If you’re a movie fan, you might have every premium movie channel piped into your home by satellite or digital cable, you might have the most expensive home theater setup on the block, you might visit every independent film festival between Colorado and Cannes, but you really can’t immerse yourself in a movie unless you go online. That is, you can’t experience everything that a movie has to offer without going online.
“We look at recent studies, and three points jump out,” says Tom Goosmann, executive creative director at True North, Inc., which counts Buena Vista Home Entertainment among its clients. “One, entertainment information is a top reason users go online. Two, as broadband grows, users spend more time online and less watching TV. Three, whether online or on TV, users try to avoid ads. The obvious conclusion: You’ll miss a growing audience segment if you’re not online with an entertainment product like movies, and you need to offer users engaging, interactive content to overcome ad reluctance. Placed in the context of a site for movie enthusiasts, such ads actually help publishers meet user expectations. The ads become content.”
Destination vs. Syndication
Official movie Websites often offer a communal focal point for fans of specific movies to completely immerse themselves in the film universe, or dare we say, the film’s brand. The nature of the medium is to provide immersive experiences founded on two-way, active communication, as opposed to the lean-back, passive experiences that traditional media typically offer. Sneak-peek features, games, trailers, interviews with cast and crew, wallpapers and screensavers are just some of the content elements that can provide value to movie-going consumers and get them excited about a particular theater or home video release.
One trend within the movie marketing space is to bring these content elements to the audience, as opposed to bringing the audience to the content.
“For Buena Vista Home Entertainment, we’ve been creating what we call AdSites since last year,” says Goosmann. “These are in-page, interactive units that give control to the users. Without leaving the page, the user can stream in trailers, hear music, read about DVD features, play games, and so on. Publishers love them—users stay put and interact rather than clicking away—and interaction rates have been many times higher than banner click-through rates.”
With a syndicated model, advertisers do not necessarily have to rely on luring Web surfers from an engaging content area on a movie site to an official destination site in order to get their message across. Taking the content to the audience also allows marketers and agencies to segment their targets appropriately, often by where they are in the consideration process for attending a new movie release, or buying a home video or DVD.
Interaction from Every Angle
Destination sites within the movie category tend to be somewhat specialized, which gives advertisers the opportunity to market to different segments of movie enthusiasts. Standing in contrast to general entertainment sites are sites like Moviefone and Fandango, which allow for ticket purchases and can be used tactically to reach moviegoers in the last stages of consideration for in-theater releases.
Similarly, those marketing DVD or VHS releases might consider advertising with sites like the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com), which hosts an extensive informational resource for movie buffs, including plot outlines, cast and crew information and user reviews. Such sites are great places to find people seeking out a specific title.
Destination sites can also help to market movies prior to their release date, especially when trying to get the word out on a sequel to a prior release. WhatIsTheMatrix.com caused a splash when teasing the introduction of The Matrix. The site now has a second lease on life, promoting the sequel – The Matrix Reloaded. In the same vein, fans of Marvel Comics’ X-Men who registered at the official Website when the first X-Men film was released were treated to trailers, a game called Mutant Madness, live video chats with the cast and a chance to buy advance tickets to X2: X-Men United on opening day, all brought to them via an HTML newsletter known as The X2 Insider.
Whether marketing a new in-theater release or driving sales of a home video or DVD, marketers have many options for tapping into the various segments of movie buffs.
“Mass media like TV can establish broad awareness of a movie during the theatrical run, but online is particularly suited to translating that awareness into action later for the DVD release,” says Goosmann. “We can craft interactive content to re-position a movie or to target audience segments based on research during the theatrical run. We can deliver right to the ad interactive content that the user wants about the coming release, and can drive the person to a sales site or collect e-mail addresses.”
Interactive Media Immersion
Movies represent escapism for many, as immersing oneself in fictitious storylines and settings can serve as an escape from reality and routine. Interactive media can complement such movies by providing a two-way interaction with the film’s “universe.” Take, for instance, StarWars.com. A focal point for all things Star Wars, the site provides the latest news on the films, but doesn’t stop there. It also offers community features, e-commerce, FAQs, fan club memberships and much, much more, including a section called “Expanded Universe” where fans of the popular movie franchise can get information on novels, comics and games set in the Star Wars universe.
