The Branding Payoffs of Search and Movie-Star Romance

This week’s article will be about the different major branding opportunities that search engine marketing and search engine optimization both offer.

First, though, senseless tabloid gossip.

The movies. Forty-two-year-old pretty-boy actor Tom Cruise and 26-year-old Katie Holmes have recently announced their romance publicly. This garnered loads of media attention for Holmes, who plays a starring role in the new film “Batman Begins,” and for Cruise, who will star in the new summer release “War of the Worlds.” According to a New York Times article in January, “Batman Begins” was set to have a marketing budget that could exceed $100 million. Meanwhile, many suspect that the Holmes-Cruise “relationship,” far from being true love, is a publicity ploy.

Is the rumor that it’s a publicity relationship true? We don’t particularly care. But let’s run with the rumors and assume that this entire relationship is a sham/news stunt. There’s still the question: Why, after spending $100 million on marketing, would a film production company need the aid of a tabloid romance to boost movie sales? There are a lot of good reasons, but here’s one answer: PR works differently from marketing.

PR is about making a product (or actor, or candidate) a part of your world. You’ve been following the (true or staged) romance between Holmes and Cruise, you feel like you’ve gotten to know them fairly well, you hear they’re in movies, you might as well see how your friends Tom and Katie are doing and watch the movies they’re in. So you pay $10 for each film. That’s PR. It’s bringing something that might be, in reality, fairly distant from you (WB Studios) into your everyday life.

Marketing is the opposite. Marketing is about taking that distance you have from a company and magnifying it 10,000 times. “Batman Begins,” the advertising says, is so magnificent that it has enough money, paper and bat costumes to plaster every bus stop, magazine two-page spread, online banner and billboard you’ll ever see. And if you want to be a part of that greatness, well, you’ll need to pay $10 this weekend to get into the movie. Get popcorn while you’re at it.

So PR tells you that “Batman” is entirely part of your world, because Katie Holmes is entirely a part of your world. Meanwhile, marketing tells you that “Batman” is an unfathomably lofty experience, because, after all, the movie advertises on bus stops. And then there’s the wonderful connecting point: You’ll see “Batman” because you’re excited for your good friend, Katie Holmes, for being able to be in a movie you could never even dream of aspiring to yourself. It’s the connecting point between marketing and PR. And it’s a magnificent one-two punch.

SEM/SEO. The PR/marketing combo is also a great way of thinking about the branding capabilities of SEM versus the branding capabilities of SEO (we knew you were waiting for the tie-in), because, while SEM is marketing, SEO is really PR.

SEM stands for search engine marketing. You pay for SEM. SEM appears, in most engines, under the clearly labeled title “sponsored link.” In Google, at least, the same ads that appear in search engines also appear as text banners in Gmail, and on Web sites in the form of contextual search advertising. SEM is a system of running ad campaigns, like radio or TV spots or banner campaigning or any other paid advertising you care to discuss.

And SEM carries an “advertising” message with it. If your ad gets a good showing in the sponsored links, then there’s a glamour about it. For those of you who aren’t in the search world, “glamour” might not be the first word that comes to mind when you think of search engine results, but think of it: People turn to search engines as services that have scoured billions of Web pages — which is to say, in many cases, practically all the information on the planet.

When a searcher researches a topic in a search engine, she’ll see the results page she looks at as a highly representative slice of the real world. And when a listing appears in a special, paid section (and in most cases, off in its own highly visible section), it’s really not different from being in a special, paid-players-only section of the real world: the glitzy movie banner that gets to appear on the side of an otherwise humdrum public bus, for instance. Glamour is an entirely appropriate label to use.

That’s SEM. Meanwhile, SEO is about ending up best in what’s referred to as the “organic” search results, also called the “natural” search results. If people turn to search engines to get the best picture of the “real” world, then appearing well in the organic results means your site is a highly integral “part” of the real world.

It’s a lot like newspapers and news magazines. When people read newspapers, the information they see in the articles represents “real life.” Everything that ends up in a newspaper is often more real, to readers, than the life they experience in the day to day. And advertising that appears in a newspaper is (or at least can be) the glamorous, exciting out-of-this-world portion of the “real world.”

SEO is like newspaper articles. SEM is like newspaper ads. The only major difference is that, in search, the audience you reach is far more likely to contain a higher percentage of people “looking” to buy what you have to sell than a newspaper audience would.

Search and the movie biz. Back to Katie and Tom. Even if the Holmes-Cruise romance isn’t a publicity stunt, you can bet that all the articles and interviews that each of them have had, together and respectively, leading up to and concurrent with their films, are bona fide PR. But all the PR hasn’t stopped the advertising blitz for their movies at all. That’s because, again, PR and marketing work differently. So you need both of them.

The same holds true for SEM/SEO. You want people to be comfortable with your brand, so you need fantastic SEO to appear well in natural search results. But you also want people to be delighted by your brand, so you need fantastic SEM, to fare well in the paid search results.

One without the other is only half the picture. Sort of like Tom without Katie. Or, maybe, like Katie and Tom without “Batman.”

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