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Hollywood Gives Control to Consumers

Hollywood Gives Control to Consumers Jodi Harris

On Thursday April 13, iMedia Connection and Variety's presented Integrate '06, our second annual entertainment marketing summit. This year, summit speakers closed the book on the days when good content was enough to carry an entertainment project. From here on out, it's no longer about what you produce, but how well it engages and involves today's more sophisticated consumer. 

Perhaps this new concept was best summarized during the Summit's Visionary Marketer award ceremony. Recipient Albert Cheng, executive vice president of digital media at the Disney-ABC Television Group, asserted that, "Content is not king anymore. Consumers are king. To focus on them is one of the most important things we can do." 

Cheng also stressed the importance of finding the right mix for distribution, and feels that while digital media is still all about TV -- the shows, characters and relationships viewers have with them -- the challenge is now to provide access and alternative means for viewing. He then outlined eight goals he holds for a digital media group to provide that viewing access, as well as to measure how well it is reaching consumers:

  • invest in quality content

  • create a great consumer experience

  • redefine your idea of the network (broadcast, cable and beyond, for digital)

  • maximize technology, and use it to transform the consumer experience

  • sharpen our brands: build them around the content

  • concentrate on how to make interactive ads more compelling

  • be flexible about your business model, and be open to new ways to figure out what information consumers want, and how they want it

  • establish selective partnerships. Before taking on a partner in a project, we ask ourselves these questions: Do they respect digital rights management? Are they a brand we want to be associated with? Do they recognize the value of our content?

Creative Showcase: Integrated Marketing
Aligned with the themes Cheng discussed, Suzanne Kolb's case study presentation on integrated marketing seems to have been nothing but encouraged by the changing media landscape. Kolb says that we're in a time where there's an interesting convergence happening. "The idea of entertainment consumers is not just who we market to, it's who we program to." As EVP of marketing and communications at E! Networks, Kolb feels her goal in deciding the hows and whats and wheres for content offerings is, "to do what we can to get consumers to relate with the overall brand."

Kolb outlined nine components, offline and online, of E!'s recent "Live From the Red Carpet" coverage of the 2006 Academy Awards, including on-air coverage during the event, and E!'s six-channel online Oscar's hub, The Vine @ E-Online. "We let the viewer know they could be everywhere on the red carpet all at once and miss nothing with our E! Everywhere platform," says Kolb. "This kind of programming is mostly content. The audience is not being messaged to-- they are too savvy for that."

Catching the Marketer
In his keynote presentation, Tom Ortenberg, president of Lionsgate Theatrical Films answered the question of how you manage to be everything to all consumers at once, discussing the very different marketing strategies Lionsgate used in several of the studio's recent film successes, "Crash," "Hostel" and "Madea's Family Reunion."

Ortenberg says, "We look for films that appeal to single quandrants, but have crossover. We concentrate on a core audience, hammering the message into them, and then broaden that message when we see an opportunity to grow it from there."

He elaborated on Lionsgate's view of the new entertainment consumer, "They are more sophisticated beings. They are wary of commercial messages." Ortenberg also said marketers can never underestimate the smarts and savvy of today's consumer. "Play up to your audience, never down."

Case Studies: Mindset Mapping
Talking about audience hot buttons across entertainment outlets, Vince Broady, co-founder of GameSpot and SVP of games and entertainment at CNET Networks, presented a case study on tracking human behavior of the 18-25 year old demographic to help engage their interest in an entertainment property.

"These individuals are creating their own universe; their own state of awareness, engagement and privacy at a level never seen before," says Broady. "So relevance is more important than ever before-- even more important than reach."

Broady then went on to discuss a TV-based behavioral experiment his team conducted, in association with publisher TV.com and involving the TV show, "The Office." Through this example, Broady introduced the concept of The Pod, which is "a pod-like social structure, layered like an onion, with the self at its center." When trying to reach the youth demographic, which relates most to this concept, Broady asserted, "You can't force yourself in, but if you are invited in there, you gain a huge level of loyalty and trust." He elaborates: "Interests and passions drive marketing. Reach those and your message will be a good match. Once you are in, that strength becomes your ally with word-of-mouth."

