Even Twitter’s firehose, unfiltered approach to updates does that. Everything else isn’t about allowing people to exercise control, it’s about gathering data on them that can be used to better target advertising. Every signal that’s sent is one more datapoint that can more finely-tune the next wave of ads.

Google’s Feed may be fine, but it still comes from a mindset that believes you’re not smart or responsible enough to be left in control of your own media experience. That’s an approach that not only carries with it plenty of opportunity for abuse but, at least to date, has come with zero accountability for problems and abuses that have already popped up.

Give people they tools they need to create their own personalized feeds. Don’t force a model on them because of the arrogance that believes programmatic curation is better, especially not when the real goal is just more and more intrusive advertising.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

comScore Updates Millennial App Usage Stats

comScore last week released its 2017 U.S. Mobile App Report, a look at what apps young people were using and how those apps were being used. Recode has a couple good stories about the study, including which apps are most popular with which demographics and how Google and Facebook dominate the lists of top apps. There are couple things that jump out at me, though, when considering the larger narrative presented in these stats.

Net Neutrality is Essential For the Future

The fact that Google and Facebook account for either nine or all 10 of the top apps in every demographic group should be incredibly disconcerting, Pandora being the only exception in two of the four buckets. That means those two companies, which aren’t answerable to any sort of public commission or group that ensures the public interest is being served, are the primary touch points to the web for most people. A lot of power is controlled by just those two companies, enough that it could…I don’t know…sway elections if it were misused.

Both Facebook and Google have insisted on a laissez faire approach from government and other groups, insisting that we trust them despite the lack of transparency either provides into how news is filtered in their systems, how search results are determined and more. And that’s *without* actual systems that help to keep them at the top of the heap by stifling innovation among upstarts.

Right now those upstarts, many of which wind up being bought by either of those two or a handful of other companies, may be the only thing keeping them in check. If rules stripping away net neutrality concepts were put in place and only the biggest were allowed to survive, the monoculture that results from such a system would only grow bigger and more dangerous. That may sound like hyperbole, but remember that our government has only been curbed at times by a viciously free and open press. If these two companies – or any two others – are allowed to consolidate more power, democracy withers even further.

App Homescreens are the New Trapper Keeper

This is slightly less serious than the first point, but two things struck me regarding the aesthetics of the mobile experience: Young people won’t tolerate bad app icon design and they like to keep their home screen clean, with most preferring to organize all but a few chosen apps into folders.

That says to me that they see their home screen as an extension and representation of themselves, their personality and their “brand.” They want that home screen, should someone else see it, to convey a particular message about their preferences and habits. Those screens are carefully curated in the same way the brands people follow on social media, the stickers they put on the front of their laptop and other public displays are.

So there should be a lot of pressure on app designers and companies as a whole to make that cut. Just like my parents’ generation was very picky about what, if any, bumper stickers were added to their cars, young people today are very picky about what apps they want to access regularly. While there’s a stated antipathy toward push alerts, those are more essential when apps are nested in this way since they might serve as the only reminder to the user that the app is still active. That can mean either with a company continuing to push new content or as a statement that the social network is still being actively used by a relevant group of people.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Content Marketing Updates for 8/25/17

