Marketing films in the digital age: my talk at Marketing Movies Online

Cross-posted on the Made by Many blog.

Last week, I was on the panel for the ‘Digital Marketing Agencies Pitch’ session at the Marketing Movies Online conference. Adam Rubins and Alice from digital PR agency Way to Blue and Nik Roope, founder of Poke, were on the panel with me. It was a fun session – how it worked was we each got a film beforehand that we had to pitch a 5-minute digital marketing campaign for, as if we were re-releasing it today.

I picked Bambi – the 1942 Disney classic, much loved (indeed it often makes the top 10 list of all time in the ‘animated film’ category in surveys), with the universal themes of love and loss.

I based my pitch on a (hypothetical) relationship between Disney and Greenpeace. Cambridge academic David Whitley wrote a book a couple of years ago examining the role of nature in Disney’s animated films, where Bambi obviously featured quite a bit. He said, “Bambi’s disarmingly cute animals and a sense that we are receiving a privileged view of nature at work build empathy. We come away feeling we owe the natural world some sort of allegiance.” And if you think of the kind of people who protect the environment, you think of charities like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. I took Greenpeace specifically – and if you look at their website, you’ll notice that they use that exact phrase ‘natural world’: “Greenpeace stands for positive change through action. We defend the natural world and promote peace.”

On a different but related note, anyone who goes back and re-watches Bambi now won’t be able to miss a certain word that’s used – ‘twitterpated’. Essentially it means having a crush on someone, but think about it – who would have thought in 1942 that by 2010 a social network by the name of Twitter would have taken the world by storm?!

It would be a pity to waste that connection. So my digital campaign, assuming we were re-releasing Bambi for a limited run of 2 months, took the name ‘Twitterpated for Greenpeace’, based on the idea that people would tweet images of their Bambi tickets (thereby also driving sales) with the #twitterpated hashtag, and for every tweet Disney would donate 10p to Greenpeace.

The hub of the campaign would be a landing site, basically a real-time feed of tweets with the #twitterpated hashtag, and the consequent amount Disney would donate. I had a hypothetical budget of £40,000 to play with, so traffic would be driven to the site through a Google AdWords campaign, a Facebook ads campaign, emails from Disney and Greenpeace to their databases and blogs/tweets to an influencer network.

It was interesting how the audience – primarily independent filmmakers and film companies, discussed quantifiable measurement in their campaigns. One of the earlier speakers from Comscore was happy to note that measurable indices were part of my presentation, but on the other hand, as all of us on the panel said, measuring engagement continues to be difficult online. You can measure the hard facts (page impressions, even ticket sales off an auxiliary or partner site), but fan engagement and quality of engagement (what about damage control when someone influential pans a movie, for example?) are much tougher nuts to crack.

My suggestion was to build a community around the film, the way Tim Kring has with Conspiracy for Good, albeit with a different agenda. This article in AdAge has another suggestion which I second:

There’s a strong case to be made that studios need to rein in their movie-by-movie focus and instead start looking at ways to create a single central online hub where they can promote all their movies, turning the audience for one into the audience for any number of movies down the road. By doing so, studios no longer divide the audience’s attention or count on them stumbling across, seemingly by accident, each individual product.

Chris Thilk also suggests getting rid of Flash (woohoo!!!) so that marketers can add on links to social networks easily without having the vast amount of interaction occurring on Facebook or Twitter sequestered on their own, but more than that he suggests building a community by contributing to the conversation and rewarding fans for their attention – basic rules for building *any* community.

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