PJ Pereira: How a Branded ‘Social Film’ Hooked Gamers

pj-pereira-2011While most marketing agencies these days aspire to be more digital, Pereira & O’Dell and its chief creative and co-founder PJ Pereira resist being “pigeonholed” as digital specialists. It’s a luxury a hip, three-year-old company in San Francisco filled with web-savvy staff can afford.

Owned by Grupo ABC de Comunicação in Brazil, Pereira & O’Dell considers itself a cross-disciplinary global ad shop. Clients include Intel, Toshiba, Corona beer, Lego, Phoenix University and others.

Its most ambitious effort to date was a high-production branded web film for Intel and Toshiba, in which users could participate via social media. Called “Inside,” the “social film” told the story of a young woman (movie and TV actress Emmy Rossum) who was trapped in a creepy, dark room with only a connected laptop. The audience was told they could interact with her via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and it was up to them to drive the story and get her out. Agency editors incorporated user posts that best fit the storyline into the episodes.

Pereira says the intensity of the digital effort surprised him and his team as much as it did the audience.

ClickZ: Please walk us through what it was like to run the interactive film, which, frankly, sounds more like a game than it does a social movie.

Pereira: The film ran as a web series over 11 days in late July and early August 2011. I slept only two to three hours a night during those 11 days because things were happening so fast. You could watch the community of players get smarter. We thought the toughest part for users would be to figure out the riddles and challenges that we presented to them. But there were so many players posting clues, tips and advice on the film’s Facebook news feed, that each [piece of information] appeared for a very short time. So the biggest challenge for them was to retrieve and organize the clues.

About halfway into the series the players came to realize they were spread around the globe and could organize themselves into time zone blocks. One block would save and solve the clues and pass along a wrap-up of their results to people in the next time zone. Since we could see what they passed along on Facebook, they came up with blogs, private groups and other hidden ways to pass the info to each other. In a given hour about 200,000 players were interacting with the film and we had a team of 60 people trying to keep up. They kicked our ass.

CZ: Did your clients see a direct result from the film?

PP: The goal was to increase favorability of the two brands among young adults. Specifically, the clients wanted people to go to stores and ask to check out Toshiba computers and say they wanted a computer with Intel inside. Research showed that people who saw the film had four times more favorability toward the products compared to those who didn’t see the film.

Other metrics showed 32 million people interacted with the movie on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and more than 13 million watched the film. Four million [direct] messages were sent to the woman in the film.

CZ: How was the film distributed? Did it depend on users passing it along?

PP: Thinking that brands can rely on users to distribute their marketing content is not realistic. There has to be a balance between paid media and social sharing. In this case, paid media brought critical mass to the campaign and the users took it from there and passed it around. In traditional campaigns, about 70 percent of the total budget goes to media distribution. I’d say about half our budget went to paid media and the other half to production costs.

CZ: What do you think made this project compelling?

PP: You hear about these branded online games and truth is, usually not many people actually play them. We wanted to get people involved so we went to Hollywood because they understand how to make entertainment. We got really mainstream talent: actress Emmy Rossum of “Phantom of the Opera,” director D.J Caruso, of “Disturbia,” and “Eagle Eye,” and Oscar-winning cinematographer Mauro Fiore. That was important.

CZ: From this experience, what in-the-trenches lesson can you offer digital marketers?

PP: We plan our initiatives and then we let the world play them back to us. A big part of the work happens after the campaign has launched. You can track how it is doing on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and see what the press cares about, and adapt the work accordingly.

In this case, it surprised us how the players got so involved with the film’s character and each other. When it was all over a group of players around the world created a video that thanked the creators for the experience (below). We didn’t ask for it. Now, when does that happen?

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