Panel discussion: Movie Marketing's Brave New World
The above theme was also repeated in the final presentation of the day. Panelists David Brooks, president of marketing at Focus Features; Kevin Campbell, EVP of strategic marketing at 20th Century Fox and Gordon Paddison, EVP of integrated marketing at New Line Cinema, discussed one of the biggest issues of the day: how to harness user-generated content. While Brooks advised marketers to, "communicate with fan sites early and often. Get them promotional items and exclusive content," Paddison went even further: "Engaged fans will tell their friends. They are your viral army. Speak their language, or give them the tools to say it themselves.

Let's go back to our favorite basic need: sex. Ask anyone on a dating site what they are looking for in a potential partner, and a common theme will be humor. Everyone wants to be with someone who will make them laugh, because when we laugh, we feel good, and when we find someone who laughs at the same things we laugh at, we satisfy our social need to feel connected.

Similarly, when we find something that makes us laugh, we want to share it with others we have connected with, to make them happy and to reaffirm our status as someone who knows quality entertainment when we see it. As Russell Scott said in his recent iMedia article, "Make 'em laugh, and you can make them do anything." This includes supporting your brand.

Entertained but not pitched. While academic literature has not seemed to make a definitive connection between humor and advertising success, there's no arguing that we remember things that make us laugh. And this potential for recall is key when researching our purchasing options. An additional benefit of humor in advertising is that we feel less manipulated and pitched-to with humorous campaigns. If a brand goes to the trouble of entertaining us, we have a greater tendency to believe that this is the prime motivation, rather than the cold, hard sales pitch. 

Recently, some brands have done an excellent job of putting funny first, including Hanes' recent battle against the wedgie. Women across the world can relate to this spandex-induced struggle, and thus have found a good reason to share the humorous -- and brand-promoting -- struggles of actress Sarah Chalke.

Apple has also embraced its warm and fuzzy side, with its series of spots featuring "Mac" vs. "PC". These humorous viral campaigns  have been updated and altered to coincide with holidays and OS updates, and have spawned numerous parodies, including those from shows like "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and "South Park."

As evolved as we are as a people, there are always some things we look at as not changing for the better. New Coke, the buzz of the Blackberry when we are on vacation and suburban sprawl are just a few things that come to mind. Some things were just better in the "good ole days," when we were carefree kids who didn't have to worry about bills, responsibilities and ROI for the great idea we convinced our skeptical clients to shell out additional budget for.

This is where nostalgia comes in, and why its use is so powerful when marketers look to connect with consumers and get them to pass messages along to their social circles.

Ask any hipster: Retro culture will always be a powerful touchpoint because once we are far enough removed from the embarrassment of things from our childhood (like pet rocks and parachute pants), we realize that they are part of our pool of experience, part of our personal history… part of the innocent days where advertising was a novelty and not so much of an assault on all media fronts.

Geico's recent Ben Winkler ad revisited the days of the Cabbage Patch Kid in an effort to relate to 1980's-loving Generation X-ers. Moving in a less cuddly direction, but still capturing the power of the past, Orville Redenbacher Popcorn brought its iconic company founder back from the dead (literally), in a new series of ad spots.


Even though we may long for the simplicity and purity of how we remember the past, that has never stopped the human race from striving to conquer the next frontier. And, as every conquest must start with a first step, we respect and revere the trailblazers who followed their dreams and paved the way for progress. It's these first steps that we remember and celebrate: first dates; first man on the moon, first time we downloaded a new U2 song for free on Napster or saw a grainy video of the "Blair Witch" and needed to learn more about it.

Maslow believed that humans have a need to increase their intelligence. This cognitive need manifests as the expression of the human need to learn, explore, discover and create to get a better understanding of the world around us. Ads that appeal to our desire to see something new taps into this need to explore and discover. This is followed closely by our desire to be in-the-know and on the forefront of that new thing; hence, we are driven to share our new-found knowledge with our peers.

Early web marketing innovations such as BMW Films paved the way for first-of-its-kind ad creative to secure a spot in the cultural Zeitgeist. Our industry's beloved Honda Cog is another prime example of the human love of discovering something unique. Even more recently, projects like LonelyGirl15 and films such as "Cloverfield" used unique means of online subterfuge to garner early enthusiasm and word of mouth. And indie-film pioneers like Kevin Smith used the power of online to transform die-hard fans into MySpace activists by rewarding those who helped him spread the "Clerks 2" message with a personal film credit

Of course, not everyone can be the groundbreaker. But the rest of us still want to feel included, or at least feel that we aren't going to be left behind when our peers evolve and start to walk upright.

