Sony’s Caines talks marketing at Variety confab

Digital platforms provide measurement opportunities

The vast amount of information derived from social-media listening and direct customer interactions — and the sophisticated new tools to analyze that data — is fundamentally changing the entertainment industry, particularly in marketing, whose practitioners are increasingly required to understand metrics every bit as well as message.

It’s a shift fraught with challenges and unknowns but also loaded with incredible promise for the biz. That was the takeaway from the Digital Marketing & Analytics Summit, presented Friday by Hollywood IT Society in conjunction with Variety at the W Hotel in Hollywood.

Summit opened Friday with Sony Pictures Entertainment digital marketing chief Dwight Caines, who in his keynote Q&A gave an in-depth look at the many ways his department is able to track consumer responses to marketing movies, from social media to search. But he also indicated that digital strategy is not an end-all for studio promotion, but a complement to traditional approaches.

“One of the misconceptions is that this medium seeks to replace all others or seeks to be standalone,” Caines said.

Sony is able to listen closely to gauge both the volume and tone of all the chatter about the studio’s films, but he cautioned that it doesn’t make those levels predictive of box office performance. “Sometimes the volume of buzz, and even the sentiment, doesn’t tell us you’re going to see the movie,” he said. “The indices can be crushing the charts and you still may not perform because when people see a movie, the movie has to be the thing that takes you to the finish line.”

And while data is taking a larger role in Hollywood, there will always be a need for human creativity and instinct.

“We are always having to balance quant and qual,” said Lisa Joy Rosner, chief marketing officer at NetBase, during the panel “Digital Marketing and the Analytical Engine.” On one hand, “we are really dealing with the core of consumer emotions” when engaging them with content, while using analytics on the other to determine what does and does not resonate — then tweaking campaigns and assets in real time.

And by real time, they really do mean real time.

“If you’re looking at week-old data, you’re too late,” said Michele Edelman, VP of marketing at Warner Bros. digital distribution.

But even for older content, it’s never too late to leverage the power of social media, particularly at a time when studios are tinkering with their direct-to-consumer business to recoup the loss of DVD revenue. Edelman told the conference how Warner Bros. home entertainment discovered fan-made Facebook pages for “The Notebook” and “Caddyshack” that were thriving without any studio involvement whatsoever.

In both cases, WB staked its claims to the IP, but not to shut the pages down: In the case of “The Notebook,” the studio ignited its 7 million existing fans by managing the page, increasing engagement by 600% and visibly boosting sales of the title with minimal resources.

And a lightbulb went on. Now, Warner Bros. is launching (or “re-igniting,” Edelman’s term) hundreds of social-media channels for its existing library titles.

(Andrew Wallenstein contributed to this report.)