VIDEO: The vision of the future

Content. The buzzword of modern-day marketing. Not a day goes by in the office when the word content isn’t mentioned. With all this comes a huge increase in video content, and at a time where one third of online activity is video consumption, brands would be foolish to not ensure that the video content they are producing is engaging, relevant and last, but by no means least, has a purpose.

Yet, with this explosion of online video comes a huge amount of data, which ultimately, is the key to brand success; unlocking audience behaviour, and being informed about what is making an impact. In light of this, I attended an Online Video Data Revolution Talk hosted by Tubular Labs last week where I was able to listen to the success stories and learnings from broadcast and digital experts in their pursuit of doing just that.

Be one of the ‘Lads’

In the room, we learnt tips from the likes of Adam Clyne, COO of The LAD Bible Group, the world's fastest-growing news site for young men. With monthly viewership of 3.7 billion, and ranking second across global media properties (according to Tubular Lab’s August statistics), The LAD Bible is a great example of a brand born out of social media channels, mainly Facebook, which meant the pressure to create engaging video content was vast.

Clyne was quick to acknowledge that the ‘relatability’ of The LAD Bible’s content has been a huge factor in its success. By understanding their audience, the team at The LAD Bible are able to produce video which has the likeability and shareability factor which exponentially increases the likelihood of getting views. Elements like ‘tag a mate’ act as a direct call to action, which often results in a domino effect with audiences’ content participation.

The success of The LAD Bible has also been down to the instantaneous results which they can gauge through social sentiment. Clyne highlighted that more than ever, if the content is wrong for your audience, they are not afraid to comment and call you out on this. This goes for branded content as well, with audiences being savvy enough to acknowledge a brand collaboration when they see it. However, Clyne pointed out that such content shouldn’t be an anomaly within your newsfeed or enable you to “sell your soul” by changing your normal tone for the sake of a brand. Nowadays, it is more important than ever to react to what your audience wants, learn the before and after, and ensure you’re targeting those most engaged with your content.

Leaving Broadcast Behind

With the rise in digital video content, where does this leave broadcasters? Certainly, there is the necessity to keep ahead with the times by creating short-form content which can establish a place on social platforms in its own right. Andy Taylor, co-founder and CEO of LittleDot Studios commended American talk shows such as The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and The Late Late Show with James Corden for their ability to master an online presence.

A show of hands in the room proved this point when asked who watches The Late Late Show with James Corden versus who had seen James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke ; more often than not, YouTube sees more views of broadcast content than the programme itself. These types of videos tap into the recipe of success which Adam Clyne spoke of, being easily shareable as well as timeless in their existence on YouTube.

What’s next for video

With the surge in demand for online content, Andy Taylor from Little Dot predicted that in five years’ time, Facebook will consist of strictly video content. For broadcasters to succeed in these times, he predicted that we are more likely to see TV and online collaborations. This is something we have already had glimpses of with the recent partnership between National Geographic and The LAD Bible, whereby National Geographic’s Leonardo DiCaprio-led documentary, Before the Flood ( was broadcast simultaneously on TV and via a livestream on The LAD Bible’s Facebook page.

This form of output is establishing a presence online, particularly for sports fans who have shown themselves hugely engaged with digital and social live streaming, which brings massive opportunities for rightholders and broadcasters alike. Just recently, Andy Murray became the first tennis star to stream a major match live on Facebook from his own page, and Moto GP earned more than 7 million views from a clip of Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi partaking in some ‘epic’ wheelies, demonstrating that the appetite for live sport on social will continue to increase.

Ultimately, it is clear that video content is more important than ever for engaging audiences and creating a loyal fan base for your brand; viewer behaviours are finding new forms of expression all the time, so, more often than not, brands need to adapt quickly and respond. Lastly, it is important to understand that the digital landscape has shifted in such a way that brands are able to reach their consumers without necessarily going through a third party, putting greater emphasis on the brand messages themselves and the way they reach their audience. We’re currently in a shift state, the balance of power for content is moving from broadcast to online, and I for one am excited to see where brands can capitalise from this.

