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Marketing Movies, the Web 2.0 Way

Erik Flannigan
Marketing Movies, the Web 2.0 Way Erik Flannigan
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It's hard to believe that less than ten years ago, movie studios considered online marketing to be little more than a glorified billboard pasted into a web address. Enter "The Blair Witch Project" and studio executives saw firsthand how the power of the internet could translate into serious box office. We've come a long way since then, as the web now represents an ever-increasing slice of a studio's marketing pie. Now, as the advent of Web 2.0 ushers in a new era for film promotion, how can marketers take full advantage of what the web has to offer amid a drastically changing movie landscape?
 
Two degrees of Kevin Bacon
Social networking sites represent the next generation of word-of-mouth marketing. In less than 12 months, we've witnessed News Corp.'s purchase of MySpace, the Weinstein brothers' investment in ASmallworld.net and the launch of AIM Pages by AOL-all evidence that some of the web's and Hollywood's biggest players are confident that the social networking phenomenon isn't going away anytime soon. 
 
Unlike previous online scenarios, these interactive community sites enable entertainment fans to get even closer to the original source material. In just a few clicks, fans can forge a meaningful connection to their favorite actors, characters and filmmakers, and at the same time, spread news, rumors and opinions faster than ever before. The notion of "six degrees of 'Kevin Bacon' " has truly become a mere two steps away. 
 
The impact of this changing landscape is significant. If harnessed correctly, the closer connection to consumers will allow marketers the opportunity to build significant worldwide fan bases long before a film hits the big screen. This is especially valuable for sequels, where an audience that may have first discovered a franchise on DVD (e.g., X-Men) will turn immediately to the web to extend their enthusiasm and seek ways to make a deeper connection to what's coming next. It will also give non-endemic advertisers new ways to reach consumers, allowing them to target specific demographics and interests unlike ever before. 
 
The immediacy of the web
Beyond the recent onset of social networks, movie studios are leveraging the web more tactically. As theatrical windows shrink, and films live or die by their opening weekend grosses, online campaigns are starting earlier than ever before. A studio needs to ensure that moviegoers are very much aware of the new Will Ferrell comedy well before it hits their local multiplex, as Thursday night television buys just can't reach the ever-younger demo that occupies those opening-weekend theater seats.
 
Another impact of the web's power is the simultaneous global release of tent-pole films. The opening of movies like the Matrix sequels and M:I:3 not only curtails online piracy -- which could directly impact box office  -- but also creates a press-friendly worldwide media event, showering even more attention on the film. And it probably doesn't hurt to tell a global opening-weekend box office story with certain films, not just a domestic one.
 
Programming is marketing
Studios are also creating more entertainment assets beyond trailers to help generate early buzz and awareness of new films. Websites like Moviefone.com and Google are taking advantage by creating original programs like the "Da Vinci Code Google Challenge" or Moviefone.com's "Unscripted" series, in which two principals from a film interview each other about the making of the movie. This creates more excitement for consumers, forges new promotional opportunities for the studios and allows non-endemic marketers to associate their brands with marquee talent. Across the board, this new focus on building online campaigns is a winning combination. 
 
Big studio films aren't the only ones making the most of the internet. The makers of independent and short films are also using the web as a platform to showcase their work. Moviefone.com's Short Film Festival is just one example. As more film-related content arrives online, brand marketers have an opportunity to become more innovative in associating campaigns. 
 
Case study: American Express, the Tribeca Film Festival and Moviefone
A great example of a non-endemic brand aligning itself with an entertainment property both online and off is American Express. As a founding sponsor of the Tribeca Film Festival since its inception five years ago, American Express has been dedicated to growing the Festival by attracting audiences and building community spirit in compelling ways. 
 
This year, the company launched "My Life. My Card," a competition inviting consumers to submit their story online via a 15-second clip for a chance to win a cash prize and be honored during the Festival. At the same time, American Express partnered with Moviefone.com to promote the competition and align itself with a special series of "Unscripted" interviews shot onsite at the Festival. Additional offline marketing and advertising tactics enhanced the overall American Express campaign, though the online component was the core of the program.
 
American Express successfully created their own entertainment initiative by tapping into the power of the web and the online community to help generate content. They harnessed the power of social networks by allowing individuals to create and share their own clips, and they understood the importance of joining forces with respected brands, the Tribeca Film Festival and Moviefone.com, to successfully reach their target audience.
 
Overall, the American Express/Tribeca Film Festival initiative was a huge success and a great example to all marketers looking to capitalize on the web's ability to reach a wide moviegoing audience.
 
Whether studios tap into the full reach of the web or brand marketers align with web sites in producing original online content, the emergence of Web 2.0 will forever change the media landscape, which is good news for consumers, advertisers and content developers. 
 
As vice president of programming, Erik Flannigan oversees four distinct but interrelated entertainment sites on AOL and AOL.com including Moviefone.com, AOL Music, AOL Radio and AOL Television. Flannigan is responsible for the overall development of innovative and original programming within each of these categories.

It completely blows my mind that people feel they can lie, cheat and steal and still be successful in our industry. After all, we're not in the legal profession. (Sorry lawyers, I couldn't resist!)


The basics of building your industry credibility start with your integrity. First, think about what you're saying before words start flying out of your mouth. If you say that you're going to do something, then do it. As an example, marketers (those of us on the buy side) often compare notes and complain about salespeople that promise the world and don't deliver. While I understand the need to talk a good game, all you'll be doing is filling a hot air balloon if you can't deliver on your word.


The people whom I choose to align myself with -- whether it's a vendor, agency, publisher or strategic partner -- all have earned my trust by consistently delivering on their word. These are the same people that have not only earned my business but have also become trusted partners and friends that I know I can count on to lead my business in the right direction. I often seek these people out as sounding boards whenever I'm starting a new initiative or need help breaking through a plateau. In addition, these are the first people who I recommend to anyone within earshot every chance I get.


