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Posts Tagged ‘promotion’

Hating on James Cameron: Avatar’s Anti-Fans

January 9th, 2010 | Jonathan Gray

Everyone has an opinion on Avatar, or so a browse through my Google Reader, Facebook feed, and trips to public spaces seem to suggest. Moreover, opinions seem remarkably unified within two central camps – either it’s a great ride and a cinematic breakthrough, or it’s all hype and a piece of crap. But these positions develop before people watch. I’d pose that pretty much everyone is getting what they think they’re going to get out of Avatar: either you expect a wonderful visual feast and you get it, or you expect to find a stupid story (“Dances with Wolves on another planet”) with visuals that are either ho-hum or excessive, and you get that.

This latter camp fascinates me, as do their counterparts with most critically and/or popularly loved films or television shows. We know they won’t like the film. They know they won’t like the film. Yet they insist on watching it. Why? What are they paying for? After the fold …

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Examining the Ad Men Behind Mad Men

August 2nd, 2009 | Jonathan Gray

Betty Draper

While unpacking and getting the new life sorted out, one of the things I’ve found some spare time for this summer has been catching up on (ie: watching from the beginning) Mad Men. I’m now intrigued by their advertising for the new season.

Before getting to the ads for the show, though, let me say how wonderful I think Mad Men is. I’m so impressed by the storytelling, and by how the show can shift focus to various supporting characters with skill, fleshing them out wonderfully over time. It’s also a treat to see a show that can critically examine a whole bunch of “issues” without feeling didactic, obvious, or hackneyed.

I’m also somewhat surprised by its relatively low ratings to date, which places its ad campaigns under the microscope for me. Yeah, it’s slow, it’s hard to crack if you missed earlier episodes, and it’s on a cable channel. But Lost is hard to crack, and has managed much higher ratings. And, like Lost, I would have imagined that its eye candy factor, both in terms of beautiful people, but also in terms of high quality filming, would have helped smooth over other perceived problems. Even more than Lost, too, it’s been a critical darling. Like 30 Rock, it’s managed the amazing trick of being full of product placement yet still loved and revered by TV critics and academics alike. It’s gotten a bunch of Emmy nominations.

So, if it’s so good, and if it has such good buzz, why aren’t more people watching it?

AMC is clearly asking the same thing, since they’ve put a major push into marketing it this last month. Two strategies in particular are interesting.

First, as many of you will have seen on Facebook, they came up with a Mad Men Yourself avatar creator. The Simpsons made such a splash with its avatar creator for The Simpsons Movie, as Facebook went all Springfieldian for a month or more. It’s a smart tool for getting your show out there, and I’d imagine that if the Yearbook Yourself site wasn’t competing with it right now, I’d be seeing even more Duck Phillips, Pete Campbell, or Rachel Mencken clones on Facebook every time I log in. Below is my own arrival at Sterling Cooper.

madmen_standard

What I find somewhat amusing with these is that neither Springfield nor Sterling Cooper seem like particularly wonderful worlds to step into. I think of a friend who recently expressed concern that a Facebook quiz said that she was Betty Draper in Mad Men, and a friend of hers noted that there’s no particularly wonderful woman to be in the show. I’d echo that with men – sure, everyone wanted to be Lester or Omar for the Facebook Wire quizzes, but do you really want to be Don, Sterling, or Pete? If so, you kind of missed the criticism. I think the way to read these avatar creators, though, is not that they’re saying that you might want to step into these worlds, as much as they’re sending a message that one could, since they are immersive, expansive, tangible environments.

The other part of the Mad Men campaign that somewhat perplexes me is its joining forces with Banana Republic (hereafter BR). BR has designed a bunch of its summer items around the show, and its windows are full of ads (including a competition that would allow one a walk-on role in the show). Mad Men is full of product placement, but since it’s set in the early sixties, they’re all for brands that were around then. BR wasn’t, so already there’s a somewhat odd temporal disjuncture. It’s a smart relationship for BR, since Mad Men is heavily stylized, full of well-dressed and crisp looking people, and it’s a critical darling, so they can brand themselves as classy, chic, and sophisticated. But Mad Men seems to get very little textually out of the deal – how does that communicate to anyone a sense of what Mad Men is, other than saying it’s the classy sibling of the Gap and Old Navy (but which shows are the Gap and Old Navy in this metaphor?). Admittedly, what it does get is visibility – it gets into malls around the continent.

So what I’m left wondering is whether that’s ultimately all Mad Men really needs to get more viewers – visibility. Is a BR shopper a would-be Mad Men viewer? I’d love to see the demographics and research behind this campaign. Indeed, I’m left, ironically, wanting to know how this show about advertising handles its advertising.

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The New Show Promos, 1: Southland

April 12th, 2009 | Jonathan Gray

This is the first in a series of posts I hope to write, evaluating and discussing not the recent spate of new shows per se, but rather their promos, both on air and online. A good promo shouldn’t just get one turning on the television, but it should also start the text, telling us what to expect, creating characters, introducing themes, and so forth, and a good website should do likewise, while also reinforcing central themes and frames for those who visit after seeing the promo or the show itself.

