Commentary

Tell Me A Movie

In a column a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned in passing that a banner ad and landing page for the upcoming movie "The Signal" had caught both my eye and my ear. The ad had a click-to-call feature that called in to a recording of the same noise that turns the film's characters into killers. Real old-timers in the mobile marketing world (or those whose memory goes back three years) may recall that Stephen King's novel of cell phone treachery, "Cell," had a similar hook, and that mobile marketing campaign involved getting a voice message from King.

The ad network managing "The Signal" deployment, Ringleader Digital, circulated a press release last week outlining the success of the campaign. You may have read these number elsewhere already, but according to CEO Bob Walczac, the click-through rate on the mobile banners was 6.7%, and 16% of those CTRs activated the click-to-call and listened to the signal. When I spoke to Walczak and the company's senior director of sales, Lilia Kunin, they said that about 14% of those who listened to the call-in "signal" passed it on virally.

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While we don't have numbers of the actual reach of the campaign relative to other components that agency Media Storm deployed, Walczak suggested it was in the millions of impressions. "From an effectiveness standpoint, I don't see how another medium could have done better than this," he said.

Well, on the one hand, it was the kind of campaign where the product, messaging and target demo mapped so well atop one another that even a weak idea would register. But in this case the message, an audio signal, was made for phone sampling, and the film's target audience, 18- to 34-year-olds, were precisely the mobile users most likely to explore the ad and try this novel use of the technology.

But what surprised even Walczak was that some users came back to relisten up to six times. People seemed intrigued both by the platform of using the voice channel for this kind of media sampling, and by the media creative itself.

While mobile seems like a perfect place to market films, and we are seeing a lot of strong prerelease campaigns lately, the reflex is to use a video asset. Linking to a clip is the rough analog of dropping the trailer at the other end of a banner promo a few days out from a film's weekend release. But trailers are what movie executive think potential moviegoers want to see. Or at least it is what studios want moviegoers to want.

Film fans actually encounter a film, remember it, and perhaps anticipate it in a very different way, I think. One of the more novel uses of film properties on mobile lately has been downloading classic movie scenes. Unfortunately, most services make you pay some typically ridiculous mobile content fee for the privilege, but the basic content model is interesting. The horse assassination scene in "Animal House" -- or turning the volume up to "11" in "Spinal Tap" - bring the kinds of pop culture nostalgia rushes that are perfectly suited for mobile. It is a Chris Farley approach to movie-going. As Farley's celebrity interviewer persona used to ask guests, "Remember the part when?"

A couple of years ago Clear Channel started testing three and five-second audio ads on radio. All Fox had to do was run Homer's familiar "Doh," followed by a reminder that the new season of "The Simpsons" was premiering on Fox that week. It was effective because the ad was serving merely as a prompt for something the listener filled in his own way with memory or anticipation.

Pop culture leaves so many multimedia moments in our heads that a phone can leverage. Movie tag lines, cool scenes, moody music -- all can become click-to-call messaging or even ringtones. Why couldn't eager film fans of an upcoming sequel subscribe to text messages from one of the movie's characters, offering back story and tense hints of what is to come in advance of the film's premiere? There is such a toy box of media embedded in any film property, I would love to see marketers compete with one another every Thursday for the mobile campaign that is creative enough.

We keep talking about the need to make advertising more creative to penetrate the clutter and transcend the fragmentation. But imagine a mobile marketing ecosystem where we clicked on banners not just to get relevant information, but because we had come to expect from our advertising the same entertainment level we expect from the content it promotes?

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