  • Snapchat has introduced Crowd Surf, a new system that uses artificial intelligence to find when many people are sharing video from a concert and assemble also those clips into a single video.
  • Facebook has redesigned its “trending news” section for mobile reading, making it easier to sort through updates and including related stories from a variety of outlets.
  • A redesign of the mobile News Feed in general is designed to emphasize visibility into who’s engaging with a post, where a link might take you and more to make the whole process, presumably, a bit more transparent. It also updated a number of features in the Camera app.
  • A new green dot will show you when someone has been active on Tumblr recently, letting you know who might be available to chat.
  • Instagram has added comment threading to help keep conversations going more naturally.
  • LinkedIn has introduced a new native video creation tool for the mobile app that will be rolling out to all users over time.
  • I’m not going to be switching over to Ghost anytime soon, but it’s great to not only see someone innovating in the blog platform space but also doing so in an open-source manner.
  • Twitter’s Explore tab will begin showing people topics they may be interested in sorted in a way that’s based on their usage of the platform. That’s an attempt to make valuable, relevant information more prevalent, especially to new users.
  • Interesting statistics here on why young adult shoppers prefer the experience on a brand’s own website as opposed to that of a retailer.
  • Could be bad news for Snapchat as influencers identify it as the one they are or are most likely to drop in favor of Instagram and others.
  • Facebook is selling in-stream spots separate from bundled News Feed buys, something that was apparently high up on the list of requests from agencies.
  • The photo you’re responding to on Instagram will now appear as a sticker in the photo you take as the response. Sure, why not.
  • Facebook’s latest target in the News Feed: Video clickbait. Specifically, it’s taking aim at some of the slimy tactics disreputable publishers engage in to trick people into playing their videos.
  • Apparently we’re more prone to make rash, impulsive shopping decisions on our phones than we are in person or on our desktop computers.
  • After bringing GIF-like previews to YouTube, Google is now introducing six-second previews of videos directly in search results to, it says, help inform people as to what they’re about to click on.
  • YouTube is curating a “Breaking news” section across platforms to help people stay connected and/or know what level of panic and despair to maintain.
  • Digital video advertising is growing ever bigger in absolute dollars, but as a percentage of overall digital ad budgets it’s remaining pretty flat.
  • Chat bots are something marketers need to educate themselves on ASAP.
  • Facebook’s new tool lets brands directly boost posts from influencers they’ve engaged in branded content campaigns, keeping the original person’s branding on the post. Ad execs, though, worry that this will lead to influencer posts being suppressed in the feed, diminishing reach unless dollars are spent.
  • Snapchat is the latest platform company to announce it will be moving into providing a home for exclusive scripted video content.
  • Some early success stories coming out of Facebook Watch, though I have to wonder how much of that comes from these videos being given preferential treatment in the News Feed.
  • You can now take 360-degree photos and video from within the Facebook app itself.
  • Publishers in the Medium Partner Program will have the option of making stories available only to members and then be paid based on engagement and reach. That also includes a metered paywall limiting non-members to a set number of “free” posts they can read per month.
  • As part of its effort to help restore trust in what news is shared on its platform, Facebook will display media brand logos next to stories from that site.
  • New updates to the Musical.ly app include a section of recommendations based on what you’ve watched and enhanced user profiles.
  • Email management software is the most common tool used by content marketers, followed by content management systems.
  • Snapchat will let advertisers control whether their ads appear alongside all content or just that produced by the company itself and its media partners.
  • You can now edit Anchor’s new videos and share snippets.

Google’s AMP Subscription Plans, or “Isn’t This RSS?”

As part of a reported larger outreach program to publishers, Google is said to be working on ways to help convert casual news readers to subscribers. Specifically, it’s using its Accelerated Mobile Pages technology, which loads pages more quickly on mobile devices, to identify potential subscribers and then make the conversion process more streamlined.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but wasn’t RSS basically this?

OK, I’ll get off my usual soapbox a bit here because I know RSS, while it works great on mobile (don’t have to load images, doesn’t require big draws on servers) is anonymous. Publishers don’t know that it’s me who’s subscribed to their feed. That’s one of the big reasons, I suspect, why many sites have stopped offering RSS and switched over fully to email newsletters or social. Unlike RSS feeds, those options allow them to capture some data about me.

Still, they could see my click-through activity. They could see (if they did their job and added tracking codes to the URL) that the visit came from the RSS feed and collected a cookie about me, giving them some data and allowing for ad retargeting that hypothetically should have provided some value from my readership. over time they could see what kinds of articles I consistently opened up.

Even aside from those points, Google had that information. I would regularly check my Google Reader stats and see how many articles I had clicked on, how many items from each site I had read in the feed over the last month and so on. So that data was somewhere and Google could have easily changed the terms of service to allow it to sell that data to publishers so they could use it in some way or another.

Once again, as with the recent news about Google’s Stamp experiment, Reader could have served as the foundation for a whole ecosystem that was geared toward mobile news consumption. All the tools were there, but the endless experimentation to mimic Flipboard or Snapchat Discover or whatever else apparently took precedence, complicating what should have been a relatively easy evolution of one product into the launch and eventual folding of countless others.

QR Codes May or May Not Comeback, But the Idea Persists

Rebecca Sentance at ClickZ has an intriguing column up wondering if the time isn’t right for a comeback for QR codes. She points to a number of technical changes that finally incorporate QR code reading as native functionality, which was something that was remarkably missing several years ago when the format seemed poised for taking off the first time. That comes just as Venmo, the popular peer payment app, introduces them for people’s profiles.

