See the movie, buy the comics

My latest AdAge piece is a look at some of the tactics comics publishers use to get the people who have just seen the big-screen adventures of their superheroes, adventures that are often marketed as straight-ahead action flicks, to also buy some comics. Yes, the comics are part of the marketing campaign for those movies but the inverse is also true.

Also “Hell, that’s *every* independent film from 1996” is the best line I’ve heard in quite a while.

Marketing premium VOD

My latest contribution to AdAge is my long-gestating piece on how the introduction of so-called “Premium Video on Demand” by studios could impact movie marketing efforts. As usual I try to make some points, ask some questions and otherwise engage in a lot of thinking out loud. There are more specific write-ups about different aspects of the points I hit here, all of which fed into things.

Don’t get blinded by social media metrics

My latest contribution over at AdAge is only peripherally about the Super Bowl and what commercials racked up lots of buzz before, during or after the game’s broadcast over a week ago. What it’s really about is how while counting YouTube views, Twitter followers or any other social media metric is great and should absolutely be done, it’s not enough to end there. There needs to also be counting of how those efforts are contributing to the bottom line for a movie or any other product. To that end, there needs to be a clearer commerce chain put in place so that someone who watches that trailer on YouTube can then take action on their interest and buy a ticket for the movie. So really it’s a long an extrapolation on the AIDA part of Alec Baldwin’s monologue in Glengarry Glen Ross, which I only now kind of realized.

What I hope happens this year

My latest AdAge column covers a handful of points that I hope come to fruition in 2011 when it comes to movie marketing. As I state at the outset, I really shied away from making predictions since they’re not all the useful and instead just put together a wish list of what I’d like to see happen. We’ll see whether any of these actually come to fruition or if things just continue to get bigger, more fragmented and so on. More than likely if any of these points are going to be ignored it will be by the biggest of the big tent-pole movies coming out since all tools will be used that can be used in their service regardless of whether or not they *should* be used.

If you’re looking for more traditional predictions, some of the AdAge staff put together a couple of ideas they think we’re likely to see this year, including the continued shrinking of release windows and the de-emphasis on 3D to some extent.

Awards advertising, Super Bowl spending and more

Every year I go on a rant between now and February about how marketing budgets for awards consideration ads and the ridiculous dollars spent on Super Bowl advertising could both be reallocated to making sure people see the movies that are being hyped for awards but which aren’t going to get on a lot of people’s radars. This year is no different and that’s the focus of my latest contribution to AdAge.

Aris, who edits my stuff, asked for an important addition and so I’ll include it here:

I completely understand that the bigger the movie, the bigger the marketing spend, as more dollars are seen as insuring the movie doesn’t fail at the box office. But considering the other factors at play, some of which I’ve laid out here, there has to be a better way to spend a buck.

I really do understand that. But, as I’ve stated many times here, a movie like Green Lantern isn’t going to need a Super Bowl commercial to reach a mass audience. The press coverage will take care of that. On the flipside, an extra million dollars could seriously broaden the reach of a movie like Tiny Furniture, which is loved by those who have seen it and has the potential to be a hit if enough people were aware it existed. So some balance would be nice.

Planning for disappointment

My latest AdAge column is my thinking-out-loud about the fascination the Hollywood trade press (and the blogs that riff off them) with writing postmortems on those movies that fail to live up to the expectations that have been set out for them.

One point I didn’t make in the column is that many of the movies that get Monday-morning-quarterbacked seem to be those that have accumulated a fair amount of positive buzz from the movie geek crowd and taken on something akin to the role of a cause for them. Scott Pilgrim, Kick-Ass, Buried…these are all movies that have become much beloved through their production cycles and subsequent festival appearances but, after failing to find a mainstream audience, had their obituaries written by the press.

I’m not sure what to make of that, but it does seem to say to me that the influence of these professional opinion-havers and aspiring tastemakers isn’t as widely felt as conventional wisdom might dictate. So even if these guys all rally behind a movie it isn’t enough to push it into mainstream success because their reach isn’t broad enough and the movie winds up not living up specifically to the amount of hype that has come to surround it.

AdAge: Even Tom Cruise Couldn’t Beat This Summer’s Hollywood Memes

This article originally appeared on AdAge here.

In case you didn’t notice, Knight and Day, the new romantic action comedy starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, did not have a great opening weekend, grossing just over $20 million and coming in third place behind Toy Story 3 (which, as many have before it this year, repeated in the top slot) and Grown-Ups, the Adam Sandler and gang comedy.

It’s not as if this was surprising, though. Tracking had been weak prior to release, signaling that there was little interest in seeing Cruise and Diaz engage in wacky capers around the globe, with Cruise acting unhinged and more than a little insane while Diaz reacted hysterically to the events around her. At least there weren’t enough people who wanted to see that instead of going to see Woody and Buzz engage in much more heartfelt adventures with the rest of Andy’s toys.

