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Marketing Movies Online

In most industries, brands are built over years, sometimes decades. The theatrical release of movies is unique, because its current formula for success relies on building a brand in a few weeks. While press and buzz are important, heavy advertising is a requirement to drive awareness, favorability and to finally get “butts in seats” as Hollywood likes to put it. Box office revenue on the first weekend is used as a predictor of the lifetime value of each movie title, including future revenue from pay-per-view, DVD releases, international rights, etc. Careers are made and unmade in Monday morning meetings at many studios, and there is seldom a second chance if your advertising did not resonate prior to that crucial opening weekend.

As movie-marketing budgets have increased along with the sheer diversity of titles competing for the viewer’s attention on any given weekend, it is not unusual to see budgets for tentpole releases in the $40-50 million range. Just a few years ago, $15 million was considered an enormous sum, according to Dan Rosen, formerly head of Research at Warner Brothers, and now speaking as a private citizen. “There may be 40 titles competing for a moviegoer’s attention on a typical summer weekend, if you count new releases, holdovers and home entertainment titles.”

Let’s take a look at the role of the Internet in movie marketing according to Dynamic Logic data that compares the responses of people who saw the online advertising (“exposed”) and with a similar group who was not shown the online media (“control”).

On average, exposed numbers tend to be higher than control numbers across all five core branding metrics (Figure 1). The five deltas (differences between control and exposed ads) are consistently higher than averages across all industries, and this indicates that movie marketers do a great job with the online medium relative to other industries (Figure 2).

Figure 1: Online ads for Movies

Figure 2: Online ads for Movies Compared to All Online ads

MarketNorms Movies data through Q2, 2004 based on 39 movie campaigns with 41,301 respondents. Overall data based on 1,378 campaigns and 1,552,168 respondents.

Rosen agrees, saying that the Internet has become a significant force, particularly in the last two years. But he also adds that its role is still tertiary or secondary at best when compared to traditional media. Movie marketing is only going to get more expensive and more competitive in the near future, and marketers will continue to explore creative uses of Internet media since TV has become somewhat less reliable than it used to be. He expects true convergence between media types to start becoming a reality in the next few years.

Studios first began their online advertising on fan sites and movie Web sites such as Fandango, MovieTickets, iFilm, Hollywood.com and AOL’s Moviefone or Yahoo! Movies. Rosen says that many of the frequent visitors to these sites are so well informed that is hard to use advertising to change their attitudes. It is making more and more sense for the studios to buy broader reach online media, such as home page placements on Yahoo! or MSN. Rosen adds that it also makes sense to advertise broadly on some of the specialized portals that cater to particular demographics that match the movie title’s core audience.

Recent refinements to Dynamic Logic’s MarketNorms database permit a deeper look at some metrics that are not so often talked about. Most stories look at movie awareness, the uppermost metric of the branding funnel, or purchase intent, the lowermost metric in this funnel. There is another key dimension just above purchase intent: brand favorability. For an emotional-laden product there are some interesting lessons buried here.

Movie Favorability can be likeability of the cast, the star, the director or even the theme/genre, depending on the type of advertising. Once consumers are aware of a movie, social interactions among a group of individuals can be key to which movie is chosen on a particular night. (I am sure we have all had these conversations, “It’s Jude Law, I gotta see it” or “I can’t stand another Julia Roberts movie”). What influences movie favorability? Let us take a look at some metrics for some unexpected results

The conventional wisdom in the movie business is that showing the star in your ad is a good thing. Focusing attention on the star to the exclusion of other elements is even better, and more so if your star is a talking animal. Over 78 percent of ads studied by Dynamic Logic featured a single “life form” (an adult, child or animal in the creative). The graph below shows that the impact of a single life form (+4.6) is less than including no life form (+11.6) or multiple life forms (+9.3) in the movie advertisement. There may be an opportunity here for those who design online movie ads. The causes of these differences are not explained in the research and there may be some hidden logic at work, but the results are worth thinking about.

Data from Dynamic Logic also seems to bear out Rosen’s comments about marketing via portal sites. The average impact of online movie advertising on portal sites is greater than movie and entertainment sites by a slight margin, although scientifically equivalent to entertainment and movies sites.

Higher income consumers have generally become more resistant to traditional media. It appears that online media more readily influences their attitudes about movie likeability. The impact among those in the highest income group is nearly 40 percent higher than those in the lowest income bracket.

Other normative data about marketing movies online from Dynamic Logic indicates that the impact of online ads on movie favorability is greatest among consumers living in the Midwest and West, and lowest among those in the Northeast. This might indicate that media buyers need to buy higher exposure to get New Englanders to change their mind. Another odd result is that the most-frequently-used ad formats under-perform compared to the formats that are used less than 5 percent of the time. This lends credence to the old saw that the fresh and new is always best in the movie business.

For the record, the best performing (but rarely used) forms in Dynamic Logic movie studies were Wide Skyscrapers, Towers, and floating ads.

Young people are the most avid moviegoers and the target of much movie advertising both offline and online, but some studios are looking beyond this fickle audience. Rosen points to Hispanics as underserved audiences for movies. Approaching Hispanics is not as simple as buying media on Spanish language properties. Rosen highlights key differences in the way Hispanics behave: they often see movies as a family and they seem to go to the movies more often than other ethnic groups. Also there are certain movies that appeal more to this audience, such as physical comedies, action thrillers and certain religious themes. Having worked closely with Hispanic Web sites, I can add that about half of American Hispanics consume English language media just as vigorously as Spanish media and a smart marketer needs to factor this cross-language consumption for a successful media plan.

In many ways movie marketing continues to be one of the most risky and adventurous form of marketing. With other sorts of marketing, trends are more stable and science is catching up. The Hollywood studios need to invest more resources in similar science.

Gunjan Bagla is a mechanical engineer and entrepreneur who has been active in marketing and media for over 15 years. He is presently responsible for Dynamic Logic's business with movie studios, automotive companies and others in the Southwest. His writing has appeared in Direct Marketing, iMarketing News, Silicon India, Channel Seven and ClickZ.

Gunjan Bagla is a principal of Amritt Ventures, an advisory service facilitating trade between the United States and India. Mr. Bagla provides guidance in entering new markets, global strategy execution, finding and managing vendor partners, and...

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