It’s entirely possible – probably I’d even say – that QR codes are done in the U.S. market. Even as Apple and Google make it easier for them to be scanned, their moment may be over. If there’d been a better user experience in 2009, maybe it would have caught on. But not only was there no education campaign to explain to people what those codes were and what they could do with them, the value proposition wasn’t strong. Most times the result of scanning one was just a visit to a microsite that wasn’t optimized for mobile devices. And the presence of competing formats, the general QR code and Microsoft’s Tag codes, only muddied the waters further.

The spirit of QR codes lives on, though. Spotify Codes, Snapcodes, Shazam symbols and others all picked up where QR codes left off by simplifying the user experience to a one-code-one-app system. When you see the Spotify symbol next to a code you know just what to do with it. And Snapcodes are so pervasive and easily understood60-year-old politicians use them as their Twitter avatars. More than that, the result of doing so is crystal clear to the user, which increases comfort levels and aids adoption.

Making information instantly available via a quick mobile-centric experience makes a lot of sense. It’s just QR codes wasn’t what was going to get us there. They will still appear on the occasional flyer or pamphlet or product, but I’d be shocked if there’s a big push for them to catch on at this point. They’re too much a punchline right now. But the idea lives on in various ways that are much more appealing to the average user because their utility is apparent and immediate.

Movie Marketing Madness: Transformers: The Last Knight

[downs entire whiskey sour]

Well, the Transformers are back, once more in the hands of director Michael Bay. It’s been 10 years since he first brought the big freaking robots to the big screen, with this being the fifth film in the franchise. Now the Bayhem is unleashed once again in Transformers: The Last Knight, which once more stars Mark Wahlberg and once more features a lot of human beings acting like they matter at all as massive robot warriors decide the best possible place in the universe for them to work out their issues is our planet MARS IS RIGHT THERE GO SOMEWHERE WITHOUT ALL THE CULVER’S, YOU JERKS.

Anyway, this time around there’s yet another plot contrivance to set humans and Cybertronians against each other. Optimus Prime has disappeared but now seems to be back and this time is evil or something. There’s a bigger threat coming toward the planet so it’s up to Wahlberg’s Cade Yeager, Oxford professor Laura Haddock (Vivian Wembley) and Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) to unravel the secret history of Transformers on Earth in order to save humanity from the latest world-killing threat.

The Posters

“Rethink your heroes” we’re told on the first poster, which shows a sword-wielding Optimus Prime standing along a rocky beach as something massive looms in the background, including both sea and air.

A series of character posters were released by Bay on his Twitter that featured many of the main characters, some old, some new. The caption he used when posting them contained some kind of explanation of who they are and what they’re after in the movie. These aren’t bad.

Another poster told the audience the main conflict of the movie was going to be between Prime and Bumblebee, with the former seen looming over the latter as if he’s preparing the killing blow. That’s amplified by copy that reads “For one to live the other must die.”

Another poster plays into the theme from elsewhere in the campaign that the Transformers have been on Earth for a long, long time, by putting one at the forefront of a group of WWII soldiers storming a Nazi headquarters. “Every legend hides a secret” we’re told at the top and it’s called out at the bottom that this was filmed with IMAX cameras, a direct appeal to the tech-heads that are going to be interested in spectacle more than anything.

Black and white character posters started to come out that highlighted the various robots and humans that are in the middle of the story, all with a different descriptive word associated with them.

An IMAX poster put Prime in the middle of the design with not only the looming…whatever in the background but also a huge three-headed dragon for a moment of “what the hell.” I know some of the campaign has shown footage of Transformers fighting with knights and so on, but dragons? Where the hell is this coming from? Seems out of left-field.

One final poster brings the whole cast together, including the humans. They actual actors are arrayed just above Stonehenge, which is shooting a while space laser into the sky. Looming over them are Prime and Bumblebee on opposite sides of that space laster, setting up the conflict between them once more.

The Trailers

There’s not much story in the first teaser trailer. Burton narrates and offers some exposition about a timeless fight that’s been raging. He intones that Optimus Prime has left and asks the question of why the Transformers keep coming to Earth. After that, though, it’s all about Big F***ing Robot action. We see Prime is back, but he doesn’t seem to be acting like himself. Throughout the trailer there’s something – maybe Unicron? – that’s huge and moving toward the planet and is clearly a threat.

