Marketers Miss Out on ‘Veronica Mars’ Film Frenzy

Veronica Mars

Branded entertainment biz could have benefited from goodwill with show's fanbase

The producers of “Veronica Mars” and the show’s faithful fanbase are thrilled now that they’ve raised more than $2 million to get a film featuring Kristen Bell’s sleuth finally greenlit through Kickstarter in less than a day. But marketers should be kicking themselves for missing out on a rare opportunity to connect with such a loyal audience.

When the opportunity to finance the film became available on Wednesday, a brand could easily have stepped up and funded the production, which already has distribution and marketing support lined up from Warner Bros.

The move would have instantly generated goodwill among the show’s rabid fans, who have eagerly awaited a movie since the show ended its run in 2007. A quick online search would have revealed as much. It could have been a brilliant act of real-time marketing that took advantage of a topic on a lot of people’s minds and made a brand a hero. Even if they had footed just half the bill, they would instantly have been thrust into the spotlight and given credit for making the movie happen.

It’s the kind of instant hype that companies need to pounce on at a time when there are so many distractions for consumers. On Wednesday afternoon — the same day a new Pope was introduced — it was “Veronica Mars” that dominated social media conversations. The press pounced, but marketers were nowhere to be found.

“Veronica Mars” is certainly brand-friendly. In the show, the character was often seen using a cell phone, a computer or driving a car, a prime opportunity for a smartphone or tablet maker, or auto brand looking to connect with younger buyers. A soda or snack brand, even a clothing or cosmetics company trying to reach young women could have stepped up, as well.

The involvement wouldn’t have had to be too blatant, either, since many brands these days are selling an overall lifestyle rather than shilling a specific product.

This, of course, raises a big question: Who wasn’t paying attention?

In this case, a lot of people. In the business of branded entertainment, a company’s role in Hollywood is managed by talent and advertising agencies, media buyers, entertainment marketing shops, in-house PR and marketing execs, as well as those outside the firms on retainer.

At a time when companies are increasingly seeking high-profile and creative ways to associate their products with popular properties — from films to web series — in order to boost awareness and sales, “Veronica Mars” fell into their laps and no one noticed.

All either missed the frenzy that surrounded the film’s Kickstarter campaign or were just too slow to react.

And that’s unfortunate, since there has been so much discussion over social media war rooms that companies like Pepsi, Oreo and Coca-Cola have set up in order to stay connected with consumers at all times via Facebook and Twitter. But it’s clear that those outfits are only focused on big events like the Super Bowl and the Oscars.

After the $2 million goal was reached, Bell tweeted: “I love you guys. You are all SO spectacular. I am speechless. This excitement is prolly gonna send me into early labor.”

It should now send brand reps into panic mode to be ready for the next big opportunity to come along. As long as they’re paying attention, that is.

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  1. I’d be happy if we could just stop calling product placement “branded entertainment” as the two are pretty different. Product placement = brand gives money to pre-existing property in exchange for screen time, such as Reese’s Pieces and E.T. Branded entertainment is when a brand funds and develops content that expresses the brand’s values. Branded entertainment is what Red Bull does, or the documentary feature film “Dogtown and Z-Boys,” financed by Vans Shoes.

  2. I don’t think I could disagree more with your premise here. The brands you mention are probably smart enough to know not to just wade into fan communities that they’ve previously had no real interaction with, waving a big check book and acting like a savior. That has backlash written all over it. In this case, the fans didn’t need the brands, they had a pure, exhilerating moment of shared community, a celebration of keeping the flame alive, and the damage to the brands for trying to insert themselves selfishly into the conversation would have done more harm than good. Fan community ecosytems are more complex and nuanced than that – I would go as far as to say, the Kickstarter experience, for those fans, might end up being a happier and more memorable experience than the movie itself.

    • Steve Peters says:

      Steve, you hit the nail on the head. The Veronica Mars Kickstarter success proves yet again that content creators don’t *need* studios/sponsors/brands to get funding like the old days. This is precisely why a brand would have been committing Internet seppuku if they’d have tried to step in to “save the day.” They would have robbed the backers from taking ownership and feeling the thrill of the success of this, of being part of something big and meaningful.

      Plus, how would the prizing have worked? The Progressive Insurance Girl would have been the server in the restaurant? :)

    • Marc Graser says:

      True. Fans will definitely have more of a connection to the film once it comes out and they’re the ones that made it happen, at the end of the day. I’m not saying that brands SHOULD have paid for the film, it’s just the kind of project they always claim to be looking for, and in this case, failed to take advantage of.

  3. Jamie Paton says:

    I see how an ‘opportunity’ was missed by marketers, but from a fan’s perspective it’s just cooler to know that this was all fan-effort. Perhaps the hypothetical brand’s presence wouldn’t have been too overt in the final product, but my only real examples I can draw from are Subway’s involvement in both Chuck and Community. And while it was nice to have more episodes, it was a bit of a buzz kill to sit through obvious product placements.

    • Marc Graser says:

      I agree. Lately, a lot of brands have become smarter in just promoting a lifestyle rather than an actual product. One could have said, “Hey, fans. We like ‘Veronica Mars,’ too. Let us help make this movie happen and back away (other than have their car or phone featured for a minute or two).

  4. Sal says:

    This is the moment that crowd-sourcing methodology to finance movies becomes the new 3D. Every Tom, Dick and Abdul will attempt to cultivate funding for cult material and the results will be rushed, undeveloped, copious and waning. Eventually it will prove a disaster and much money will be wasted.

    • Marc Graser says:

      Agree. It’ll be trendy, but the only projects that will likely take off will be star driven, although in this case, the Veronica Mars character is the selling point here. Nothing else.

  5. jackal3 says:

    I think this might be missing the point of the whole ‘warm and fuzzy’ crowd-sourcing phenomenon.

    Had a company with their big coffers come and plunked down 2 or 3 million down would they be the hero, or corporate behemoth cynically ruining the fun?

    • Marc Graser says:

      That’s the fascinating part of branded entertainment: being able to successfully tread the fine line of doing something cool and fun without being a blatant in-your-face sponsor.

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