The art of engaging audiences

Web and mobile campaigns tantalize fans

Earlier last year, it would have been understandable to believe Gotham City was real.

The fictional metropolis’ newspaper, city hall, bank and rail line all had websites. Its politicians used dot-coms to lobby for votes. And its most notorious villain, the Joker, wreaked havoc across the Net.

The six or more sites were all part of Warner Bros.’ campaign to promote “The Dark Knight,” and if the online effort seemed a bit theatrical, that was the point.

“Marketing movies on the Internet is about engagement,” says Jenny Wall, president of Crew Creative, whose agency produced elements of “Knight’s” online effort. “It’s about creating a more movielike experience.”

Advances in technology have enabled Hollywood’s marketing mavens to amp up the way they promote movies and TV shows on the Internet, creating graphics-heavy websites packed with blogs, video that doesn’t stop or stutter, as well as games and other exclusive downloadable content.

“Online is becoming more and more important because the demo is there,” says Rex Cook, executive creative director and owner of Avatar Labs, a shop that’s created online campaigns for “Dark Knight,” “Hancock,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and the upcoming “Star Trek.” “Fourteen- to 28-year-olds are all online.”

Nowhere is that more the case than on MySpace, where studios have taken over entire pages to push movies and shows. For example, Seth Rogen and James Franco filmed original material and appeared in character on the dot-com and other sites to promote the stoner comedy “Pineapple Express.” “Younger stars are willing to do special stuff online because they feel it’s driving youth culture to their films,” Cook says.

Dot-coms from promotional partners also are looking to impress. Intel and Lenovo’s site for “Star Trek,” for example, allows visitors to tour a spacecraft. LG’s destination for “Iron Man” and Domino’s dot-com for “Dark Knight” bested some studio-produced film sites when it comes to design and content offerings.

It’s part of an overall strategy to promote marketing messages across multiple website, as marketers “move away from one destination and create content that people can discover across multiple destinations,” Wall says.

Various sites have launched alternate reality games (ARGs) for movies like “Dark Knight” and TV shows, including ABC’s “Lost.” Yet for some marketers, ARGs are too expensive and don’t reach a broad audience. “They play to the hardcore fan who’s going to see whatever you’re pushing anyway,” Cook says. “They’re not made for casual people.”

Because of that, studios are trying different digital methods.

Trailer Park premiered a motion poster for “Terminator Salvation” that generated much buzz from the online community. Marketers also have been making the move to mobile devices like Apple’s iPhone to push pics.

“The iPhone really is the next big thing when it comes to something new in this business,” says Evan Geerlings, VP of business development at Trailer Park. “It will become a standard the same way we create MySpace pages for movies.”

Disney enlisted Avatar Labs to create a free iPhone game for the toon “Bolt,” which has already been downloaded more than 700,000 times from Apple’s App Store, surprising both the studio and the agency.

Avatar recently created an application for New Line’s reboot of “Friday the 13th” that turns the iPhone into a virtual machete, complete with sound effects and gory graphics, when the phone is shaken — an element adopted from Nintendo’s popular Wii.

Mobile phones are just one of the interactive platforms marketers are embracing. They’re also turning to the major videogame consoles.

Paramount is one of several studios that has used Xbox Live on Microsoft’s Xbox 360 to post trailers or other promos for movies and shows that gamers can download. It’s currently using the download service to push “Star Trek.”

Studios will use Sony’s new community PlayStation Home in a similar way.

Of course, none of these methods are free. And they’re getting more expensive to produce.

“It’s about finding the right tools that fit the budget,” says Chad Ciesil, president of WhittmanHart, which created the online campaigns for “Quantum of Solace” and “Seven Pounds.”

Paying for those tools could become a problem as studios slash ad budgets and ask their shops to do multipicture deals or lower their rates. Yet marketers predict digital won’t be as harshly affected by the bad economy as other media. Although percentages have recently increased slightly, digital campaigns still only represent roughly 7% of a movie’s marketing budget.

What should help boost budgets is proof that the campaigns are working. Thay may not always be the case, but traffic from a movie website to an online ticketing service can be tracked. So can the ads that send potential moviegoers to film sites. Many sites now include links to ticketing services.

“We’re still in the early stages of knowing what kind of impact they have on movie ticket sales,” Wall says.

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