So what happened? Let’s examine some theories:

I’d be surprised if there weren’t at least some portion of pontificating pundits who chalk this up as another example of one of 2010’s emerging Hollywood memes, namely the “Movie Stars Don’t Work” idea. These are two of Hollywood’s biggest stars we’re talking about here, after all, and so a movie with both of them should have been as automatic as Steve Kerr at the three-point line.

It might also be pegged to another contender for this year’s story hook, “The Audience Only Wants Sequels/Franchises/Reboots.” This is one of this summer’s only original properties, even if you can see aspects of a half dozen other movies in the plot outline. So this one might have some validity especially since sans everything else star power itself should have acted as the brand the audience latched on to for familiarity.

There’s also the much simpler explanation that the campaign was a bit disjointed, without a poster or outdoor ads that featured the two big stars that were in the movie – something Fox’s co-president of marketing Tony Sella said was an intentional tactic to make this film different from the rest of the pack – and a series of trailers which didn’t quite know whether to sell it as a romantic adventure or adventurous romance.

Whatever the larger reason there were things that the campaign did well (saturate TV with ads) and things that it didn’t (the aforementioned lack of movie star faces on posters) as is the case with most movies. But with as much warning that vast swaths of the audience simply weren’t aware or interested in the movie it seems that there would have been plenty of time to engage in an inspired word of mouth marketing campaign that could have turned the ship around.

Now Fox did indeed try to get word of mouth going for the movie, mostly in the form of running advance screenings of it about a week before release. That’s a tactic that’s been used over and over again to try and get audiences excited. It didn’t work in this case, though, so maybe it’s time for the industry to start trying new things.

Do something random: Let some people watch the movie – or at least a significant chunk of it – at home. Work with a VOD provider so that random customers can watch a severely extended preview. Or setup in-home viewing parties that are movie-themed of those previews. Cater the party and give everyone a 2-for-1 coupon for the movie at theaters.

Provide incentives: If people came out of those advance screenings having enjoyed the movie what mechanisms were in place to help them spread that message either online or off? A dozen business-card sized handouts or an encouragement to share their feedback on the movie’s Facebook page are just a couple of examples. Both need, though, to provide rewards of some sort for those behaviors that encourage people to take them.

If you’re going to engage in tactics that are designed to get people talking it only makes sense, especially taking social networks into consideration, that there be programmatic elements in place to help move that word of mouth move along. Hollywood could have used a hit from this movie to disprove some of the theories being bandied about but unfortunately this didn’t come through

AdAge: Is Hollywood’s Reliance on ‘Event’ Marketing Wearing Thin?

This article originally appeared on AdAge here.

After the first weekend in June in 2009, 19 different movies scored the top spot on the box-office charts. In 2010, there have been only 11.

Yes, the first six frames of 2010 were won by “Avatar” and it’s tempting to attribute the discrepancy in the numbers to that movie’s dominance, which continued from its late 2009 debut. But even taking “Avatar” out of the mix — which isn’t all that accurate — there have been more movies that have repeated in the top slot this year than in the same period of 2009: seven in 2010 vs. only four in 2009.

What’s changed year over year, at least to my eye, is that the studios are compensating for what seems to be a weak slate of releases by ramping up campaigns to turn each movie release into an event, something that has to be seen right now. “Alice in Wonderland,” “Clash of the Titans” — even “Valentine’s Day” was something to be seen on the titular weekend it was released.

The most recent repeat box-office winner is “Shrek Forever After” (or “Shrek: The Final Chapter” or “Shrek Goes Fourth,” depending on which marketing assets you crossed paths with), which has claimed the top spot three weeks in a row despite being seen as such a weak performer after its first weekend it actually sent Dreamworks Animation stock down. That movie latched on to an event-creating hook that few others have been able to lay claim to, that this is the last chance audiences would have to enjoy the characters on the big screen (at least until the reboot in 2025).

That’s a powerful motivator, though it’s a card that few are willing or able to play. If a Hollywood executive were to suggest that the next “Iron Man” movie be the last one, I’m sure you could hear that person being fired as far away as Georgia. But Warner Bros. will likely be in just that position when the second part of the “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” comes out in 2011.

This reliance on creating an event atmosphere around movies — something that’s been going on for a number of years now but really has seen some success in 2010 — is coming at a time when theatrical windows are shrinking (“Alice in Wonderland” famously went to DVD less than three months after its initial release) and DVD revenues are dropping. That’s meant more focus on a movie’s opening weekend and a strong opening during that frame.

To some extent every movie-marketing campaign attempts to make the film it’s supporting into an event. But while the campaigns for “Alice in Wonderland” (see Johnny Depp ham it up — in 3-D!) and “Clash of the Titans” (see Liam Neeson release the Kraken — in 3-D!) motivated audiences to spend their hard-earned dollars on high-priced 3-D tickets, the marketing for “Sex and the City 2,” “Robin Hood” and other summer tentpoles didn’t deliver, or at least didn’t live up to expectations, an expression heard frequently during Monday-morning quarterback sessions.

