Toy Story 3 posterIf you haven’t seen “Toy Story 3,” you probably want to see it. Pixar is great at making movies the whole family can enjoy.  The merger with Disney brought us movies like “Up,” “Wall-E” and “Cars.”  All the movies have plots guaranteed to grab your heartstrings and pull (try not to cry during “Up”).

Disney/Pixar’s formula is perfect for kids, parents, teens and everyone in between.  They reinvent age-old plots by adding witty dialogue and edge-of-your-seat action sequences.  They are great movies!

But “Toy Story 3” is bringing a new audience to the theaters.  I am 21 years old.  I watched Up and Wall-E on DVD. I wouldn’t have paid $9 to see either in theaters, BUT the original Toy Story is one of the first movies I watched in theaters.  I can’t wait to see this movie!  All of us who grew up with Toy Story are guaranteed to follow the franchise.  Want proof? One of many Facebook pages dedicated to teens and adults who cannot wait to see “Toy Story 3”.

This kind of dedication to an animation studio doesn’t just happen.  Quick – What’s the Pixar logo/mascot?  Yes.  That little lamp’s name is Luxo Jr. Ultimate brand recognition leads to even more Facebook pages like “The lamp that ghetto stomps the ‘I’ in Pixar.”

Pixar does a lot of work to keep people interested in their movies and their studio.  The Pixar Easter-egg hunt is a perfect example.  The scavenger hunt and online buzz it created are examples of how they are making sure Generation Y loves “Toy Story 3” just as much as we loved the original.

Need more? How about Tom Hanks working at Wal-mart to promote movie merch? Oh, you didn’t hear about it? That’s because you can only find it at People of Wal-mart and Funny Junk – sites targeting young people.

This post is going to stray from movie promotions.

As a student I don’t claim to know everything about public relations or the tools used by public relations and marketing professionals.Twitter logo

Last week I Shefanie Moore asked her Public Relations Online class to write an essay displaying opinions about Twitter. The assignment gave me a chance to think about Twitter in movie promotions.    I don’t think production companies/studios use the micro-blog well.

Then I started thinking other organizations that misuse or overuse Twitter.  The rest of this post is my essay on my experience with Twitter. 

Once again; I am learning.  I may be completely wrong.  If you think I am missing the point or I have no idea what I am talking about, please let me know.  Your feedback is truly valued. 

Before this semester I used Twitter passively and casually. I said on the first day of the semester, “I use it, but I don’t understand it.” In the past few months I have learned the value of Twitter. I see its benefit as a social networking tool and viral marketing tool, but don’t think Twitter has an immense value beyond Facebook.

I view Twitter as a way to be in a room full of people, and hear all of their independent conversations at the same time without going insane (even though it does make my head spin a little). Since I have followed and been followed by public relations, marketing and technology professionals I have learned from reading tweets. I can gather information through tweets and tweeted links as if they were miniature blogs that don’t take as much time to read. Communication with the sender is also easier than it is with a blog.

Facebook also creates conversations and has comparable features to Twitter. It actually offers a lot more than Twitter, but I haven’t had any conversations with professionals on Facebook. Does the absence of clutter draw us to Twitter? I think the simplicity of Twitter allows us to have more efficient and beneficial professional relationships by cutting out quizzes and dozens of pictures.

The personal benefits I see in Twitter rarely translate to public relations and integrated marketinTwitter Fail Whaleg communications. Research for my blog continually presents Twitter’s use in an integrated marketing strategy. Every movie I’ve written about uses Twitter as a part of the promotional mix, but they rarely use the tool to its full potential. Tweeted discussion of the movies never goes beyond someone saying he or she saw the film and whether or not they like it. I have not seen any movie studio’s communication objectives, so I don’t know if Twitter is fulfilling those objectives.

I think the extra features offered by Facebook are much more beneficial to social media in marketing and public relations. Publics get the simplicity of Twitter in a Facebook newsfeed. Further information about the product or service is then available within the Facebook domain. I think the simplicity of Twitter is beneficial for fast, one-way asymmetrical public relations messages, but Facebook already offers those benefits with the opportunity for more information in one place.

Social media exists to create two-way symmetrical communication, but in my experience 140 characters is often not enough space for publics to adequately communicate thoughts to an organization.

People have concrete opinions when it comes to Wes Anderson, director of the up-coming children’s movie “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (based on a children’s book by Roald Dahl).  You love him, hate him or have no idea who he is. If you’re a part of that latter category, he is known for dry, black comedies.  Some of his most popular films:

“The Royal Tenenbaums”

“The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”

“Rushmore”

I have a hard time commenting on why some people hate him because I’m one of the people who love his movies.  People like me have made him successful.   He is kind of like the Grateful Dead of directors.  If there were any reason for a director to go on a cross-country tour – people would follow him. 

