Industry Watch: Learning From the Movies

For the entertainment industry, technology convergence and content distribution via multiple platforms strikes at the very heart of the business and challenges the fundamentals. With consumers clearly in the driver's seat, it's not surprising that entertainment companies have turned to the Web to locate the 18- to 34-year-olds they used to find in front of the TV each night. But buying up all the inventory at the appropriate Web sites isn't enough anymore either, because it's far too easy for today's jaded consumers to minimize, delete, or simply tune out anything they don't want to see or hear.

Successful marketers have responded by doing what entertainment companies are supposed to do best: entertain. They're finding that if you engage people and give them the opportunity to enter contests to win prizes, play a game, take a quiz, or access video, they will spend some time at a site. If they stay long enough, they'll form a lasting impression of the brand, hopefully a good one.

While movie studios have created Web sites to promote their film releases for several years, these sites used to feature a trailer and a few photos. Now, marketers, sensing the opportunity to turn these movie destinations into something more, are treating the sites as products themselves rather than simply promotions. Marketers have started adding multilevel games, puzzles, trivia quizzes, and, of course, contests, all in the name of giving audiences the opportunity to become as engaged with brands as possible.

"It's important to firmly establish a brand for each product," says Jason Alex, an online marketing executive at DreamWorks SKG. This is especially difficult for film companies whose products have such short life cycles. But Alex says content-rich movie sites allow product awareness to grow organically, as long as the campaign launches at the right time. The first step is to bring the film's target viewers to the movie site by buying ads on the sites where Web surfers spend the most time: online destinations like Yahoo or community sites like MySpace and Friendster. The second step is to provide them with the right tools to spread the word about a film -- i.e., to let them send e-mails and text messages to their friends on social networks.

Display ads should also reinforce the Web site. While shooting the film "She's the Man," DreamWorks also filmed interactive spots with the lead characters. When users roll over the display ads, the characters talk to them, sometimes delivering lines from the movie and other times a short slug, but always encouraging visitors to click through to the movie's Web site. The site, of course, is chock-full of little time-wasters, including trailers, bios, photos, a cross-dressing game (drawn from the movie's plot), and several downloads, including posters, wallpapers, buddy icons, and screensavers.

Discovery Networks devised something similar in preparation for "Miami Ink," a popular reality show on The Learning Channel about tattoo culture in Miami. Prior to the start of the show's second season, Discovery's marketing team opened up TLC's Web site to the show's hard-core fan base and let them post photos of their own tattoos. The move proved so popular that, five months later, the "Miami Ink" page has 13 volumes of pictures from users and a monthly competition in which users rate each other's tattoos.

"Our objective was to get a strong presence online," says Chris Schembri, vice president of media planning and marketing for Discovery Networks' USA Group. Schembri says it was crucial to reconnect "Miami Ink's" enthusiast fan base to the niche-oriented show. The tattoo competition "sparked a sense of community" among people who "share a common passion for the same art form," he adds.

Like DreamWorks' efforts, Discovery's display campaign for "Miami Ink" revolved around bringing users to the show's section of TLC's Web site, where they could read character bios, check out photos, or submit their tattoo pictures for the gallery or the competition. Discovery used EyeBlaster and PointRoll rich media technologies to create expandable banners for the display campaign. The network also bought a homepage takeover on a sports site. The campaign used e-mail marketing, online spots on Yahoo Radio, and in-game advertising promos displayed across Massive Inc.'s video game ad network.

Using the Web to draw consumers into the product, feed them more information, and engage them with free games or other activities related to the product helps to empower consumers and create buzz. The practice is percolating across the entertainment industry, as marketers recognize the value of branding their entertainment products online.

Nintendo of America's branding effort for its Nintendo DS portable gaming system is another good example. Prior to the DS launch, Nintendo's consumer marketing team created a unique online promotion based on the marketing campaign's message, "Touching is good." The campaign and slogan were designed to focus on one of the features that differentiate the Nintendo DS from Sony's PSP: touchscreen capability.

For the online promotion, Nintendo bought thou-sands of mannequin hands and shipped more than 7,500 of them to participating consumers who signed up to receive them online. For the competition, consumers were asked to produce a photo or a video depicting the concept "Touching is good." Winners received cash, and the top two entrants also scored new Nintendo DS systems. The contest produced more than 1,000 original photos and videos of mannequin hands in action.

In the end, says Rob Matthews, Nintendo's senior director of consumer marketing, the promotion was so popular that nearly three times more participants descended on the site than Nintendo anticipated, causing the company to run out of its initial stock of several hundred mannequin hands during the first week. After distributing a few thousand more, the promotion turned out to be a big success. Not only were consumers engaging with the brand, they were engaging each other.