Hallmark Goes Its Own Way for Marketing 'Dinotopia' Online

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Unsure about the type of marketing that would be available through ABC.com, Hallmark Entertainment has created its own site to promote "Dinotopia," an $85 million miniseries it produced that premieres on ABC-TV in May.

With so much at stake, Hallmark wanted to market well ahead of the series' release but found ABC was still defining the role of ABC.com amid a recent restructuring of its Web operations. This forced a retool of Hallmark's game plan.

"I think that's happening across the industry: What does everyone's site stand for?" said Whitney Vliet, vice president of new media at Hallmark Entertainment. "So in the midst of that we had to make a hard decision on what we needed to do with 'Dinotopia,' and that was to build a site that can stand alone.

"We don't necessarily have to rely on the network because they were unsure or unsteady in the sense they changed their manpower and what ABC.com stands for."

"Dinotopia," which is patterned on the books of James Gurney, is a six-hour miniseries on how dinosaurs and humans live in harmony on a lost continent.

The estimated $85 million cost makes it one of the most expensive TV miniseries produced by Hallmark. And Hallmark was not keen to settle for a mention on ABC.com's Specials section - typical online treatment for a series on a TV network.

"In the past, when we relied on a network, it was very much last minute," said Kelly Coogan Swanson, senior vice president of marketing at Hallmark Entertainment. "It was not as thought out and strategically involved with the whole marketing campaign."

So, Hallmark launched visitdinotopia.com in November. Interactive agency Candesa, creator of the "Shrek" Web site, was hired to work on it.

"In the past, we've always partnered with the networks and developed small property sites, but this is the first time we built a site that was so comprehensive," Coogan Swanson said.

Visitdinotopia.com is positioned as an entertainment destination for the family. Online visitors can travel to places like Waterfall City and The World Beneath. They can learn the secret Saurian language or take a behind-the-scenes look at the making of "Dinotopia."

The more curious can explore site areas like Crabb's Curio Shop and the Sunstone Tower. To encourage more interaction, consumers are invited to participate in Dinotopia trivia, mazes and coloring activities.

Add to that the usual suspects: trailers, biographies and Dinotopia downloads and a screensaver.

Building a database is equally important. Visitdinotopia.com users are asked to register as a Dinotopian for e-mail updates on the miniseries. Closer to the show's broadcast, a Sunstone sweepstakes is planned to offer registrants a chance to win prizes. However, the sweepstakes is still up in the air.

To attract traffic, Hallmark has been running trailers at theaters showing the "Harry Potter" movie. A tagline at the end of the trailer directs moviegoers to visitdinotopia.com. When "Harry Potter" first opened, index cards on visitdinotopia.com were handed out to moviegoers.

Also, Hallmark has partnered with Hallmark.com and Crayola.com to drive traffic to the series' site. Hallmark Cards owns the Crayola brand.

Such exposure has paid off. Coogan Swanson said the site garnered 150,000 hits in November. At press time, about 350,000 hits have been recorded on the site.

Of course, it helps that "Dinotopia," like "Harry Potter," can turn into a successful franchise with merchandising and licensing potential.

"One of the different plans for the new year is building partnerships and alliances and promoting the site wherever we can," Vliet said.

Plans also call for international partnerships for foreign-language versions of visitdinotopia.com.

Still, it is in the financing of the online promotions that Hallmark wants to break new ground. The producer wants to replicate TV sponsorships online.

"As at a network, there's always a sponsorship involved in the on-air effort," Coogan Swanson said. "So what we're trying to do is have that spill into the site. So, therefore, if there's a couple of title sponsors on the mini-series, we're trying to get them exposure on the site, giving them exclusives to certain areas of this site. And certainly in the future, that would be the route we go if we're going to have sites like this."

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