Bringing Hollywood to the Internet

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If there were any doubts in the minds of entertainment industry leaders as to the Internet's marketing potential, the success of "The Blair Witch Project" should have erased them. The low-budget horror flick became a summer sensation despite its lack of a bankable star, special effects, soundtrack or significant marketing budget. What it did have, however, was a presence on the Net. Artisan Entertainment's online campaign started with a video trailer on the Ain't It Cool Web site and grew to include the creation of its own "Blair Witch" Web site. This spawned countless fan sites, Web rings, usenets and chat groups, and ultimately created enough buzz to help the movie gross more than $130 million.

All this is old news, of course, and many in the entertainment industry seem to be treating it as such. Despite the fact that the film stands as the top-grossing independently produced horror movie of all time, Hollywood studios are still spending only a small percent of a movie's total budget on Internet marketing. And when studios do venture onto the Net for marketing purposes, they tend to mimic traditional linear models that, like TV and print ads, only passively engage an audience.

But the success of "The Blair Witch Project" comes at a time when advancements in rich-media capabilities are greatly enhancing the efficacy of online promotions by combining personalized, interactive messaging with exclusive video and audio content. And while some entertainment industry executives ignore the message of "The Blair Witch Project" and continue to adhere to the old models of creating and distributing content, others are learning firsthand the benefits of Internet-enabled rich-media messaging. These early adopters demonstrate how rich media can bridge the gap between Hollywood and the Internet.

For example, 20th Century Fox International used a rich-media campaign to create awareness about "The Beach," a Leonardo DiCaprio film released in February. For the promotion, a 15-second full-motion trailer of the movie was e-mailed to more than 30,000 movie fans in 11 countries. The interface also featured links to win tickets to the movie's premiere by joining the Fox Movie Fan Club, as well as links to the Fox International, "The Beach" and the DiCaprio Web sites.

The results of the campaign were strong. Twenty percent of those who received the e-mail viewed the multimedia clip. Of those, 91 percent clicked through to one or more of the links included in the message. Most online ad campaigns garner click-through rates of less than 1 percent, but rich media messaging generates substantially higher rates. This is primarily because the attention-getting content the message delivers is meaningful and relevant to the recipients. This produces a highly coveted additional benefit: the viral effect.

A rich media online message that uses video and audio is inherently more interesting and personal than a text message, even a highly targeted one. The appeal of such messages causes recipients to pass the message on to friends via a link in the ad. This increases ad exposure and product buys and drives additional traffic to Web sites. In "The Beach's" promotion, the viral effect increased total viewership by 19 percent.

Music promotions often experience viral effects that increase viewership by more than 50 percent. And while pop music promotions don't really fall under Hollywood's product umbrella, the success music promoters are experiencing with rich-media messaging could certainly serve as a model for the major movie studios.

When Jive Records began promoting a new release by the pop group N'Sync, it created an interactive video featuring the five members of the band encouraging their fans to spread the word about their new album. The message was e-mailed to more than 230,000 N'Sync fans who had asked to receive information about the group. In addition to the video, the content included links to preorder the new CD and to join the groups online fan club.

The campaign netted a 24 percent response rate. And because loyal fans were excited about the exclusive content, they sent it to likeminded friends, creating a viral effect that increased viewership by more than 80 percent. It's hard to imagine a viral phenomenon of similar strength being generated by a text message or a TV commercial.

One of the goals of the campaign was to increase fan club membership and this too was successful. Twenty percent of the people that viewed the message after receiving it from a fan club member also opted in to receive additional news about the band.

Given the relatively low cost of these promotions, the return on marketing investment is substantial. And with the Blair Witch proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Internet can generate buzz like no other medium, perhaps it's time for Hollywood to start following in the footsteps of the early adopters and embrace the Net.

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