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Meet the User-Generated Nation

Javier Salom
Meet the User-Generated Nation Javier Salom

Today, much of the entertainment industry is neglecting an important piece of any marketing campaign-- the internet.

It's an interesting paradox when Hollywood studios -- the entertainment giants that helped define modern pop culture -- lag far behind other industries in adopting the internet as a marketing medium. According to a recent study by eMarketer, movie studios devote a paltry 3 percent of their marketing budgets to online advertisements, compared to 5.7 percent for other industries. While studio production and marketing costs for an average picture have risen to astronomical levels (more than $90 million in 2005, according to the MPAA), studio executives continue to throw money at passive 30-second TV spots despite reports of decreased effectiveness and reach (think the Tivo effect). This is because many movie studios and television networks, like their colleagues in the music industry, view the internet as a threat to their livelihood. In their minds, the terms "internet user" and "user-generated content" (UGC) are synonymous with "online piracy." 

Yet, to the contrary, Hollywood and television marketers should embrace use of the internet as a marketing tool with greater zeal. Below are five suggestions on how marketers should learn to stop worrying, and start loving the internet.   

Internet users are potential customers-not potential pirates
It's a matter of perspective, but an important one nonetheless. The same folks that marketers spend more than $34 million per film to reach are increasingly spending more time online. The digital populist revolution that Time Magazine crowned as Person of the Year in 2006 has the ability to drive ticket sales and advertising dollars. Disney acknowledged this phenomenon on January 2, when it announced a major re-design of Disney.com to include more interactive features. Bob Iger, Disney's CEO, says the website is "the most important company-wide strategy Disney is currently implementing." 

Listen and engage
UGC has been described as a conversation between marketers and consumers. Building upon this analogy, marketers should listen to the user and refrain from simply jamming a message, logo or ditty into consumers' heads. Studios and TV networks should embrace influential bloggers and think of them as members of the press. Inviting them to pre-release screenings and premieres increases the likelihood that they will write a favorable review. Some studios have gone as far as to leak exclusive information to sites such as Rottentomatoes.com; others include a message board within movie sites to encourage fan comments and feedback. The bottom line is that consumers want to be involved in the marketing process, so why not encourage this unsolicited marketing force? Just be sure to listen attentively to their thoughts and ideas when you do, lest you incur a backlash from consumers who feel like you are taking advantage of their enthusiasm.

Encourage interaction in word and deed
The seemingly endless variations of Web 2.0 capabilities surpass the effectiveness of the traditional banner ad. It's also insufficient to create a web page for your movie/TV show and call it an online campaign. A successful online marketing campaign requires a great deal of creativity. For example, for the upcoming release of "Transformers," Dreamworks asked users to submit phrases for the character known as Optimum Prime. Visitors to the site voted for the 30 best phrases, which a group of filmmakers then narrowed to the top ten. The winning entry has already been recorded by Peter Cullen, who plays the role of Optimus Prime, and will appear in the film. The second- and third-place entries will be given away as free, downloadable ring tones. 

In another example, MGM partnered with IncrediMail to create downloadable "Rocky Balboa"-themed email backgrounds. Within each background, an image of Rocky served as a hyperlink to the official Rocky website, where users could view the film's trailer. In addition to the email backgrounds, IncrediMail created a whole suite of free downloadable features, such as an email notifier using the Rocky theme song and a Rocky skin to decorate their email client. From this partnership, MGM benefited from the viral reach of email stationery and from the branding power of the notifier and skin.  

Benefit from immediate and quantifiable feedback
Don't know which TV spot to use? Is your campaign reaching the demographic you desire? Is your trailer as funny as you think it is? For fast, accurate and quantifiable measurements, put your assets online before you commit to advertising buys. Users will be happy to point you in the appropriate direction. As an extreme example, take a look at "Snakes on a Plane." After wrapping principal photography, New Line Cinema added five more days of shooting to transform the film from a PG-13 project to a solid R rating in response to users' feedback. Other user input included:

  • New Line adopted an expletive-laden phrase from a user-created audio trailer that quickly became the film's audio marketing pitch. 

  • Bloggers helped coerce New Line to change the title of the film from it's proposed title of "Pacific Air Flight 121" back to the original title of "Snakes on a Plane." 

  • Another user's homemade song won an online contest and was awarded a spot on the film's official soundtrack. 

Overall, "Snakes on a Plane" became the summer's biggest source of marketing buzz -- online and off -- because of New Line's heavy interaction with users online.     
Don't be afraid to make mistakes
Even if the studios double or triple their online commitments, other forms of advertising will continue to constitute the bulk of their marketing campaigns. That said, and because the internet is such a nascent and evolving environment, marketers should view it as an experimental lab. An online marketing campaign that fails to attract consumers will neither break the bank nor cause damage to the rest of a campaign. On the flip side, an online campaign that catches fire has the ability to magnify your message and complement or surpass your offline efforts.  

Javier Salom is director of business development at IncrediMail and can be reached at [email protected]. .


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