Targeting Taste: Getting Ahead Of Box Office Blockbusters -- And Busts

On any given Thursday or Friday evening, millions of people have gotten into the habit of flipping out their mobile devices to check what movies are playing in their area. The explosion of activity in the movie-finder app category has been tremendous in recent years, catapulting companies like Fandango and Flixster to the top of the mobile app charts.

Entertainment marketing is among the most evolved categories in mobile advertising. It leverages full screen takeovers, multimedia, and a range of deep appeals that other categories are only beginning to try. In one mobile campaign I saw for the "Paranormal 3" release, the campaign literally tricked the user into believing his phone had become as haunted as the scenes in the film were.

On the whole, most mobile advertising for studio releases tends to go for the big effect and big reach. Such ads will own the app experience for the days leading up to a release. But for other advertisers trying to get into the flow of this massive consumer hunt for information, these apps often cast off enormous amounts of interesting data that could be harvested for targeting. “We have a database of over 2.4 billion reviews and responses from users,” says James Smith, CRO of Flixster. The cross-platform movie guide (handsets, Web, tablets and connected TVs) is owned by Warner Bros. and also operates the longstanding reviews site RottenTomatoes.com. An app like Flixster is able to see what specific audience segments are looking for weeks in advance, what they are excited about, beyond the targets studios may think they have for a film. Just on mobile apps alone they are streaming from 2 to 6 million trailers a month.

In a new project, the company is using information it gathers from searches, traffic flows and user comments and social sharing to understand what titles are trending with which specific audiences. This is “Social Movies Targeting.” Smith says that beyond the appeal of a film’s story, most people are making a decision about which movie to see based on the opinion of people like them. “You want to tap into the movies that are trending for that demographic,” says Smith.  “There is no source of data for that. Most advertisers can’t drill into the movies that will be popular, and most of that data is unreliable.” Otherwise, perhaps, "John Carter" would have been a hit.

Flixster is looking across the data people are leaving behind when they search for titles or comment or consult Rotten Tomatoes and the number of people who are saying they “want to see” something. “If you are an XYZ advertiser that wants to target men 18-to-23, we offer them social movie targeting that targets against movie content where we see that demographic active.” Smith says that unlike the targeting often attached to movie content with presumed audiences, here the consumer tastes gauged in real time are driving the targeting.

While the major studios are still likely buying into the big reach and conquesting campaigns, this is a style of targeting aimed more at non-endemic clients. “This allows advertisers without industry knowledge to tap into the real buzz and associate themselves with the buzz around a title that coming weekend. We can measure the intensity of the buzz against other titles and only put you in the top three most intense against some demographic.” This also lets brands target against unlikely suspects like titles that are not necessarily big blockbusters but sleepers, and films that are generating niche appeal.

Flixster is running the targeting for MSN, which is buying against film titles whose audience buzz maps correctly against their target. “We have seen-click through rates for this tool stronger than run-of-site consistently for the last four weeks,” Smith says. The MSN target mapped well against the audience buzzing in advance of "The Cabin in the Woods" horror film release earlier this month. According to Flixster, click-throughs on MSN ads running against this target were especially high.

 Flixster gets about 10 million uniques each month, with 2 to 5 million every Thursday through Sunday. 

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