At this point you should ask yourself: Why would someone with a loyal following need to find innovative ways to promote his films? 

Well that’s an excellent question, and I’m going to spend the next 350 words explaining that to you.

Engaging Fans

He has a strong following because he keeps his fans engaged.  Contests are a very typical part of the promotion mix.  Wes Anderson’s fans took the idea to a whole new level.  It seems that a lot of his following are a sort of hipster, art school type.  Look at these entries from the Fantastic Mr. Fox Costume Video Contest.  

 He gives fans a reason to follow him.  These particular entries even reference his other movies, and his following will get those reference. 

Battling Disney

Smonk You made an important observation about the style of animation in the film.  At a time when Disney and Pixar own children’s movies, it’s a risky choice to go with stop motion.

I can’t speak on behalf of kids, but I was one once.  When I was young I would have watched anything in 3D (even though there wasn’t much out there).  Now kids can see a new movie every month in 3D.  So let say there a kid who wants to see “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “A Christmas Carol.”  His or her parents take him to the movies once every month or two.  He is only going to see one of these movies.  If I were a kid I would definitely choose “A Christmas Carol.”  Jim Carey and 3D would have been a must-see combo for me. 

Like I said, I’m not a kid anymore, but I’m confident that kids still love 3D (why else would Disney spend so much money to do it). 

Embracing Stop Motion

Videos on the film’s Web show the tremendous amount of work that goes into creating a movie in stop motion.  I see this as a way for Anderson to show off and try to step out of the shadows of CGI and 3D.  And this is a great tactic, for adults and the aforementioned Anderson following. 

What about kids though? It is a children’s movie, right? Some people have criticized Anderson for moving away from the roots of Roald Dahl’s original children’s book and turning it into his own vision.   So is the movie is even meant to be promoted to children?  Is he successfully promoting the movie beyond his following? Does he care?

“The Fourth Kind” is in theaters.  It is a (partially, but not really) true story about a psychiatrist in Alaska who encounters aliens.  If you’ve seen the trailer you know about Mila Jovovich’s disclaimer explaining how the film is true and disturbing. The Fourth Kind movie poster

The trailer takes time to mention that there is audio and/or video evidence to support everything that happened in the film.  The film even uses a split screen that shows the dramatization and the actual footage simultaneously (sounds distracting to me).  The question you have to ask yourself about this tactic; the question I know I asked myself: Why does Universal press the issue of truth so adamantly?

Truth is Subjective

I said it last week.  People need to know, or at least be able to pretend that they are watching or reading something that really happened.  It’s the only way the masses are interested.  I know I talk about this all the time, but it’s only because it makes me so angry.

 Why can’t we just enjoy a story because it’s a good story, or are Hollywood writers just doing a poor job of creating fictional characters with the depth and complexity of real people?  I don’t know.

If people really do need to have these elements of truth in their entertainment, then we have to find a better way to fulfill the want.  Universal’s tactics for “The Fourth Kind” are the worst practices. 

There are a lot of questions about the authenticity of the “archived footage” in the film. Most people don’t believe that it’s real at all.

Issabelle Burton explains how making something appear too accurate can be risky, because it’s usually not at all accurate. 

Also consider that the more elaborate and insistent a story becomes, the more time and fodder you give your audience to find holes.

 News Articles

This time Universal undoubtedly made the truth too subjective. 

In an effort to strengthen the claims made by the trailer, Universal attributed fictional news stories to real Alaskan newspapers.  As respectable, objective journalists the Alaskan Press Club sued Universal.

The media giant paid only $22,500 to the Alaskan Press Club.  That’s a drop in the bathtub for a movie that has made more than $20 million, according to the Movie Insider. 

It’s obvious that that Universal has no shame when it comes to promotion, so why didn’t they take it to the next level?

Social Media

I’ve seen some controversy about an FBI cover-up.  There are people who believe that these things really did happen, and that the government doesn’t want us to know about it.

 I can’t say that I believe it, but it’s really fun to think about (because I can enjoy a purely fictional story). 

Why doesn’t Universal turn their Twitter and Facebook pages into an outlet for this discussion?  I think it could be the most interesting Facebook or Twitter page for a movie to date. 

The film has started conversations all over the Web. Universal has a chance to let the discussion happen in their backyard, but they aren’t doing a very good job. 

The tagline on the Twitter/Facebook link says “See what others believe,” and “What do you believe?” But it doesn’t seem like people have caught on.  The Twitter page shows no recent posts about the truth behind the film, and the Facebook page just froze my Internet Explorer.

Sony has been under a lot of scrutiny lately about some of the work they’ve done to promote their new disaster/end-of-the-world epic “2012.” The movie assumes that the Mayans were correct in their prediction that the world will end in some catastrophic event on December 21, 2012.  Some of the eyebrow-raising promotions are actually pretty inventive – too inventive for some. 2012 movie poster

Sony’s Excellent Promotions

It goes without saying; a Web site alone isn’t enough anymore.  Every movie trailer ends with a URL below the title. 

