Hollywood’s Marketing Upheaval, Part Two

This is the second part of a two-part series. Read part one.

Stealing Back The Game People

In another approach aimed at the youth audience, Hollywood is placing ads in the video game world, commonly considered an enemy in the attention wars.

Game-related marketing comes in two basic flavors: advertising in existing game environments or producing games about a film and its characters. The former is highly controversial, given its problems of measurement and potential backlash. The latter is easier to justify, but perhaps harder to do well.

And again, with in-game ad buys, inventory is a problem.

“In an ideal world, you want to buy ads around certain programming. The programming here is video games,” said Deep Focus’ Schafer. “But you don’t have your pick of the litter. The majority of the games in these networks are not your number one choice. That provides an ultra-niche marketing opportunity.”

Schafer, who has not yet placed ads in games, believes the decision about whether to do so should depend on the unique qualities of the brand. For instance, the recent campaign for “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo” placed ads on Massive Inc.’s network of 3D games. Game developers and players were outraged to find the silly signage — showing the tower of Pisa rising from Rob Schneider’s crotch — on lunar landscapes and other contextually inappropriate settings.

Brand disaster? Schafer speculates the marketers may have been more concerned about getting butts in seats than negative buzz caused by ugly brand/content “adjacency.” For them, reach is the thing. He says a more adored brand, such as “Lord of the Rings,” would consider such user-end alienation to be marketing suicide.

Studio marketing heads also express reservations. “I’m circumspect personally,” said the studio exec that requested anonymity. “I’m not sure if that’s an environment that’s going to be friendly. I know it’s technically feasible. I’m just not sure you’re catching people at a good time.”

Producing branded advergames is a safer proposition. Films that have launched games of their own include “Cry Wolf,” which commissioned a game that forces players to use IM to solve a crime, “The Cave,” for which digital agency Ignited Minds created a horror game loosely based on the film’s plot, and “Dark Water,” which tried a similar approach.

But these bear more resemblance to viral plays like Subservient Chicken than to straight advertising.

Blending Strategies

Ideally, the online marketing effort for a new release will have all of the above. The campaign for one of the summer’s few runaway hits, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” combined multiple viral executions with an extensive traditional ad buy covering hundreds of millions of impressions.

Part of the media plan, a special banner campaign on Yahoo Movies, actually blurred the line between viral and advertising. Ad creative encouraged people to “find the bar” that was hidden in a banner ad somewhere on the site in order to win a prize, just as Charlie does in the film.

Viral components were extensive. Warner Brothers created unique sites for several characters from the film, including Veruca Salt, Augustus Gloop and the Oompa Loompas. Each character asks visitors to join his or her (or its) team by downloading materials to create stencils, iron-ons, stickers and so on. A section of each site allowed visitors to then upload images of what they created.

“This was a site that didn’t break the ‘fourth wall,’ rather staying within the reality of the film,” said Michael Tritter, VP of interactive marketing for Warner Brothers Pictures. “We spread the word of it to some of the fan and entertainment sites, and allowed it to be discovered organically.”

Other downloads included free mobile ringtones and a Flash game for each character, syndicated to film and gaming sites like IGN before being placed on the official site. Additionally, the studio debuted the final trailer on AOL, which in turn gave the movie extensive special coverage.

The diverse media and creative plan may offer a glimpse of what we’re likely to see from Hollywood in the coming year.

Said Tritter, “Our goal is always to reach out as much as possible in our interactive campaigns, to go to where people are rather than expect them to come to us. In the end I don’t mind if someone gets interested in the movie because of a fun ad, or plays a game on a gaming site, or visits the official movie site and sees how great the film looks. As long as they end up going to see the movie, the goal is fulfilled.”

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