Commentary

Great Premise, Good Production Values, BUT...

"Don't talk to him. He ruins movies." This is my daughter's lament whenever we leave the theater. As my fiancée asks how I liked the flick, you can see my girl trying to wave her off as if signaling her away from a family secret.

Well, to her it is no family secret that you shouldn't ask how I liked a movie. Because I will tell you, as my daughter's head drops in defeat. "Professor Dad" has grabbed the podium. Some old academic habits never die.

I am in a particularly bad state right now. The restored, pristine and nigh-perfect "Godfather" collection came out on Blu-ray this week, so things have been especially tough on my family. There has been a lot of scene-by-scene analysis going on, with me bouncing in my chair as Michael Corleone wheels the Don's hospital bed to safety. "This is one of the great character transformations in film history -- look, look. Everything you need to know about Michael happens in the next three minutes."

My daughter peers over her laptop, unimpressed and barely trying to placate the old man. I am not so sure right now that this one would have made the effort to lock the hospital door. I should have had a boy. Where's my Al Pacino?

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So maybe my film criticism bar has been set a little high lately -- but the best mobile ad I have seen in the last couple of weeks is a revealing letdown. The campaign around "Eagle Eye" could be called inspired, if only it hadn't been pretty much inevitable. A film about an ordinary guy transformed by cell phone commands into an action hero is a no-brainer for a voice-response mobile campaign. The attractive banners ads with the film's stars promise a "mobile challenge" or chance to win a $1,000 Circuit City gift card. The landing page lets you enter a cell number to register for the contest and "follow the voice."

Perhaps it was an afterthought, but I found the next page of the campaign sequence one of the most effective: a full screen shot of our film hero racing away from the nation's Capitol dome. The image embodied the action of the film, hinted at political intrigue and capitalized on Shia LaBeouf's highly bankable deer-in-the-headlights look. There is an earnestness factory somewhere that churns out the likes of Tobey Maguire, Elijah Wood, and LaBeouf.

Alas, this second landing page also promises an incoming call that will initiate some kind of "challenge." The voice message then prompts us to press 1 to activate yourself, which pushes an SMS, which pushes you to a WAP page where you can enter friends. This little bit of interactivity nets you nothing except a final promo call the day before the film opens.

Here is a case where the ad premise and technology fit the product so perfectly that I felt entitled to a lot more. I must have missed the "challenge" I was promised. Opting into a more involved IVR game? Maybe even a special zone of goodies on the film micro-site? Anything? Hello? You have me hooked and intrigued and playing the role of the action hero -- just to have me be your viral host and the proud recipient of a tune-in reminder? Sorry, but I felt a bit more used than rewarded for my engagement with the campaign.

But consider the good news that comes out of a half-fulfilled experience like this. It suggests to me just how involving a mobile campaign might be. We already know that people will spend hours drilling 20 or 30 questions deep into SMS trivia contests. We know that users will rifle through 50-100 profiles pages in a mobile social network at a sitting.

In other words, we know that when its users are engaged, mobile media can focus attention and engagement in ways that even the cluttered, multitasking Web should envy.

Marketers are so used to being interruptive, unwelcome interlopers on our attention, that they may miss those times when they actually get it right and pique their audience's interest. If the mobile campaign for "Eagle Eye" had taken that next step and let me opt into a few more calls that embodied the creativity and content of the film, perhaps I would have gone to see it last weekend.

But instead I stayed at home and watched a movie I know will satisfy me again and again.

"He even likes III," my daughter warns my fiancée. "Even Sophia Coppola doesn't like III. He won't bring us to see 'Eagle Eye,' but he likes 'Godfather III.'"

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