So why fewer movies opening at No. 1? There are two possibilities that go beyond the usual explanations of the audience opting for hockey in Chicago, avoiding storms in a particular part of the country or other outside factors.

First is the notion that people have been so overwhelmed by other campaigns that anything that doesn’t crank the volume to 11 doesn’t break through the clutter anymore.

Second would be that despite event-level campaigns, people know weak material when they see it. So not only did they avoid it on opening weekend but those who did pony up their dollars then affirmed their friend’s expectations that X movie was one to miss — or wait to rent from Redbox.

 

When the other options look weak — and it’s hard to qualify this summer as anything else since “Iron Man 2” broke early — people will seek out the comfortably familiar. That seems to be the lesson of 2010, beginning with the hold-over of “Avatar” for five or six weeks into the year. It also bodes well for “Toy Story 3,” which will be released just as “Shrek 4” likely finally starts to fade from the top.

 

If future months bear this trend out, Hollywood may have to adapt its marketing strategy to account for something it hasn’t really worried about for years: a movie with legs.

 

AdAge: Is Hollywood Suffering From Clip Overload?

This article originally appeared on AdAge here.

Have you seen the seven or eight extended clips from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice? Did you watch the seven or eight that were released in advance of Despicable Me? Will you watch the seven or eight that will likely be released in the weeks prior to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World?

Looking at two of the movies mentioned above – Despicable Me and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, both movies aiming for some form of kid-dominated audience – offers an opportunity to see what sort of impact this strategy has had.

In the case of Despicable Me, releasing a batch of clips featuring the Steve Carell-voiced Gru and the young girls he adopts worked out well as the movie grossed $56 million its opening weekend. But audiences didn’t react nearly as well to the extended scenes of a scruffy Nicolas Cage, with The Sorcerer’s Apprentice only conjuring up $24 million in its first outing at the box office.

There seems to be more than a little Cold War thinking going on in Hollywood when it comes to the release of clips from upcoming releases. No studio now is able to back down from the pressure to put out such clips – often extended scenes that were first glimpsed in the trailer – in the final weeks of a movie’s campaign. So where previously we may have gotten a five second look at a particular scene we then get a 1:18 look, available anywhere from Hulu to Apple Trailers to your favorite movie news site, which received them from the movie’s publicity team.

(Interestingly the official websites for movies – which really have been sucking wind lately – don’t usually host these clips. They may have one or two but not the number that are to be found elsewhere. Wouldn’t that site – supposedly the movie’s central online presence – be the perfect place for these? Just thinking out loud here…)

If someone were to back away from that tactic and their competitors didn’t and the movie failed, the fingers would be pointed clearly at them. So it’s go big or be the fall guy. You may recognize this thinking from every advertising planning meeting ever.

In addition to adopting a mindset that’s less strategic and more doctrine of proportional response, what’s interesting is that Hollywood seems to have inadvertently created its own make-shift “freemium” business model. They have, in essence, decided to give away select portions of the movie in the hopes that these brief glimpses will increase the audience’s appetite for the full version, for which they would have to pay up.

(By the way, for the sake of my own sanity I’m skipping over completely any discussion of what the studio reaction would be if independent of their actions a handful of movie clips were to show up on pirate download networks.)

Reactions to these clips aren’t always going to generate the intended consequence. Some portions of the audience are going to react positively to these clips and, as the studios hope, feel like they, combined with the other marketing elements, present the movie as being worth the $50 is can cost a family of four, and that’s assuming it’s not a 3D presentation and without popcorn or candy. But at some point there’s also going to be a portion of the audience that sees 10 minutes of the movie online and decides, yeah, that one goes in the Netflix queue.

Whether or not a massive release of clips works for one particular movie or another is going to depend on the movie itself since what these clips do is use the movie itself – at least select chunks of it – to sell the package. That leaves the only potential problem being that these teases of the finished product are going to turn off audience segments. Obviously, though, that’s a risk the studios have deemed worth taking since it doesn’t seem this trend is going away any time soon.

What it comes down to, in reality, is how these clips work in conjunction with the rest of the film’s marketing campaign. A bevy of clips may not save a movie if the rest of the campaign seems to be hiding the stars. And they won’t work if the movie isn’t receiving a full-court media effort. Too often, recently, there are movies that have a vast collection of clips released but which appear to have little other support, which may be more to blame for a particular movie’s success or failure than anything else.

Summer’s indie movies

My latest contribution to AdAge is a reaction to seeing quite a few movies that have more than a little indie cred being scheduled for the summer. Thanks again to the guys over there that give me a chance to write the occasional opinion piece.