God bless Hopkins for doing what he can with what he’s given. His narration is meant to add some dramatic import to the trailer, but that can’t overcome the senseless action and unexplained chaos on display. This looks like exactly the same kind of movie as the previous four installments, which is just what the studio thinks people want.

The first full trailer is somewhat less concerned with the Big F***ing Robots and more with the humans who are around them. It presents a world that’s very different from what we might expect, with humans and robots coexisting in some ways and at odds in others. It almost presents Decepticons as an occupying force and some humans as the militaristic resistance. It focuses on Izzy, a young girl who’s living rough and surviving on her own. She narrates and encourages everyone to “fight like a girl” as we see some of the fighting against our new robot overlords. Izzy is the center of attention throughout, though.

There’s no bigger mythology being played into or hinted at here. It’s actually kind of an overt plea to young girls who may not have been targeted in the campaigns for earlier movies. We get some story hints, particularly with that “Enemy” sign featuring Prime’s face and the fact that everyone seems to live in bombed-out buildings.

The official trailer starts off in the past as we see Transformers in the world 1,000 years ago in castles with kings and knights. We then cut to Optimus Prime having an odd confrontation with his maker. Next it’s Yeager talking to Izzy about what he’d say to his daughter if she were there. After that it’s about Sir Edmund warning that it’s up to a couple of everyday humans to turn the tide of history and stop the persistent threat of the Transformers on Earth. Scenes of chaos raining down on the world are followed by defiant speeches about not giving up and continuing the fight. Prime then intones that the Earth must die for his world to live, meaning we’re in conquest territory here.

OK, fine. The whole idea of Prime being the bad guy here seems really odd and as with most of Bay’s movies the ambitions toward something epic and transformative (sorry) are greater than the actual execution. It’s being sold as yet another entry in the franchise and on that front it succeeds just fine.

Online and Social

Prime’s grizzled visage glares out at you from the front page of the official website, which mostly just has the usual information and a Get Tickets button on it. Remarkably non-cluttered for a movie whose entire visual aesthetic is “busy.”

Moving to the content menu at the top of the page, the first section is “Story,” which lays out the basic idea in the broadest possible terms. There’s a decent chance this is the actual script. After that the “Characters” section has the character posters mentioned above, each with a button to share that image on either Facebook or Twitter.

The “Gallery” has one of the posters along with a handful of stills and some behind-the-scenes production shots of Bay at work just so we remember who the real star of the movie is. “Videos” has the trailers, a couple TV spots and a featurette.

There’s a section for the promotional “Partners” and then “Social” is a drop-down with links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A short TV spot appeared to have kicked off the advertising campaign showing some of the biggest, most explosive elements from the first trailer, including using the “Rethink your heroes” copy that’s interspersed throughout those shots.

A TV spot aired during the Super Bowl that featured more of Hopkins’ intellectual talking about why the Transformers keep coming to Earth and Prime talking about meeting his maker. Future commercials showed off the action and humor of the movie and some were focused intently on continuing to build up the idea that the Transformers have been here throughout history, secretly protecting Earth and participating in major world events.

The debut of movie merchandise in stores was accompanied by a campaign dubbed “Reveal Your Shield” that encouraged fans to identify as Autobots or Decepticons.

In terms of cross-promotional partners, here are some of the companies that helped promote the latest entry in the franchise:

  • Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which created TV ads that took a throwback approach, featuring kids playing with Transformers action figures that are helped in their battle by the company.
  • Maaco, which launched a cross-promotional campaign including a TV spot directed by Bay himself.
  • Schick, which offers a limited edition Transformers-themed handle when you signed up for their subscription shave product service and created other movie-branded products.
  • Sonic Drive-In, which put movie toys in their Wacky Pack kids meals and ran a sweeps offering a hometown screening of the movie and other prizes.
  • Valvoline, which ran some co-branded ads and created “Valvotron,” a new Transformer action figure sporting the company’s logo that was given away to select customers.
  • Crush, which gave away a free movie ticket with the purchase of any three of their four movie-branded cans of REM’s favorite soda.
  • Tasty Kake, which created a quiz to see if you were an Autobot or Decepticon that entered you into a sweeps. That went along with co-branded product packaging.
  • Cat, which offered behind-the-scenes exclusive material and the chance to win exclusive merchandise.