Our need to participate is the foundation of one of the key principles that marketers should strive to convey in any campaign: letting us know what's in it for us. If people can find a place for them in your brand activities, they are much more likely to pay attention to those brands. 

Mash-up campaigns have been particularly successful on this front, as they allow users to play with official campaign assets -- like movie trailer footage or commercial clips -- and add their own unique touches. Advergames like Get the Glass also let users directly interact with brands and reward them for the time spent playing.

Another tactic to garner involvement is online and mobile voting. When watching a show like "American Idol," viewers like to feel like they are part of the action, that their opinions matter and that they have the skills to recognize true talent, so they will go out of their way to send that text message and deliver their preferences to the receptive "Idol" format. In addition, by rewarding participation in these mash-up and dial-in opportunities with prizes or additional behind-the-scenes information, brands can amp up users' interest in the brand -- and their willingness to pass the message along.

Once we've satisfied the universal needs that make us human, we have the luxury of satisfying the need to feel unique and special. Maslow described this as moving from physiological need to self actualization need, which includes the need to be creative and to be recognized and valued for who you are.

One of the most recognized campaigns that leverages this need for personalized attention was Burger King's Subservient Chicken, which allowed viewers to directly interact with the web mascot and think up personalized commands that it would follow. There was no list of tasks users could ask the chicken to perform, and while the chicken certainly had a roster of tricks he was programmed to show, users could be rewarded with a little-seen move for thinking out of the box.

Last year's "The Simpsons Movie" offered the ultimate personalized encounter with its world: a Simpsonizer engine that let fans create their own Springfieldian likeness, which could then be inserted into the background of the website's many play areas. Within the first day of the Simpsonizer's debut, core and casual fans alike passed the world along so virulently that the site was unavailable for long spans of time. 

Though marketing, like the human race, has certainly evolved, few would deny that there's still a spark of magic -- perhaps even a divine intervention -- in why one campaign seed grows and another dies out. There's the science of adapting the potential elements of success -- like humor and innovation -- to meet your particular marketing challenge, and then there's the art -- the unquantifiable "it" factor that puts something like "Flavor of Love" on the map. And that's why a true formula for viral success will likely remain as unattainable as the true and definitive meaning of life. But of course, there's a Darwinian reward in this industry for experimenting with a new, potentially successful pathway -- even if you never find that same road again.

Jodi Harris is managing editor at iMedia Connection.

Talk to the parents as well as the kids
Remember, these are children, and the parents are still making the buying decisions. There are two implications here. The first, a la Google, is don't be evil. Nobody wants to be associated with a brand that takes advantage of young children who have not yet learned to view marketing with a careful eye. Certainly a parent who finds out that a marketing campaign is being less than straightforward will not want to engage with that brand, and is likely to share negative feelings online. While doing research for this story, one anecdotal data point was a friend (a managing director at a well-known agency a few years ago) who was quick to mention the brands that were targeting her tween daughters. While some highly regarded marketing experts recommend getting kids to nag parents into purchasing, keep in mind that the parents will know it and remember the brand for it.

For certain issues, it makes sense to go to the parents as well. Big life changes are starting to happen within this age group, and it can have implications for children and families as well. For example, a study published last year in Pediatrics shows that 15 percent of American girls now begin puberty by age 7, twice the number seen in a 1997 study. In response to this research, the Kotex brand, owned by Kimberly-Clark, has recently added the U line to its feminine hygiene products. Specifically designed for girls -- with packaging that would "look at home on the set of Hannah Montana" -- on the shelf, these products are intended to appeal to the girls in the store, but the web presence is tailored to the parents who are steeling themselves for a "birds and the bees" conversation. The website has video content with subject matter experts discussing how to introduce the topic, and tips for when to broach the matter. By talking with mom and dad before the day comes, it makes it easier for the parent, and creates a positive association to help an uncomfortable purchasing decision along.

Online: Make it really quick, simple, and engaging
The iconic Barbie is an excellent example of a page that loads quickly, and engages right off the bat by taking the user right into creating an avatar to use. It's quick and simple, using familiar tools, and giving clear steps to completion.