Second, admit it when things don't go as planned. Murphy's law dictates that your campaign, business process, communication, technology and anything else that can go wrong will eventually go wrong.


The most common situation for me is that a media campaign performs horribly even though we put our best foot forward and felt confident in its success prior to launch. Not even the rock stars in our business knock it out of the park 100 percent of the time.


In fact, the rock stars probably can write the book on business snafus. The key to coming out ahead even in the biggest FUBAR situation is how you handle it.


Anyone on the other side of the fence from me in these situations knows that if they minimize damage, regroup and analyze the situation quickly, they've just earned their merit badge. My best media reps are the ones that are able to quickly pivot, whether it's to kill a campaign or look for a solution to shift ad dollars to something else. It shows me that they care about our success and are in the business relationship for the long-term, not just for a short-term commission.

If you came out of the womb as a brilliant interactive marketing guru, I'd love to shake your hand. For the rest us who weren't born with such talent, we have to learn our craft. Just like the formal apprentice relationships in many industries, your best bet is to seek out those who are at the top of their game and learn from them.


Start with the general movers and shakers in our industry and learn from them. Read all of the articles that they write, and spend time with them at conferences when possible. Although these individuals are incredibly busy (I think they have figured out how to thrive on two hours of sleep per day), reach out to them and request to interview them for 15 minutes on something you want to learn about. Even though they are busy, most of them are genuine, thoughtful and helpful people with a willingness to impart their wisdom.


The great thing about the interactive space is that in addition to the general movers and shakers, there are so many talented people in a variety of niches. If you're thinking about running a certain type of campaign, it's likely that someone else has done it really well.


For example, when I was new to interactive marketing, I needed to start up an affiliate program for the purpose of lead generation. I had no clue where to start, so I researched who was leading the field. At the time, Declan Dunn was an author, speaker and very successful affiliate marketer. I found a conference where he was speaking one week later and booked a flight and a conference pass to see him.


During one of the networking sessions, I introduced myself to him and requested 30 minutes of his time. He was generous enough to give me a brain dump that lasted nearly two hours! That learning session resulted in the successful launch of the affiliate program three weeks later, and it raked in millions of dollars in business for my company in a short period of time. In addition, Dunn's passion for the interactive space was contagious and sparked my passion for the industry.


Once you've become an expert and have had some degree of success in a given area, pass it on. Fill someone else's bucket with the knowledge that you've gained and it will help you too at some point in your career.

In addition to seeking out mentors, take advantage of the fact that anything you want to learn is right at your fingertips. I've always believed strongly that learning is a lifelong process that kicks into higher gear once you're done with formal schooling. What's ironic is that so few people in our industry take advantage of the tools that are part of our industry.


One of the biggest accelerators of my industry knowledge over the past few years has been the proliferation of blogs. Not only have I found an unbelievable source of great information on a daily basis, but RSS feeds have completely replaced the email newsletters I used to receive. At the same time, this more efficient delivery method has allowed me to consume more information in less time.


Do you have a commute longer than 10 minutes? If so, turn your walk, car or train ride into a learning annex. If you look on my iPod right now, it's filled with business and marketing audio books and podcasts. I have a 45-minute commute each way to the office, and I love it! I'm able to listen to everything from iMedia Summit sessions and interviews with top interactive industry moguls to audio books by great authors like Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell, Jack Welch, and more.


Do yourself a favor and get an Audible.com membership, as well as subscribe to all of the podcasts (they are free) relevant to your business that you can get your hands on. Listen during your commute, airplane trips and when exercising. My wife made fun of me a couple of years ago because when we ran our last marathon together, I was listening to Joseph Jaffe's podcasts and panels from iMedia Summits and ad:tech while she was listening to music. My feeling was that if I had to run for five hours, I might as well capitalize on captivated learning time as well as take my mind off the pain.

One of the keys to building your name credibility and exposure in the industry is to get out there and talk to people. No matter how much knowledge and talent you have, nobody will know who you are if you lock yourself up in your office like a hermit. Allocate a certain percentage of your time toward going to conferences and trade shows to not only learn from the content, but also to meet people who you can share ideas with.


The payoff from networking is two-fold. First, our industry is full of fun, interesting people that are great to hang out with. Second, you'll start to build your knowledge base circle of go-to people. As an example, when we were recently looking at email solution providers to bring on board, I was able to pick up the phone and call a dozen marketers and agency executives whom I consider experts on the subject.


Just like I seek out a trusted circle of people who have expertise in certain areas, others in turn call on me for the same sort of advice on a regular basis, and I'm happy to share. This sort of balanced give and take is a key element to making the most of your networking. It helps establish and build life-long business relationships that will pay off throughout your entire career.

Do you ever feel that common sense needs to be the first class that is taught in college?


It usually goes without saying, but common sense tells you that the Golden Rule applies to building your industry credibility. It's surprising to me how many people forget this simple tenet for business and life. Unfortunately, I've seen extremely talented people in our industry flame out because they forgot how to treat the people they do business with.


As you soak up your industry knowledge and flex your newfound muscles, be careful not to leave debris of bugs splattered on your career windshield. As you become more seasoned, focus on giving back to the industry and helping to contribute to the talent pool. Whether it's as a thought leader or simply giving guidance to newbies in the industry, you'll get back much more than you put in.


We are in a highly connected and highly social industry where opinions about individuals are shared freely. Follow the simple motto coined by the movie "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure": "Be excellent to each other." It will attract others to you and raise your stature in the interactive community faster than you can imagine.


Sean Cheyney is the VP of marketing and business development for AccuQuote.

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