Online and outdoor ads were plentiful, all using variations on the key art, mostly of the close-up of Prime staring at the camera.

Media and Publicity

A first look at the movie’s new villain was teased ahead of time with a series of cryptic messages and really kicked off the publicity campaign outside of news and announcements about the title and filming. Speculation about the movie and its story continued with the release of a banner showing Optimus Prime taking on some sort of dragon.

A small amount of new footage was seen before the first trailer was released in this promotional video celebrating 10 years of collaboration between Bay and IMAX, which has been used for all of the movies in the franchise. The studio also held a fan event at IMAX theaters that showed off footage from the movie as a way to generate some buzz in advance of release.

A short promotional video was released that was structured to appear like it was examining old photos from throughout history from battles and other events that include giant robots. Hot Rod was officially unveiled in a first look photo that appeared in EW’s summer movie preview along with background information on that character’s history. It also included comments from Bay about the extent he went to create monuments to blow up. A clip as well as a humorous promo involving Prime trying to learn a London accent were released during the MTV Movie and TV Awards.

As the final press push was happening and both Bay and Wahlberg were making the media and TV rounds they each signalled this would be the last Transformers movie for both of them. If you’re keeping count, that’s the first such declaration for Wahlberg and at least the third for Bay and he always comes back.

Overall

Oof, there’s a lot to digest here. The story that’s being sold completely upends all the mythology of the previous Transformers movies to an extent that defies credulity unless I’ve missed something massive in the first three entries (I’ve yet to see the fourth) that hints a centuries-long presence on Earth. But honestly, does that even matter? They found a new way to create some new robots that look kind of cool and which are visually indistinguishable (my major complaint with these films) as the rest. It doesn’t matter what the story is, just come see Michael Bay light some fuses and ask a Josh Duhamel to look up at and interact with something that will be inserted digitally later.

As much as the generic designs make many of the robots indistinguishable from one another within the movie, the similarity in tone and feel of the marketing for these movies makes them virtually indistinguishable from one another. They all feature the same shots of landscapes blowing up and humans scattering, of someone warning of dire consequences should the bad guys win and so on. It’s all about selling metallic imagery with no sense of the motivations of anyone, just vague dialogue about the consequences of such and such happening.

The one interesting thing to watch is whether the fifth installment of this series will suffer the same sort of franchise fatigue that’s tanked recent installments of Smurfs and other IP as well as legacy sequels including Independence Day. This isn’t a reboot or remake and it’s only been a couple years since the last Transformers, but still: Audience preferences seem to have shifted recently. So while it’s likely this will do just fine, there’s a chance it could tank and bring the house of metal cards Paramount and Bay have built crashing down.

Want to get Movie Marketing Madness via email? Sign up here. Then connect with MMM on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Instagram Introduces Celebrity Disclosure Tools, But Could Do More

Instagram is introducing a new system for celebrities and other influencers to clearly mark posts for which they’ve been paid as sponsored posts. The way it works is similar to a recent change by Facebook that involves tagging the sponsoring brand and adding the required disclosure.

This seems to be alright and it certainly makes sense for Instagram to follow the lead of corporate owner Facebook. But with so much discussion about how influencers of various stripes aren’t doing everything they need to be doing to meet disclosure guidelines, I’m surprised they didn’t take it further and adopt a different approach.

Specifically, I’m thinking here of something like Facebook Mentions, the app rolled out a couple years ago that was specially meant for celebrities, allowing them to post and interact in a different, more manageable environment than the main Facebook app. It was meant to provide different tools and engagement options that were designed for these power users to take more control of their fan interactions.

So what if Instagram introduced something similar? A separate app available only to select verified users could be specifically for their sponsored posts and automatically add the disclosure statement – a hashtag or whatever else – to those posts. It would take the process completely out of the person’s hands and put it in without them having to do so manually. Instagram could work with various regulatory agencies to make sure that it meets standards. There could even be additional features like the ability to add enhanced links or something like that to make the app even more attractive.

Of course, adoption would still be an issue. Support from the big influencer marketing hook-up agencies, the ones that connect brands with people looking to monetize their social following, would certainly help. That’s especially true if they made use of the app a requirement for people to participate in campaigns being managed.

