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Culture Club: Is viral marketing the new normal marketing? National Post Ben Kaplan Jun 9, 2011

the-girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo-the-first-of-the-american-film-adaptations-of-stieg-larssons-millennium-trilogy-she-will-be-playing-the-introverted-damaged-brilliant-lisbeth-salander-the-lead-character-of-all-three-booksSony went through an interesting few days the other week as their Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trailer leaked, though many thought the studio itself was responsible (they said no, and eventually removed the R-rated trailer from the Web before officially releasing a nudity-free version). Meanwhile, the next Batman movie is already heating up the Internet with its viral campaign, even though the movie won’t be out until an entire year from now. Add to that the clever ad schemes for Super 8 and the new Muppet movie, and there’s an argument to be made that you can no longer market a movie with junkets and trailers … you have to have secrets and mystery. In this week’s Culture Club, the Post’s Ben Kaplan asks whether studios can keep people guessing.

This week’s Culture Clubbers
– Dr. Doris Baltruschat, author of Global Media Ecologies: Networked Production in Film and Television and an instructor in the film department at the University of British Columbia.
– Richard Crouse, film critic and host of In Short on Bravo!
– Barry Avrich, founder of Endeavour Marketing and the director of Unauthorized: The Harvey Weinstein Project.

Doris  Viral marketing for feature films hasn’t “peaked” yet because we’ve only seen cross-media advertising strategies for certain genres such as adventure, sci-fi and action movies. We’ve yet to see a campaign that engages viewers from ages six to 60. This brings up the question of whether viral marketing could be successfully applied to other genres such as family, drama and even art-house films.

Richard  I agree with Doris that viral marketing hasn’t come close to peaking, but I question how effective some viral campaigns have been. Snakes on a Plane and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World are two examples of movies that ate up their fair share of Internet space and yet still under-performed at the box office.

Barry  So far, there doesn’t seem to be a direct correlation between the amount of interest online and the box office.

Doris  It’s likely that viral marketing will become more popular in the future, especially when the gaming aspects of campaigns move beyond the current “solve this mystery” to get access to a movie’s trailer or poster.

Richard  Is it possible that for certain kinds of movies — like sci-fi and horror — viral marketing is simply a tool to alert fanboys (and girls) that there’s a new movie out there to download instead of checking out in the theatre?

Barry  Love it or hate it, there’s no playing with the volume with regards to viral marketing. As both a filmmaker and marketing guy, this is a game of swallowing swords. It’s dangerous, but you can get a ton of attention. Ultimately it’s an awareness tool with the potential of imploding a film as you can’t lower the volume on a dud.

Doris  This brings up the question of costs, as well as skills, for rolling out a marketing campaign. Considering the million-plus budget for the Dark Knight campaign by 42 Entertainment, which involved a team of marketers and lasted for a year, how can independent filmmakers in Canada remain competitive?

Richard  I don’t think it’s realistic to think that Canadian or American or any other independent filmmakers can compete with the bottomless pockets of the studios. It’s more a question of having to figure out a cost-effective way to make yourself heard. It’s impossible to predict what kind of marketing will go viral; despite its digital imprint, success on the Internet is still an organic thing that must happen naturally, so indie filmmakers must rely on their wits rather than their pocketbooks. The trick is being heard above all the cyber noise.

Barry  While I usually agree with my much taller friend Richard, I must beg to differ. You can’t compete or out-spend the majors on a TV or print buy, but if you’re provocative and creative, you can make way more noise than studios who are faced with endless levels of approvals and branding rules.

Richard  I hadn’t figured in the endless layers of approvals, but I’d also add that big corporations are less likely to be as provocative for fear of alienating Gladys in Peterborough or their stockholders. Indie artists have the freedom to push the envelope in a way the majors don’t.

Barry  The lesson here is: don’t blend in and be provocative even if you offend Gladys.

Ben  Is it only with marketing or has the Internet also changed the way we make films?

Richard  I’d say it’s eroded people’s attention spans to the point where movies aimed at young Internet-savvy users are more concerned with pace than story, or character arcs.

Barry  Long before the Web, the VCR and the DVD machine did enough damage by turning movie theatres into giant living rooms where people are free to talk loudly, eat like pigs and bump my seat. I think more people are watching movies as a result of the Web and Netflix.

Richard  Maybe so, but they’re watching them differently. I hate to think that the next generation’s idea of “going to the movies” is ordering from Netflix and eating pizza while the movie unspools on an iPad.

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