Canterbury & England Rugby 2016 Kit Launch

FACEBOOK LIVE – THE DISCOVERY TOOL

Before we begin, let me share with you two well-known facts:

• Google owns the largest search engine in the world
• Through YouTube, Google owns the ‘go to’ place to consume video content

Clearly then Google’s stronghold on our online behaviour is second to none, but with eight billion video views a day, Facebook are getting their own slice of the action. By identifying which content individuals want to see, Facebook has become the discovery platform for video content. Additionally, video posts have 135% greater organic reach than images on Facebook. This impressive statistic places Facebook and its new live broadcast offering as one of the leading tools to reach a target demographic with news about something they would not necessarily proactively search for.

For this very reason, Canterbury and England Rugby adopted Facebook LIVE for the launch of the new kit. Therefore, in a first for both Canterbury and England Rugby, we hosted a multi-camera Facebook LIVE broadcast treating viewers to an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the kit and the kit launch media day.

Having identified Facebook LIVE as the go to primary launch channel, the next challenge was to ensure the kit unveil was engaging, helping to gain traction online, while remaining of genuine interest to the England Rugby fan base.

Rather than go down the well-trodden path of a simple Facebook LIVE Fan Question and Answer session, we gave the viewer a unique fly-on-the-wall look of the kit launch from inside Twickenham stadium and England Rugby’s private/ exclusive quarters. In doing so we not only eschewed traditional media but gave Canterbury’s audience the chance to watch the event unfold via Facebook Live.

England captain Dylan Hartley, Maro Itoje, Mike Brown, George Kruis and Rochelle Clark MBE were all under the spotlight during the 40 minute live broadcast. With such an array of rugby talent featured, the key to the broadcast was to let the player’s personalities shine through. Recruiting ex-England international and British & Irish Lion Ugo Monye to host the broadcast not only helped us engage the players, but more importantly the audience.

With the talent in place and host prepared, we managed a ten man camera crew, helping to create a premium, high definition broadcast the launch deserved.

Alongside exciting player VTs, which featured the Canterbury kit launch campaign brand film, there were three engaging key scenes in the live broadcast from Twickenham stadium:

1) Fly on the wall look at the media photo shoot
2) A question and answer session influenced by fan comments feeding into the stream.
3) Fan led takeover where we asked the viewer to use relevant emojis to guide the players around Twickenham, giving the viewer unprecedented access to the England changing room, gym and tunnel – all usually out of bounds for fans.

The results of the launch speak for themselves with 114,100 organic views and 6,550 comments/ reactions driving massive exposure for the both Canterbury and England Rugby. Through clever planning, a lot of hard work and excellent execution, we managed to shine among the Olympic Games noise and show Canterbury as an innovative brand wanting to tap into the latest technology to reach their target market. The content already ranks as one of the most successful England Rugby Facebook LIVE mid-week broadcasts, driving traffic to the e-commerce website and thus capitalising on impulse purchases.For a glimpse into the launch day, check out the two minute highlight reel here.

Sports Marketing Can Learn From Storytellers

The Wizard of Oz, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. These are some of the best-selling books in history and subsequently some of the highest grossing films of all time. So what do they all have in common? And how can sports marketing storytellers learn from them?

All three stories have hit a storytelling sweet spot, tapping into an innate human desire to hear stories of heroic quests and adventures. Even if you’re not Harry Potter’s biggest fan, the heroic quest that J.K. Rowling had chosen – for Harry Potter to defeat the evil wizard Lord Voldermort across seven novels – follows one of the most powerful forms a story can take; the battle of good versus evil.

The ability to tell a compelling story is central to PR and marketing, and this is especially true in sports marketing. Storytellers who master the heroic quest concept and successfully use it to tell their brand’s story can engage their audience, change perceptions and improve understanding in a way their contemporaries cannot.

So what exactly is the Heroic Quest and what does it consist of?

The structure of the Heroic Quest, a phrase coined by Nancy Duarte and Patti Sanchez in their 2016 book titled ‘Illuminate’, is split into three chronological acts: The Beginning (Dream, Leap), The Middle (Fight, Climb) and The End (Arrive and Re-Dream).

Simply put, the hero in the quest must embark on a testing and long journey, overcoming set-backs and obstacles that push them to their limits, before they finish triumphant (or in some cases, fall tragically short).