Basically, I see this as a good first step but there’s more than can be done to really bring some order to this industry. By removing it as a manual action that needs to be actively taken each and every time, something like what I’ve proposed here could bring required disclosure closer to 100%, far from where it is now.

Movie Marketing Madness: Cars 3

When we meet back up with Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) in Cars 3, he’s at a crossroads, so to speak, in his career as a racer. A new generation of cars has come up while he’s been on the circuit that is faster, sleeker and surer of their abilities. Just as he and his contemporaries took over from the cars of Doc Hudson’s era, a crop of cocky young upstarts is now ready to push McQueen to the background.

He’s not quite ready to give up, though, and is determined to not quit until it’s on his own terms and in his own time. To stay at the top of his game he finds he needs the help of not just his old friends but also a technician who can help push just a little bit harder and get a little more out his efforts to stay relevant until he feels it’s time to hang up his racing stripes.

The Posters

The first poster hit the same tone as the first teaser trailer, showing McQueen in some serious danger. It actually shows him flying through the air upside down as sparks fill the space between him and the pavement, speaking to the danger that he faces in the story.

Another one came later that continued the theme of hiding things, showing McQueen and some of the other racers from ground-level so you can’t see everything, especially with the water that’s being splashed up obscuring things a bit.

A handful of character posters didn’t share anyone’s names but did show off McQueen and a couple of the other new cars that are featured in the story.

The Trailers

The first teaser trailer is kind of darkly disturbing. We see a race going on, with McQueen in the lead. But then we hear an announcer say he’s “fading fast” before the screen goes dark, only to reveal him flying out of control through the air as it fades back in. “From this moment, everything will change” the title card reads, hinting at big changes in the status quo of our favorite cars.

Another teaser keeps up the “next generation” theme to show that McQueen faces some serious competition. That leads into more talk about how he might be past his prime but that doesn’t mean he has to give up. More teases of footage showing Lightning undergoing some other training follows, but there’s still no real sense of the story here.

Finally more of the story is explained in the official trailer. We start off by seeing that McQueen is being pitched on becoming a franchise, part of the plan to capitalize after his fading racing career comes to an end. He’s facing irrelevance, in part because of the emergence of a new racer that’s setting all sorts of new records. So he goes back and trains for the new challenges he faces, with all the usual friends in tow and with the attitude that it’s not about “the stuff” that comes with it, it’s just about the racing for him.

It’s great that we’re finally getting a look at the full story and the conflict that will drive the action of the story. It’s exactly what you’d expect as the third installment of this series.

The next – and final – trailer finally lays out the full story for the audience. The focus as it starts is on Jackson Storm, the latest contender to McQueen’s throne. With the racing world changing around him he needs a new approach in order to compete and preserve his legacy and so gets a whole new training team and regimen. Talk of retirement looms but McQueen is determined not to quit but to come up with an approach that keeps him in the game on his own terms.

One more short trailer for that is all about seizing the opportunities given to you, not being too afraid to fail.

Online and Social

You get the usual Disney design when you open the movie’s official website, with a still and title treatment at the top of the page. One thing notable about Disney’s sites is they include ads, in this case a banner at the top that wants you to buy Mattel licensed toy cars based on the movie’s characters.

Anyway, the first section of content is “Video” and is well-stocked with the trailers as well as older animated shorts that debuted around the time of the second movie and in the years between releases. These mostly feature Mater and the rest of the Radiator Springs residents and were meant to just be fun little brand extensions, nothing that’s tied to this or any other movie in the franchise.

Below that there’s a link to find out more about the “Road to the Races,” a nationwide tour featuring life-size versions of the movie’s three main characters that went to 27 cities across the country. That tour is just about done, having run from mid-March through the end of June.

Keep scrolling down the site and you’ll find lots more content that’s generic to the Cars franchise, not specific to this movie. That includes games, stills, character bios and more.

If you want movie-specific information you’ll have to use the menu at the top of the page. After “Videos” the next section there is “Games & Activities” which is where you can play some games, download some iMessage sticker packs and more. “Galleries” then has stills from this movie as well as albums from the previous films.

After that, the site devolves once more into generalities, with prompts to buy all the movies in the Cars franchise, visit the “Store” to buy merch and ultimately visit the “Parks.”