I start with NBC’s Southland

While the clip above is an extended promo, many of the smaller ones underlined similar points, pushing three key points:

  1. It stars Ryan Atwood, of The OC fame
  2. It’s an edgy, gritty, warts and all depiction of the tough job of policing LA’s streets that promises to tell us what it’s “really” like for the city’s cops. Think Training Day meets Colors for television
  3. It comes to us from the folks behind ER

More after the fold …

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The Disney & IRTS 2008 Digital Media Summit, Part 4

August 21st, 2008 | Jonathan Gray

The Thin Line Between Content and Promotion

I’ve waited a bit to post what follows, since it’s still thinking in progress. But, hey, that’s what a blog is, right? So here goes anyways:

All panels circled around issues of monetization in one way or another. Back during the strike, I was frustrated by the degree to which Disney and others suggested that new media were good only for promotion, and that they were barren when it came to revenue generation. This seemed a bad faith bargaining position, to say the least. But at the DMS, new media was again and again talked of as a site for promotion, for brand management, of the shows, yes, but even moreso of Disney, ABC, and ESPN, following a directive from on-high (Bob Iger, Disney’s CEO) that these core brands are what’s being sold. Thus, while I’m not ready to completely drop the bad faith notion, I do see things differently now. I think what we have is a profound shift in business logic, which results in a profound shift in languages used too. Let me explain, and in the process I hope to challenge that new logic somewhat:

If the brands are what Disney thinks it is selling, not the shows per se, then it’s meaningless to make distinctions between new media and those shows. If the “old” job of the network or media conglomeration was to attract viewers to advertisers by producing great shows, then those shows deserved special treatment, and we could easily make distinctions between shows and promotion. But if the “new” model is to regard all elements of the corporation as engaged in the same process of selling the Disney, ABC, and ESPN brands, then everything is promotional. Your station identification snippets exist on the same level as your shows. And so if you’re Disney, and you don’t pay royalties to those who make the station idents, it must seem unreasonable and annoying to have to pay those other “promo” makers, the writers, directors, and actors.

While there’s something to this logic, there’s also something wrong with it. The former first. As you may have gotten by now if you read this blog, I’m a big believer in the creativity in and importance of all sorts of paratexts. I think that designing a good trailer is a creative act. Ditto with movie posters. Even hype campaigns. If it’s done well, it contributes to the text. It doesn’t just sell the text – it makes the text. So I’m sympathetic to the notion that we should or could start to break down the conceptual wall that exists between promotion and creativity, realizing that often the former is an involved part of the latter.

However, precisely because I’m arguing that good paratexts don’t just sell the text, they make it, rather than remove the semblance of creativity from writers, directors, and actors, I’m more comfortable with making creativity a larger umbrella that also covers good trailer makers, good poster designers, etc. In other words, while Iger’s philosophy risks leading naturally to the notion that “creatives” get rolled in with “promotion,” mine is that “promotion” could be rolled in with “creatives.”

There’s a key problem here, though. Above, I wrote of good paratexts. “Bad” paratexts are just promotion. Paratexts can contribute to a text, but they can also contribute nothing. But this can be extended to the shows themselves, if we regard them, as Iger’s philosophy suggests, as promos for the brand. Good shows do contribute to the brand, and sparkle with their creativity. Bad ones don’t: they just sap money and labor, with no good return on investment (for industry dollars or viewer watching hours). Of course, different viewers will disagree on what is good and what is bad, but since I’m not using specifics here (I’m avoiding referring to Cavemen or Big Shots, in other words), that’s by the by. What I’m getting at instead is that it is only good, creative shows and only good, creative paratexts that will help or sell the brand. Reworded, as much as it may seem this way to some observers, it isn’t promotion that helps or sells the brand, it’s creativity. I can open my window right now and yell to all of Sunnyside, Queens that they should watch a certain show, but that doesn’t sell the brand. Only creativity will.

I said I wouldn’t talk specifics, but to break that rule and return to the Digital Media Summit, the panel that examined Lost as a case study was telling. Carlton Cuse noted the challenge to get good content into marketing, and many of their examples suggested that they have succeeded. Lost’s ARGs, evocative promotions, and so forth all impressed the room of largely non-Lost-watchers. Both Lost AND its paratexts sell the ABC brand, since both are good (and if you disagree that they’re good, well that doesn’t hurt my point, since that only shows that they don’t help your notion of the brand).

Going back to the WGA and negotiations in an economy where promotion and creativity are merging moreso than before, good paratexts (frequently produced by non-unionized workers) profoundly challenge the line between the supposed “creatives” and the supposed promotional side of the business. This allows the industry to conflate the two, and see the differential treatment as silly, thereby justifying (in their eyes) lowering creators to the level of promotion. Bad texts similarly (or even especially?) inspire the conflation, since a good paratext/“promo” can do more for the brand than can a bad text. But only good stuff, only creativity, will truly help the brand, and hence it needs to be compensated as such. And only royalties do this, since otherwise you are paying the producers of shows that contribute nothing to your brand the same as you are paying those of the shows that help your brand.

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