Brand democratization: case in point “movies”

by Scott Hoffman on October 6, 2009

The movie business is the canary in a coalmine with regards to corporate controlled brands.

We have seen continued explosive growth of Social Media in the last 5 years. Social Media facilitates consumer ownership of brand, by allowing consumers to freely discuss brands with each other. When consumers own the brand, product attributes becomes more important that the corporate sponsored brand image. This shift in brand ownership and values has never been illustrated more clearly than in this summer’s movie business.

Before a movie is released, the studio owns the brand and can tell tell us almost anything about a movie, after the movie is released and the product is in the hands of the consumer, we own the brand.

AdAge’s Andrew Hampp just published an article called “How Twitter Makes or Breaks Movie Marketing Today” – It is a nice article, but the point of the matter is that Twitter, and all the other social platforms (FaceBook, MySpace, YouTube, etc) make the Brand imagery created by the studio surrounding a movie release superfluous.

Before social media, the art of movie marketing was cutting a trailer using clips from the movie, music, and audio, that makes you believe that the movie will be the best movie ever. The studio clearly controlled the brand message.

I had the opportunity to see this in practice in real life. I worked on the Paramount Pictures business in the early 90s, we even cut a trailer, for a low quality Rodney Dangerfield movie to appeal to children (and showed the ad on kids programming) we simultaneously cut another trailer to make the same movie look like a comedy (and show the ad to Male 18-34 crowd.) The movie skated by, and didn’t completely tank…due to the marketing strategy above.

To illustrate the tactic of creating a brand via trailer Just watch this parody advertisement for Sleepless in Seattle:

In today’s marketplace, the minute that first screen shows the movie the brand is in the hands of the people. We instantly judge and critique the product. Who cares about the trailer…I just saw the movie and it was great (or it was “meh”) and with just a little effort, I can tell all my friends. We control the brand, we control the message…seems extreme? it is happening as we speak…and the movie studios are just along for the ride, good or bad.

The big difference between marketing movies just a few years and today is that these opinions are no longer dependent on the physical boundaries of actual word of mouth, but can see limitless viral spread through various social networks. You can hear the global cheers for a good movie, or the collective groan of the audience for a bad one. It is played out in real time…for everyone to see.

At the end of the day, Movies like “District 9,” “Julie & Julia” and “The Ugly Truth” opened strong and maintained momentum by delivering a quality movie. I will give a small amount of credit to the studio’s marketing personal for keeping the branded conversation around each film active and updating the films’ followers on the microblogging site with exclusive content in the following weeks, but my belief is that it had minimal impact.

While products that are dependent on consumer opinion and trends to succeed, like movies, music, video games, and books will see the first erosion of “self created brand images” as the biggest arbiter of success,

For those who know me, this is huge departure for me and my own beliefs, but this is not my world, I am just a part of it. And the death of the brand (or at least the transformation) is upon us. Our kids will see right through Toucan Sam, and the Keebler Elves…for the charlatans that they are.

I am reminded of the words of David Bowie, “These children that you spit upon, as you try to change their world, Are immune to your consultations, they’re quite aware of what they’re going through”

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