“2012” used the unique, already-popular topic of the film to evolve that concept.  In that spot at the end of the trailer where you would normally see a URL, you now see “Google search: 2012.” 

When I first read this I thought Sony was just going to use real news and skeptics’ Web sites to promote the movie – a cheap, effective idea.  Why not get perspective from people who really believe these things?

Then I searched 2012, and among top ranked sites were the movie’s Web site and a couple of other interesting sites. 

They’ve taken that “research it for yourself” idea to the next level by creating mock Web sites based on the plot of the movie.  They really could have fooled me if it weren’t for pictures of John Cusack and videos of a poorly disguised Woody Harrelson. Oh wait – and the banner at the top that said “Part of the ‘2012’ movie experience.” 

That’s the point though; they weren’t trying to fool us, but people still got upset.

There were reports of people losing sleep and teenagers contemplating suicide because Sony’s Web site is far too realistic.  Now NASA scientists at the Astrobiology Institute are in an uproar because people are so gullible.  In case you haven’t figured it out, they have confirmed that these events will NOT come to fruition

How should Sony react to the uproar?  Is it Sony’s responsibility to ease the hearts and minds of these believers?

Our Need for Truth

Haven’t we been hearing about the Mayan calendar for years? Long before production of the movie began people had REAL survival guides to deal with the famed calendar’s end.

What about the mad scientists who put so much stock in these theories? Why aren’t they blamed for making the idea too realistic?

You can trace it back to a broad, widely discussed question: Do media shape culture or does culture shape media?  I’m sure there is an excellent argument for the other side, and I would love to hear it.  This is how I feel.

  • People want end-of-the-world movies, Sony is giving them one.
  • People are interested in the Mayan calendar and the 2012; Sony is giving them a dramatic narrative about it.
  • People wanted an element of reality, and Sony gave it to them.

In Sony’s case, media react to culture.  If the Mayan calendar hadn’t been such a hot topic, would Sony make a movie about it?

There is a huge fascination with movies and books that are “based on true events.” For some reason people need that element of reality to be interested anymore. 

So should Sony apologize for doing their job too well?

Documentaries have an interesting relationship with public relations.  It has something to do with the fact that a documentary is just a big news feature, in most cases. 

So, we have documentarians acting, in a way, as journalists.  Documentarians then use PR to promote films.  So this kind of becomes meta-media relations. 

The idea of media relations is also personal to documentaries because of a recent flood of buzz-worthy documentaries.  I said it before in my Michael Moore post, but these things sort of market themselves based on topic alone. 

I only mention this because I think these documentaries have so much room for creative promotions.  Sometimes they take advantage and sometimes they don’t. 

Food Inc. will see its DVD release tomorrow.  The film builds on the concepts of Fast Food Nation and Super Size Me.

ChipotleChipotle logo

Chipotle arguably serves Food with Integrity.  At a time when Burger King promotes blockbusters like “Indiana Jones” and “Transformers 2,” Chipotle offered free screenings of “Food Inc.”  There were no million-dollar contests or Hummer give-aways, just free screenings sponsored by Chipotle – noble right?

Now, no matter how you feel about Chipotle, or whether or not you feel that they are socially responsible, this move still brought publicity – mixed publicity.  It turns out that Chipotle was ultimately refusing fair wages to workers on Florida tomato farms at the time of the screening.  This is in direct conflict with the message of “Food Inc.” 

When the dust settled, Chipotle sponsored the free screenings and paid the tomato workers (turns out they only wanted another penny per pound of tomatoes). Furthermore, the makers of the film had nothing to do with bringing the burrito chain into the promotion mix. 

My question: Why did they stop there? Why doesn’t Chipotle use the DVD release to show that they are really over the tomato turmoil?

Maybe they could give the Coalition of Immokalee Workers a donation for every “Food Inc.” DVD proof-of-purchase that patrons bring to Chipotle. 

It’s just an idea. 

 Take Part

Take Part logoParticipant Media who released “Food Inc.” is a production company that truly understands the use of social responsibility as a sales technique.  They’ve released many movies that make me say, “I’ll feel better about myself as a person if I see that movie and absorb its message.”  (“An Inconvenient Truth” and “Darfur Now”)

The company took social responsibility one step further with the Web site Take Part. Their mission positions them as a voice and tool for activism. 

Oddly enough, all the trending topics on “Take Part” directly correspond with the themes in Participant Media movies. There is still a very active blog devoted to “Food Inc.” and its impact. 

Take Part makes these movies more that documentaries.  They have turned them into political messages.  Even better, if you look at Participant Media, it isn’t owned by a multi-national or Wall St. suit.  They really seem to be sincere in their motives.