Changing Roles For Official Film Websites

By Robert Marich

        August 28, 2007 -- Marketing movies via the Internet is still relatively new, but there are already some significant twists in tactics. The official website is no longer the automatic centerpiece of a new media campaign and – in something of an irony -- there is a budding trend to launch more than one website for the same movie.
    All this is a break from the strategy of investing most of the new media effort around a flagship website, which “The Blair Witch Project” rode to astronomical box office in 1999. For a time, it was an article of faith that the official movie website needed to be chocked full of games, sweepstakes, videos and other assorted content, thus serving as the centerpiece of web marketing. New elements were added in waves to keep consumers coming, as “Blair Witch” had poineered.
    But today, marketers ask themselves why attempt to build traffic from scratch for an official movie website that is a startup when they can place content such as video film trailers, mount tie-in promotions and buy ads on established websites with huge audiences. These days, Yahoo Movies, MySpace, YouTube and Google are a prime focus for most movie campaigns.
    “A few years ago, what we were doing on-line could be described as a single answer,” Jim Gallagher, president of domestic marketing at Buena Vista Pictures. “Now, it’s multi-dimensional approach.”
This thinking is now the mantra because no other film relying primarily on its official website matched the success of “Blair” – the mock documentary that cost just tens of thousands of dollars to make but grossed $140 million at domestic theaters. “Blair” was something of a one-time wonder because very few films relying primarily on Internet centric campaigns became hits. Fox Searchlight’s horror drama “28 Days Later” from 2003 is one rare exception and web marketing was crucial to the success of Warner Bros. battle epic “300” earlier this year.

    Marketing executives say that some films still load up their main websites because powerful creative talent – actors, producers and directors -- demand it because of what they had heard about “Blair Witch”. Official movie websites cost from a rock-bottom single digit thousands of dollars for a sparse indie film to a few hundreds of thousands of dollars, especially for sci-fi and fantasy movies, whose fans expect an elaborate destination.

    Certainly, some films these days clearly lend themselves to a heavy focus on their official websites, such as “The Golden Compass,” which is based on the Philip Pullman fantasy novels. “The movie has the broad fantasy, creatures and other world elements that play well to online audience,” says Gordon Paddison, executive VP new media marketing at New Line Cinema, which will release the film Dec. 7, 2007. “It requires explanation and exploration, which gives us a way to explain this other world to consumers in an entertainment manner.”

    Then there’s the little-noticed trend of distributors creating more than one website for the same film, often built around a specific character. An example is “She’s the Man” -- the DreamWorks/Paramount teen romantic comedy released in March, 2006. Besides the flagship, the separate and distinct presented lead character Amanda’s

For DreamWorks/Paramount “She’s the Man” released in 2006, ad agency Special Ops created a second website that lets consumers interact with the Amanda character (her dorm room desk is the homepage), which is separate from the main that presents basic movie information.

cluttered college dorm room in which web visitors could click to interact with her calendar, cell phone and personal photos.
    “ was created as a ‘discovery site,’ ” says Jason Klein, co-CEO of interactive agency Special Ops Media. “Our target audience of teens could actively interact, explore and be engaged by the brand for an extended period of time in a way that would possibly be distracting for people who just want the basic information” that is the mission for the movie’s main website.
In another instance, Paramount launched on May 5, 2007 a rough-hewn website for “Hot Rod,” its youth action comedy premiering Aug. 3, that presented itself as created by the younger step-brother of the film’s main character and not directly referencing the movie. A more complete official website followed that was clearly tied to the film.
    Of course, whether the investment in the official websites is big or small, film distributors extract added benefits by using it to support marketing of the video release. #