They aren’t linked to on the official site but there are also Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts for the movie.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

An extended TV spot expanded on the teaser trailer and showed more of the story, including the up and down arc of McQueen’s journey. It offers quite a look at what’s going and what will happen to him and some of the other characters, though there don’t appear to be any of the old friends like Mater or anyone else from the earlier movies on display here.

A number of promotional partners joined in the marketing fun, including:

  • AutoTrader, which debuted the first in a series of spots during broadcasts of the NBA Playoffs that used the variety of cars in the movie to highlight the variety of cars available on the website.
  • Waze, which gave users the ability to change their own appearance in the app to resemble McQueen or Storm or change the voice that offers directions to one of these two characters. The app will also remind people the movie is coming out.
  • NASCAR, which aired commercials during the race broadcasts and engaged in a lot of co-branded activities at various racetracks and other events.

Outdoor ads with the key art and online ads, including social media units using the video, were also run heavily across the web.

Media and Publicity

A piece in USA Today gave us a first look not only at Lightning McQueen but also at Ramirez, the new character being introduced in the movie along with other details. During the publicity cycle for Finding Dory, Pixar’s John Lassater talked about this movie as well and what McQueen’s journey in this installment was going to be.

Later on a look at some of the movie’s new characters, along with descriptions of who they are and what their story is, continued to keep people talking about it.

John Lasseter made an appearance along with a life size Lightning McQueen at the Detroit Auto Show.

There was also a focus on the role played by Jude Brownbill, an animator on previous Pixar films who was promoted to directing animator on this movie. She also played a large part in developing the new character Cruz Ramirez, a female car we’ve seen in the trailers and who helps train McQueen.

Wilson, Fillion and others from the cast also made various TV and other press appearances on talk shows and elsewhere to talk about jumping back into this world and these characters.

Overall

I know who the Cars movies are aimed at in general. Boys love toy cars and that was the main conceit of the first movie and why the franchise keeps selling tie-in toys between movies or when the movies themselves aren’t that great. And the filmmakers have done what they can to make the stories as appealing as they can to girls as well, not wanting to draw too many clear gender stereotype lines around who is and isn’t invited to the theater.

But I’m struggling with who this movie specifically is aimed at attracting. A child who was five years old in 2006 when the first movie came out is 15 or 16 now and…are they contemplating their own mortality. I get that characters have to evolve, but this seems more at someone my age than either current 3-8 year olds or those who have grown up with the franchise. It just seems a little…dark. I’m sure it will be life-affirming and all that in the end, but from the mysterious teasers showing McQueen getting into a massive accident to those that explained the story of his chapter apparently coming to an end, this just seems like an oddly-toned campaign. Disney seems to be counting heavily on franchise-familiarity here and that might not be enough.

Want to get Movie Marketing Madness via email? Sign up here. Then connect with MMM on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Movie Marketing Madness: Rough Night

“Childhood friends reuniting as adults” is a pretty well-worn genre, particularly since The Big Chill. Another entry into this field comes with this week’s Rough Night, starring Scarlett Johansson, Jillian Bell, Zoe Kravitz, Kate McKinnon and Ilana Glazer. Four of them are long-time friends from college (with the addition of McKinnon’s Pippa) who are getting together for a wild weekend in Miami before Jess (Johansson) gets married and settles down.

Things start off great but take a turn when the stripper they’ve hired for a night’s entertainment is accidentally killed. So they engage in a series of highly-ridiculous antics to not only cover up that death but to keep the party going, determined not to let a little manslaughter stop them from continuing on with the festivities.

The Posters

The first posters were a collection of character images. Each one shows just the torso of the character, each with the actor’s name at the top and then “is a/the” that leads into the pageant-like sash they wear, each one sporting a different description. So Johansson is “better off wed” to signify she’s the bride-to-be, McKinnon is the “party down under” with a jar of vegemite tucked into a pocket to make sure everyone gets she’s Australian.

Another series of posters was basically the same idea, just with the camera pulled out to actually show the faces and full bodies of the actors.

