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Ex-Sony Marketing Chief: There’s Still a Tug of War Over Digital Spending to Promote Films

Dwight Caines, the recently departed president of domestic marketing at Sony, told a packed house at the Walter Maciel Gallery in Los Angeles that there’s still a tug of war between who controls film-marketing spend at the major studios, but digital marketing is gaining ground.

Caines, a 20-year marketing veteran, chatted with Variety’s Andrew Wallenstein about the evolution of digital campaigns during a chat at Hollywood In Pixels’ second annual Silver Pixel Awards Wednesday evening.

Hollywood in Pixels founder Bettina Sherick and the night’s honoree, Dwight Caines (David Buchan/Variety/REX/Shutterstock).

Hollywood in Pixels is a non-profit organization that saves and protects digital marketing film campaigns from deletion and celebrates those campaigns as a part of Hollywood’s history. The Silver Pixel Awards honor the pioneering campaigns and creators that broke the mold for digital marketing.

Caines led the creation of many of those early studio digital campaigns. The problems he faced early in his career are the problems he believes digital marketing execs deal with today: pushback from studio heads.

“Many of the executives who are very senior are less digital savvy than you’d think. I liken them to climate-change denialists,” Caines joked. Execs accustomed to seeing a campaign in front of them in the form of a billboard or commercials can find it difficult to get behind digital efforts that are invisible to those outside targeted, younger audience segments, Caines explained.

However, in the battle between traditional and digital marketing, digital will eventually come out on top. “If we’re going to rely upon TV spots to open movies, we’re going to fade away,” Caines warned.  “Now that the budget share exists, the battle is … how much. [Digital’s] gotta be baked into the campaign.”

There’s no magic equation to determine how much of a marketing campaign should be digital. “Intent drives percent,” Caines explained. “To lay out a campaign, it all starts with a premise, a thesis. Figure out what you want to do. How much does it cost, and then drive the percentage out of it. Everything is not cheap. Your data scientists, your content creators, none of that is cheap.”

Caines explained data is still something studios struggle with interpreting. Those who only count views or streams often forget there’s an actual person on the other side of the data point, Caines explained, emphasizing the need for quality experiences with a consumer in mind. “There has to be a human touch,” he stressed.

Towards the end of the chat, Wallenstein asked Caines about his thoughts on virtual and augmented reality — two highly touted technologies.

“I love [virtual reality] as an experience … it’s tough as a marketing device,” Caines replied. “To produce high-quality VR costs money. And it was always launching two minutes before the movie went out. And it was hard to scale.” Since most people have mobile devices, Caines said augmented reality has “a lot less friction” in terms of distribution and implementation.

Over the course of his career, he’s overseen marketing for nearly 300 films. His proudest? The campaign for 2003’s “The DaVinci Code,” created in partnership with a Google.

“It was a book that was considered to be targeting to older consumers, but we targeted the campaign at college-plus [age group],” Caines explained of the strategy. “It was tech-driven, puzzle-driven. It was not the easiest thing in the world to [create] but Google built it custom for us. The project team was 50 people. It was very exciting.”

Dwight Caines and Marian Thomas, who accepted the First Silver Pixel Award on behalf of Gordon Paddison (David Buchan/Variety/REX/Shutterstock).

After the chat, Hollywood in Pixels founder Bettina Sherick presented the First Silver Pixel Award to Gordon Paddison for his work on “The Lord of the Rings” campaign. Marian Thomas accepted on his behalf. Showtime CMO Don Buckley presents Second Silver Pixel Award to John Hegeman for “The Blair Witch Project.”

Variety, Trigger and Facebook were presenting sponsors of the event.

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