Kill Bill’s Marketing FX

Online now plays a big part in generating buzz and intent-to-view for most major Hollywood productions, and Kill Bill — Quentin Tarantino’s fourth and latest film — is no exception.

In fact, it’s an extreme example. Miramax, the studio releasing Kill Bill, is allocating more money to the interactive portion of the promotional campaign than it has for any of its films to date.

The account has been handed to Brooklyn digital agency Deep Focus, which will work to generate as much awareness for the martial arts flick as possible between now and the October 11 release date.

The campaign, now in its early stages, provides a useful look at some of the changes now underway in movie marketing, owing to the emergence of the broadband Internet and major studios’ increasing investment in interactive.

Spending Money

Of course, building enthusiasm among filmgoers online is not just about spending a lot of money. As in any industry, effective marketing is all about allocating money wisely. Doing that requires a deep knowledge of how consumers learn about movies and what influences the decision to watch them.

The first rule of thumb in film marketing, according to Deep Focus co-founder Ian Schafer, is that Web traffic means very little when it comes to box office sales.

“Our philosophy is that it’s more important for people to be exposed to the Kill Bill brand than it is to drive traffic to the Web site,” Schafer said. “Sure, site traffic is a gauge of the film’s popularity, but our goal is to get people in the theater.”

To convert ad viewers to theatergoers, first you have to grab them. To achieve this, Schafer’s team has placed rich media at the center of the campaign. Every one of the marketing program’s ad executions uses Flash, and many of these are using special formats offered by CheckM8 and PointRoll, which offer customized and expandable ad formats.

“With film marketing or entertainment marketing, the important thing is to enable the user spend time digging deeper and being entertained,” said Jules Gardner, PointRoll’s CEO. “Whether it’s watching the trailer or a clip that didn’t make it into the movie, researching the film’s production or its stars, rich formats engage the consumer better.”

While PointRoll’s technology is capable of nesting video within an ad, there’s not as much video streaming in the “Kill Bill” campaign as you might expect in a push for a major action film. In fact, Schafer is debating whether to stream any video at all within the traditional ad units.

“In the past we’ve worked with companies such as Klipmart that can stream audio and video in an ad unit,” Schafer said. “The problem with that is that users are viewing a very small area.”

“It generates awareness, but it’s not the best way to generate awe,” he added.

The Trailer Is the Thing

Having said that, Schafer hastens to add that the trailer is indeed the most important element of a movie campaign, on- or offline.

“For most films, the trailer is the best sell piece the studio has,” he said.

Instead of streaming it within independent ads, Deep Focus will syndicate the trailer to editorial sites and, of course, carry it on the official “Kill Bill” site, which the banners will then link to, along with a tease. Said Schafer: “It’s important for people to know a trailer lies right on the other side of that banner.”

But media buying in the strict sense is only one part of movie marketing. The process is also intrinsically bound up with press and publisher relations. Getting film information to the public by distributing the trailer and content extras to editorial sites is a key method for increasing awareness and “intent to see.”

Consumers’ use of the Web to research their entertainment options is well documented. Jupiter Research, a unit of this site’s parent company, found in an August survey that 23 percent of online consumers regularly watch movie trailers online, and 35 percent use the Web to get movie listings and reviews on a regular basis.

Other content extras can appear as educational features, Q&A’s with a director or star, and additional footage. As part of its development of the official site for SpyKids 3D, another Miramax film, Deep Focus built an interactive “What is 3D?” feature that teaches kids how the film was made.

“It was one of the most popular areas of the Spy Kids site,” Schafer said. “Parents can sit down with their kids and use it. Things like this drive intent to see, awareness and buzz.”

In addition to special multimedia features and editorial partnerships, Schafer hinted Deep Focus would run versions of the trailer in paid “pre-roll” ads that precede streamed video content, like that which appears on ESPN.com and MSNBC.com.

“This is something that’s really easy for us, since we already have 30 second spots that are made for TV. It’s so simple to repurpose those for the Web,” Schafer said.

In a July 2003 report, Jupiter Research described pre-roll online video advertising as a growing but underutilized format, and MSNBC.com this week hired a “streaming evangelist” to push its video streaming as a viable ad channel.

“Online video ads are perfect for movie studios,” said Jupiter Associate Analyst Nate Elliot. “Their product is best pitched with video, and with pre-roll ads they can reach an audience that’s attentively watching a video screen.”

Elliott additionally points out that heavy Internet users are watching less TV, and therefore pushing a trailer online increases market saturation.

“Large online video sites draw as many viewers as the big cable TV shows, and Internet users don’t watch as much TV, so studios will find that pre-roll ads are a great way to increase their reach,” he said.

Big Film, Big Stakes

Miramax is taking some risks with Kill Bill. It has been six years since the release of Jackie Brown, Tarantino’s last film, and this new flick is actually two, produced all at once but slated to be released in sequel form — a la Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” and “Matrix Reloaded/Revolutions.” The studio is counting on the success formula of Jackson’s Hobbit epic, but the all-or-nothing franchise approach is inherently dangerous.

This release structure means Deep Focus has actually been handed two interactive marketing accounts, and the agency has its work cut out for it.

“There’s already going to be an established sense of recognition and expectation,” Schafer said. “We’ll build on recognition of existing characters as well as adding teasers about new characters.”

He says rich media’s role in promoting the second film will equal the first, and that future marketing efforts will use it.

“Rich and streaming media are coming to fruition now, as broadband penetration accelerates,” Schafer said. “And that’s great to watch. In marketing for the film industry, you don’t want to play to the lowest common denominator…. That’s not how to set yourself apart.”

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