Sony Pulls No Punches in 'Ali' Effort

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Sony Pictures Entertainment has taken aim at a certain gold statue with an online campaign for the upcoming movie "Ali."


The upscale artwork on the film's site, Sony.com/ali, was designed to appeal to voters for the Academy Awards. Sony also is delivering voter-targeted banner ads on trade magazine Web sites to visitors who arrive from studio domains.


"In a very precise way, we're targeting some Academy [voters] by having ads on Hollywoodreporter.com and Variety.com ... if someone is coming from a studio domain or certain entertainment site domains, they might see a banner that has [a different] positioning," said Dwight Caines, vice president of Internet marketing strategy for Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, the marketing arm of Sony Pictures. "It's a very targeted way to make sure we're putting the right message in front of the right person."


Unlike the consumer campaign, the voter-targeted banners focus on Will Smith, who portrays Muhammad Ali, and match ads in the print editions of Hollywood Reporter and Variety. The banners began Dec. 7 and run through January.


"While we're not doing ads that call out, 'for your consideration,' we are doing ads that leverage key art or a series of images," Caines said. "One of the choices we made [to target] the Academy eyeballs online is to have a lot of the art look like the art they're seeing in their trade magazines."


On Hollywoodreporter.com, Columbia TriStar is using ads that expand from a regular-sized banner to a banner with a dropdown as well as interstitials and standard 120-by-240-pixel and 468-by-60-pixel ads.


Meanwhile, Caines thinks Academy voters will appreciate the site, which includes moving images made using Flash technology that represent dancing around a boxing ring.


"The canvas is a mural of images, and you're actually floating from one image to the other," he said. "It's quite an elegant feel."


On the consumer side, Caines said a primary challenge was appealing to adult and young moviegoers. Columbia TriStar identified a broad target movie audience: people of all ethnic groups ages 17 to 59.


So in addition to banner ads released Dec. 7, Columbia TriStar allowed Web sites to tailor content to match a series of 50 clips from the film. The content is running on Yahoo, IFILM.com, comingsoon.net, Blackvoices.com, eonline.com and others.


"We're doing an online ad buy targeted at sports, music, broad entertainment and African-American sites, but we're also syndicating some of this content to them, rather than just having a banner ad," he said. "What the user will see is that 'Ali' the movie has a presence as opposed to 'Ali' the movie has an ad."


Ads will vary depending on the site. Eyeblasters and skyscrapers are running on entertainment sites, while rich media interstitials and Flash ads are running on sports sites. On some sites, such as Playboy.com, banner ads include audio.


"Here is a guy whose life is certainly complicated and controversial," Caines said. "We figured we've got to deliver, in our marketing campaign on the Internet, the same level of pull-no-punches kind of campaign."


That's where the corresponding wireless messaging campaign for "Ali" comes in. Cell phone users who sign up for messages on Sony.com/ali-mobile and Upoc.com can receive some of the boxer's most outrageous quotes as well as information on the film's stars' appearances.


Through wireless marketer Upoc, New York, fans receive quotes such as, "It will be a killa and a thrilla and a chilla when I get the gorilla in Manila."


"We're starting to tie Ali's in-your-face bravado back to the audience," Caines said, "so every kid who's carrying a cell phone or pager, we want to give them a reason to opt in and have fun with it."


Columbia TriStar marketing executives purposely did not focus on calls to action, such as entering a sweepstakes, in the wireless campaign.


"We're trying to build a relationship with the movie experience, so the [only] call to action at the end of the day ends up being 'visit the site to experience more,'" Caines said.


Though Sony's music division has used Upoc text messaging for several promotions, this is the first time Sony Pictures Entertainment has tried wireless marketing for a film. Columbia TriStar also dropped an e-mail last week, pulling names from inhouse databases of those who signed up for more information on the movie as well as people who have opted in to Sony Digital Entertainment Group's e-mails on all films. Caines would not reveal the size of the drop.


Caines also hopes to send a personalized e-mail from Smith or Michael Mann, the film's director.


"If the subject line really speaks to them ... and [they see] a message from Will Smith or Michael Mann @sonypictures.com as the reply e-mail, they're going to open it," he said.


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