Campaign Shows Its 'Maverick' Side

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AtomFilms, a site for independent filmmakers and animators, recently added Volkswagen as a major sponsor to its "maverick" grass-roots marketing campaign. The campaign evolved from AtomFilms' acquisition of the short film "The Journey" at the Sundance Film Festival.


"The Journey" is a 13-minute short film edited from more than 300 hours of raw footage taken by Eric Saperston, who went on an eight-year road trip after his college graduation to find "the meaning of life." Traveling in a Volkswagen bus, he met and gathered wisdom from celebrities such as former president Jimmy Carter, actors Billy Crystal and Henry Winkler, the CEOs of Coca-Cola and Home Depot as well as average people with meaningful experiences.


In early summer AtomFilms began recruiting "Mavericks" -- dedicated volunteers who host screenings of "The Journey" and other short films in their local areas. These volunteers are excited enough about the project to promote and build the AtomFilms brand without pay. Recruitment occurs by submitting a form and signing a contract at www.atomfilms.com. Potential Mavericks discover the program through the site and word-of-mouth. More than 250 people have joined the program.


To aid their efforts, AtomFilms provides volunteers with posters, T-shirts and compilation reels containing a variety of films. The Mavericks handle all promotions for their local screenings by putting ads in college papers, inviting friends, hanging posters and having drawings at screenings where T-shirts and film reels are given away. Screenings, which often attract 50 fans, are held at coffee shops, college campuses, outdoor locations determined by the Mavericks, even in the volunteers' living rooms. All Mavericks are required to document their activities to receive support from AtomFilms.


"The Mavericks program is an innovative step in grass-roots marketing, allowing the Atom community to spread Atom brand awareness to its peers," says Matt Hulett, chief marketing and online officer at AtomFilms, which has offices in Seattle, Los Angeles, New York and London. "The evolution of this unique program reinforces the importance that Atom places on its filmmakers and community."


AtomFilms selected four of its own Mavericks a month ago to travel in a VW bus to promote interest in the program and tape footage of their road experiences. Their frequent video diaries humorously capture the highs and lows of life on the road as the four continue traveling through Thanksgiving. Their updated two- to three-minute tapes are shown at the AtomFilms site to further promote the program.


The viral, grass-roots nature of the campaign has minimized costs, such as the posters and prizes given to Mavericks. Plus, the living expenses of the four "insider" Mavericks sent on the road by AtomFilms are further lowering costs, as the four are camping. The company is relying on the excitement of fans to fuel this campaign rather than heavy cash outlays.


The goal of the campaign is to spread word of the site and build brand recognition, fan excitement and repeat traffic. Originally aimed at college students, it has expanded to include people from all walks of life with an interest in film.


The company said that it is too soon to gauge results, but that the program has been very successful in generating word-of-mouth and attracting Mavericks, who now are at work in more than a half-dozen countries, including Europe, Scandinavia and the United Kingdom.
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