What I’m guessing is the theatrical poster finally brings all five women together, the whole group looking toward the camera, aghast and worried about the body whose feet appear at the bottom. Only Johansson is big enough to make it above the title and below that we’re told “The hangover will be the least of their problems.” I have to think the use of “The hangover” isn’t accidental but meant to, at some level, invoke the movie of the same name and create a connection in the minds of the audience that similar drunken hijinks will be engaged in here.

Another take on this design arrays the supporting cast around a perplexed-looking Johansson. This one makes it clear it’s “From the writers of Broad City” so you can see where the appeal is going. A final poster puts all the ladies together having a great old time against the neon lights of Miami but asks “What’s your alibi?” which makes it clear there’s something not-right going on.

The Trailers

The first red-band trailer immediately makes it clear that we’re about to embark on a bachelorette weekend with a group of old friends. All of them are reuniting for the first time in a while and we catch up with them. As soon as they’re in Miami the party starts and each one lets loose in her own way. It all culminates back at the house they’re staying in when the stripper shows up. Things get out of hand though and he winds up…dead. They immediately panic and do all the wrong things to deal with their enhanced situation. The rest of the trailer shows them bouncing around town, determined to not let the death ruin their weekend.

It’s pretty funny and it’s great to see Johansson letting loose in a comedy like this. But let’s be honest, Bell and McKinnon are the real stars here, the former for her over-enthusiastic nature and willingness to do all the drugs and the latter simply for the faces she makes in reaction to the events around her.

Another red-band trailer shows the outrageous antics the group gets into while out partying, including drugs and other bad decisions that lead to death the stripper, which leads to them trying to cover up that death and getting into even more trouble.

A green-band trailer starts off with the ladies while they were still in college showing they have a history of crazy partying before catching up with them in present day. After that it’s largely the same beats and jokes we’ve seen before, just without all the cursing and drug use.

Online and Social

This is the first time in a long time I remember an official website throwing up an age-gate, asking you to verify you’re over 17 years of age. After you clear that hurdle the second red-band trailer pops up.

Close that and you’re greeted with images of the five main ladies which, when you click on them, bring up short videos introducing you to the various characters. There are links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles in the upper right. Along the side of the page are prompts to enter a sweeps to win a trip to Miami and to get tickets.

Moving to the content menu across the top of the page, the “Trailer” link once more brings up the second restricted trailer. “About” has a short synopsis of the story. Oddly, the “Gallery” doesn’t show any stills, just some of the various character poster series that were released. Finally, “Cast and Crew” just has a list of the names of those involved.

With the amount of drug usage in particular that’s on display, especially in those short character introduction videos, it’s understandable why that age restriction is on the front page.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots like this one lay out the premise of a wild bachelorette weekend that takes a dark turn. It plays up the idea that these friends are going all-in on having a lawless party filled with dead bodies and lots of drinking.

Outdoor ads and online ads used various versions of the key art to highlight the five actresses who are starring in the ensemble here. Social media ads took the videos as they were released to drum up awareness and ticket sales.

Media and Publicity

Right before the first trailer debuted the movie got a new title, changing from “Rock That Body” to the current label, seemingly to make it as generic as possible.

A big feature popped about a week before release on director Lucia Aniello, specifically on how she’s the first female director in 20 years to helm an R-rated comedy of any sort. That seems just as notable a milestone as Patty Jenkins’ accomplishment helming Wonder Woman, covered extensively in the last couple weeks. That story covers how she got the story, how she got the movie made and lots more.

With such an A-list cast it was natural, of course, for them to go out and do the press rounds both in print and on TV to talk about the good time they had on the set, the craziness of the story and other related topics.

Overall

It’s a lazy journalistic angle to view this through the lens of the male-starring movies that have come before. That hasn’t stopped plenty of people from saying “Oh, it’s a female Hangover” and positioning it as such, of course. It’s just that it does the movie a disservice, particularly given the fact that the director is just as much a groundbreaker here as the story that generated so many headlines in the past month around Wonder Woman.

Which leaves us with the movie itself. It looks funny enough, though I question why it’s necessary to go so hard in the “drug-fueled” paint with a concept like this. The trailers in particular sell a movie that’s one-half “hilarious girl’s night out” and one-half “let’s dispose of the dead guy.” That can lead to a bit of an emotional disconnect in some parts of the campaign, but if you give in and go with it there’s potentially a good time in store here.

Want to get Movie Marketing Madness via email? Sign up here. Then connect with MMM on Twitter and Facebook.