StarWars.com also features a database of collectibles and an engine to allow collectors to comparison shop for Star Wars merchandise across multiple online vendors. Since the site is a true platform for all things within the Star Wars universe, it allows fans to immerse themselves as deeply in the Star Wars brand as they might like. At the time of this writing, pop-up ads on the site were pushing Yoda and Darth Vader-themed credit cards.
Another example of immersive, escapist environments is the official Website for the movie AI, which was released in 2001 and featured Haley Joel Osment as an intelligent robot boy capable of emotion. Upon arriving at the site and after viewing the movie trailer, users are greeted by a chatbot that can actually carry on intelligent conversations. We know you’re dying to try it out, if you haven’t already. The URL is aimovie.warnerbros.com. Caving in to the temptation to be mean to the chatbot will result in its taking offense. But don’t worry – if you offer a sincere apology, the bot will accept it.
Involvement over Awareness
Film is a highly visual medium, and thus other visual media may be the best choice for generating awareness of a new movie. In fact, research released by DoubleClick earlier this year indicates that television is vital to all aspects of the purchase decision process for movies.
But online isn’t a linear medium, and it can impact the purchase decision significantly because the channel is not constrained by the limitations of the 30-second spot.
“Movies aren’t soap flakes,” says Goosmann. “They’re uniquely suited to marketing online. Unlike most products, we can actually offer an online sample, but unlike TV, we’re not limited to just a 30-second trailer. We can let users view a trailer in the ad, but we can also provide extra content the user can interact with over extended time.”
The user may not even be aware of the connection, but when a really powerful commercial hits us, be it "I want to be a yes man" from Monster, "Where's the beef?" from Wendy's, "I'd like to teach the world to sing" from Coke or even "What would you do for a Klondike bar?" that impact subconsciously makes us recall those jingles, songs and phrases. When you think of them in your brain, even silently, your hear them. "Where's the beef?" is not said as a deadpan copy line; it's "Where's the Beef?" Those emotive, high impact phrases transcend the medium.
And it is not just positive emotional impact that makes connections. HeadOn's "HeadOn, apply it directly to the forehead" produces annoyance and a jittery feeling throughout my body. I tense up and want to punch the television. But, for new product introductions, especially for a product that has a different application method, those emotions are powerful. Many marketers mistake hating an ad for hating a product. I may hate the ad and it may annoy every small fiber in my body, but anger and hate are powerful emotions. I hate the commercial, but the product? Eh, I know what it does, so when the need for it or another headache medicine arises, I may give it a try.
When ads reach this level of resonance they become memes and propagate throughout society like a virus, transcending the television medium via word-of-mouth transference. In other words, free advertising. When's the last time you had an emotional reaction to an online ad? Online ads rarely impact the limbic system, but remain as cognitive cortex thoughts. You take in the information, which is good, but it lacks the emotional resonance. You can repeat back those tidbits of information as facts, but again, the emotional connection to the brand is missing. It is the difference between saying, "that online ad made me laugh," (a cortex statement) and "that television ad gave me a warm feeling inside, and then made my body shiver," (a limbic statement). Connecting advertising to the limbic feelings in the consumer's body is more likely with media like television, which impacts the senses in an immersive fashion, thereby aiding recall.
Problem 3: Interruptive vs. peripheral
Television is an interruptive advertising medium. The content surrounds the commercial break, but does not intrude on it.
The majority of online is advertising is peripheral in nature -- existing on the same page as the content being consumed.
The difference is that we are receptive to interruptive advertising in lean-back, passive consumption mediums, but not in lean-forward, active consumption ones.
A consumer's annoyance with interruptive forms of advertising increases with the degree of active consumption, and it is this discrepancy that most marketers ignore at their own peril. Interruptive techniques can be used very effectively online, but be careful to acknowledge the consumer's mindset when doing so. Orbitz is a prime example of this. Its use of pop-unders as an entertainment distraction helped it brand without cramming an informational message down consumers' throats.