The brand then prompts the user to register and log in. It's important to note that a well-known brand like Barbie can ask for personal information in a manner a smaller brand cannot. This iconic brand has built substantial amounts of trust with both kids and their parents. Smaller, less well-known brands should carefully consider what kinds of consumer data they need. Even with older audiences, creating a registration gate is detrimental to conversion rates. If a tween's parents don't know a brand, they might be less inclined to let their children provide any personal information. Barbie also isn't asking for a lot of information here, with only six fields to choose from.

This is a best practice from a usability standpoint, as the less the site asks, the more likely the form is to be filled out. Moreover, any online presence has to comply with the Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA.) This body of regulations determines what is and what is not acceptable when engaging this audience, and information gathering is a focus of the statute. Any failure to comply with it can be expensive. For example, the social network Xanga was fined 1 million dollars in 2006 for allowing too many kids under 13 to sign up for the site. Make sure that information collected is in line with COPPA, and consider ways to gather as little up front information as possible. One approach, known as "incremental registration," asks users for the bare minimum up front, and then gradually requests more data as they interact with the site.

Mobile: Keep it free and fun
As the mobile landscape evolves, it becomes clear that tweens are becoming ever more sophisticated in their consumption of information through this channel. The number of kids owning an iPod or MP3 player has gone from 18 percent to 76 percent, and more than half the time spent on the device is consuming media.

Kaiser Family Foundation, Generation M2, media in the lives of 8- to 18 year-olds, 2010

Ordinarily, when reaching out to mobile device users, it makes the most sense to find out everything about what phone they are using, how they use it, and when. In the case of tweens, there are special constraints. Many parents are purchasing phones for their children only for use in emergency situations, or for use under very specific circumstances. Still, as the market matures, major phone manufacturers are beginning to introduce products and services tailored to the teen and tween market. For example, Kajeet offers a service on Sanyo, LG, and Samsung phones where kids and parents can customize functions and billing, such as dividing voice and text costs. Given how big texting is in the tween and teen audience, this is relevant to marketers, as a well-executed campaign can increase interaction. The trick is reaching the child in an appropriate, timely manner. A television ad, for example, gives less time to type in the text than the back of a cereal box, or point of sale signage. Additionally, brands considering texting campaigns should be completely transparent to kids and parents alike. Show any carrier costs up front, provide easy ways to opt out, and never, ever try to sneak anything by. This is unfair to children just learning about marketing, and is guaranteed to make enemies with the parents holding the purse strings.

A much better direction is parents and the passback phenomenon. In short, studies have shown that parents are willing to hand their expensive smartphones to their children to keep them busy. By providing apps that can be downloaded on the parent's device to keep the kids busy, marketers are provided with a much more sophisticated platform. Mobile application development costs are fairly low, and by offering the games for free, it is much easier to earn a space on someone's phone. Lego offers its games for free, along with a wide array of content ranging from direct product tie-ins across on and offline, to apps that take advantage of the platform and keep users engaged. They do an excellent job of providing age-appropriate material, and breaking it down by brand.

One laudable feature of the brand is that it is not overtly selling, a turnoff for parents. Instead, these free games keep kids busy -- and parents happy.

Social networking: Investment required
As we saw before, there is a solid reason why companies like Facebook and Myspace don't let kids younger than 13 onto their sites. It's illegal, and the government sues businesses that don't follow the rules. Still, many children want to engage on social networks. According to recent research conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a survey of seventh graders demonstrated that 75 percent of them have profiles on social media sites. This is moot, though -- it would be difficult and disingenuous for marketers to reach out to this audience through these channels. Of the sites that do allow for social networking for kids, there is close parental involvement or moderation to ensure that it is child safe. Some major brands have created social networks, or purchased them outright, but this generally requires significant investment and upfront planning. Mickey Mouse's deep pockets enabled Disney to purchase child's network Togetherville for an undisclosed sum. For the majority of brands, however, building a legally compliant, sophisticated online tool, or buying it, is not in the cards. Instead, a platform such as Everloop, with built in COPPA compliance, is another alternative. Still, it's important that brands carefully consider if the return on investment required to create a tween-friendly platform is the best possible expenditure.

If a brand is exploring engagement with tweens, it's is essential to be careful. Engage kids in a way that will not turn parents off, but instead is open and transparent. Not quite kids and not quite teenagers, this is an audience that changes quickly. Start with careful due diligence. Study not only how the tweens might engage with the product, but also how to build trust with the parents. When exploring different platforms, remember that basic rules apply around creating a good user experience, along with added constraints from regulation and parental requirements. Some platforms, such as mobile, will provide multiple opportunities, while others like social are less fertile ground without significant investment.

Evan Gerber is a principal experience design consultant for Isobar.

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No real budget

I know this seems obvious, but before investing a lot of your time in a new prospect, you need to know if there's real budget behind your conversations. There are plenty of folks out there who might like the idea of your services and might truly want to work with you. But sometimes, the conversations you have with them are little more than their daydreams -- because in reality, they don't have a penny set aside to spend on what you're offering. And their hopes that they might be able to "free it up" once they have more details are only that -- ill-placed hopes. So if your prospect can't talk budget pretty early in your conversations, don't invest too much time.

Requesting proposals without specifying goals

You can't forge a relationship with someone -- business or otherwise -- who doesn't know what they want to get out of it. And if you're in talks with a potential client who doesn't clearly know their end goal already, you're going to waste a lot of time and potentially have a lot of false starts while they figure it out. You might map out a plan for a comprehensive awareness-centric social influencer program only to discover, much later in the process, that the client is really only interested in directly boosting e-commerce traffic.

Insistence on being middlemen

I know, I know. We're an industry of middlemen. The relationships among brands, agencies, PR firms, and solution providers are complicated and often convoluted, and middlemen are inevitable. But occasionally, you run into a situation where an individual seems to be standing between you and the ultimate decision maker for no good reason at all. You'd like to talk to the decision maker. The decision maker would probably like to talk to you (if that person even knows who "you" are), but someone has taken it upon him- or herself to serve as the translator. You suspect that person is a faulty wire in the telephone line, and at some point, the connection is likely to go dead on you. It can be hard to get around those folks who, for whatever personal reason, have decided they need to be in the mix. But make no mistake: If you continue to communicate through them, you'll likely be wasting a lot of your time.

The sky seems to be the limit

It can be exciting when a potential client asks for a big, broad proposal that really taps into everything you do. You can't help but see flashing dollar signs. The only problem is that such proposals can take an awful lot of time, and in the end, you'll be lucky if they select a sliver of it. And that sliver might appear to be deeply discounted because you considered it to be part of a much larger package.

Of course, I'm not saying you shouldn't go for the big deals. Big deals are awesome. But just don't forget to have that conversation about real budgets and goals before you dive in headfirst.

The RFP requires too many N/As

It would be nice if clients were discerning and only sent out their RFPs to agencies and clients that they consider strong candidates for their business. But it's not always the case. Sometimes you're just on a list that you don't belong on, but no one notices. You suspect it. But you also like the amount of money that is up for grabs, so you're tempted to go for it anyway.

Maybe don't.

Before you spend countless hours filling out a complicated laundry list of fields, step back and look at the scope. Are there lots of places where you simply have nothing to offer? Does the RFP seem designed for a much larger or much different type of solution than yours? If so, don't flush your valuable time down the drain on it.

Missed meetings and slow follow-ups

This one applies to so many elements of life and business. And it's strange that while we're willing to put up with potential clients who stand us up and don't get back to us in a reasonable time frame, that's likely not behavior we'd tolerate in a personal acquaintance. If a potential client seems to have no respect for your time, they're either supremely inconsiderate or simply don't have their act together. Either way, consider it a warning sign that they're ultimately wasting your time.

Redundant or unnecessary calls

If you're trying to get in with a new brand or client and you find yourself having the same conversation multiple times with multiple people (or worse, the same person) at the company, consider it a warning sign that the relationship has a low likelihood of moving forward. Sure, occasionally new people have to transition into a project, and that person needs to get up to speed. But a lot of repetition on your end, or calls that don't seem to move anything forward, likely indicate that the potential client isn't quite sure what to do with you. Which certainly makes it hard to ever get a contract signed. Proceed with caution.

Drew Hubbard is a social media and content marketing strategist and owner of Foodie Content Studios

On Twitter? Follow Hubbard at @LAFoodie. Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet

"Warning sign with exclamation mark on striped caution tape" image via Shutterstock.

Jodi Harris is the Director of Editorial Content & Curation at Content Marketing Institute. As an independent consultant, Jodi develops strategic content programs and projects for brand, media, and agency clients in the marketing, entertainment,...

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