Problem 4: Content vs. entertainment
Television is primarily an entertainment medium, not an informational one. Granted, The Discovery Channel, TLC and other channels do a good job of expanding what we know about the planet and people on it, but their audiences are small compared to the dullards who watch "American Idol." These people are being entertained, not educated. Well, unless they look deeper and see the educational value of… uh... ummm... uhhhh... crap, I'm trying, but there's nothing deeper to learn there.
Entertainment media are passively consumed, while informational ones are actively consumed. This puts the most common forms of online advertising at a distinct disadvantage.
Problem 5: Shared vs. solo experiences
Get your mind out of the gutter. This is serious. The communal nature of television means it is often a shared experience, as opposed to the singular consumption model of the internet. You often watch TV in groups, but when is the last time you sat at a computer in a group to share the experience? You usually just fire off an email. The information is shared, but at disparate moments.
The shared aspect of television creates a communal bond with the viewers. Appointment television, like sporting events, create high emotional context and group-think imprinting, as opposed to individualistic consumption (due to the highly euphoric limbic nature of consumption). And even though the actual consumption of television can be singular (you may watch television alone at night) the shared aspects of key water-cooler programs ("Lost," "American Idol," etc.) heighten the emotional impact during consumption. Even though you are alone, the consumption is being shared with like-minded individuals. Texts, calls and IMs of "Did you just see that?!" happen in this medium, but are largely absent on the internet. The IM is the conduit of that message, not the emotional messenger.
Problem 6: The cost and the tipping point
I often hear the argument about the high cost of television advertising in comparison to online. I hear it, but that doesn't mean it's a valid statement or I agree with it for branding. It is a factual statement: "A television commercial costs more to produce than a banner." Television is more expensive -- vastly so -- on the production end. However, it has some unique advantages over online.
Once a commercial is produced, it takes fewer resources to scale it for mass reach. It can be tested locally and, if it gains relevance, expanded nationally with increased money and media planning. The traffic requirements alone make online scaling an often arduous process, unless you are scaling within individual properties, which often limits the market and opportunity. Most brands cannot afford television, and those that can't usually adapt their marketing process over the years with guerilla PR efforts and word of mouth. Those brands do the best job utilizing online and UGC practices for branding because they were never reliant on the emotional impact of television to begin with.
The problem for most companies that can afford TV advertising is that they often approach the two media the same way. How many 15-second TV spots just get adapted for pre- and mid-roll within video content? Why? Because it's easy.
These brands also fail when they spend massive amounts on use banners, believing that if they invest the dollars, the cost advantages of online and the millions of impressions will be cumulative. Nothing could be further from the truth. The temporary nature of online advertising means it dissipates quickly, and so you are filling a bucket with a leaky bottom.
There is a point at which the combination of the impact made by the creative and the saturation of that advertising is either going to reach a tipping point or not. (I can't believe I just used that phrase. Damn you Malcolm Gladwell!) In some cases, no amount of online advertising will achieve a tipping point, for it is transient in nature. In time, the closer the impression count, the more impact. It is a balancing act to find the impression over time that has the most impact. With all the previously mentioned issues, it is much harder to create an emotional resonance leading to positive brand recall by only using online, therefore making it more difficult to create buzz that breaks through.
What leads us all to the brands we use -- that first brand touch -- is often the powerful, emotionally-resonating force that keeps us with that brand, and that emotive force is often television. Television has an advantage when imprinting that first brand meme. For online advertising, including UGC, leveraging past assets of existing brand resonance with consumers is much more efficient and productive than trying to gain brand relevance around a new concept or idea. Brands not on TV have long found ways to get their product and message into consumers' hands by using guerilla methods. How are you going to figure out how to use the branding your television has been imparting on consumers using online? And what if you don't do any television? Can you still leverage stuff that has been sitting in your brand attic?
Next week I tackle what McDonalds, Klondike and Burger King are doing, and why they have an advantage.
Sean X Cummings is a marketing specialist.