We see these stories all the time in sport; Andre Agassi’s long road to recovery from injury (and a fall in the world rankings to 141) to win the US Open in 1999, Lionel Messi’s rise to become the best player the world has ever seen despite a growth hormone deficiency as a child, and Michael Phelps who has battled back from rehab following alcohol abuse and is set to compete for the USA in the 2016 Rio Olympics. It’s hard to forget Leicester City’s recent climb to the top of the Barclays Premier League and with a Hollywood film depicting the feat reportedly in the pipeline, this may well be the purest form of the heroic quest within sport we have ever seen.

‘Illuminate’ by Nancy Duarte and Patti Sanchez (2016)

Why does storytelling work so well in PR and marketing?Without getting bogged down too much in the science (take a look at the image below for more detail if dopamine and cortex activity float your boat) our brains are far more engaged with information presented in a storytelling form rather than cold hard facts. Science has proven we humans crave stories. We spend about one third of our lives daydreaming (this actually equates to about half of our waking hours) and another third dreaming of stories in our sleep.But stories do not just come in the form of daydreams distracting us from the day job. Stories can help us connect (the more personal to the viewer the better) with and understand ideas being presented to us. They can conjure a range emotions to help change perceptions of and behaviour towards individuals and brands.

People have a tendency to enter the worlds of the stories they are gripped by and the boundaries between what is real and not becomes increasingly blurred. A great story has the ability to transport you to another world completely. Ever wondered why films can be such tear-jerkers or why you grab the edge of your seat during horror movies? Our brains find it difficult to make the distinction between real life and a figment of someone’s imagination.

But in a world where your audience is dominated by Millenials – a demographic who are increasingly time-poor and often distracted – how can you ensure that your story successfully stands out from the crowd?

1) Make it personal

The more personal and emotive the story, the easier your audience will find it to connect and identify with the characters involved. Keep your hero individual (rather than a group or team) and your viewer is more likely to relate and feel a part of their journey. A good example of this is Under Armour’s emotive ‘Rule Yourself’ video featuring USA swimmer Michael Phelps:

2) Make it authentic

Authenticity is key. Your story should be born from a genuine place otherwise you run the risk of people switching off and, rather than valuing it, thinking of it as a disturbance. Supermodel Gisele Bündchen in Under Armour’s ‘I Will What I Want’ video that launched in 2014 is an example of authentic storytelling at its best.

3) Make it suitable for the digital age

The traditional art of storytelling is being challenged. Grab your audience’s attention in the first 15 seconds of the story and you’ve got a good chance of keeping it. The powerful Rugby World Cup 2015 advert ‘Force of Black’ by New Zealand’s kit supplier adidas quickly captured their audience’s attention to help them tell the story of the blade jersey and the force of 15 All Blacks coming together as one.

Under Armour’s ‘I Will What I Want’ and ‘Rule Yourself’ campaigns also use a shortened form of the heroic quest to great effect:

While the heroic quests found in The Wizard of Oz, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings are easy enough to recognise, it takes a skilled storyteller to present the less straightforward events of day-to-day life in engaging ways, particularly as brands look for new ways to start a conversation with their audience as new technology blossoms.

There are so many heroic sporting stories out there for brands to tell. Working out how to tell that story in a way that is relevant to the brand, engaging for their audience and is powerful enough to change their perceptions is the quest that brands must embark on.

Sports Fans, Social Media and the Millennial Myth

The world’s biggest brands tirelessly strive to deliver rich, digital, sports marketing experiences that stimulate fan conversation, ignite fan interaction and create new fan communities. But, is this what the millennial sports fan really wants? Our ‘Social Sports Fan’ research strongly suggests not. We present a much simpler perspective on what motivates global millennial sports fans to use social media. We expose some perhaps inconvenient truths for an industry more inclined towards ‘new ideas’ than ‘good ideas’ – those built on the solid consumer insights we all know feed the most exciting and effective campaigns. The headlines: - It is not interactivity and rich content experiences that millennial sports fans want from social. It’s real-time content, immediately and easily accessed. - It is not the most official and trustworthy content that millennial sports fans want. It’s a wide breadth of perspectives – they don’t care where their content comes from. - It is not recognition and reinforcement of their identity that millennial sports fans want from social. It’s much more ‘to me’ than ‘from me’. We explore the above and much more in depth. We discover that younger millennials behave quite differently to older millennials. They do want to share their opinion. They do want to use social as a means of expressing who they are.

Our aim is to help brands and rights holders come up for air and see through the relentless development of new social platforms, communities, products, apps and widgets…to focus on what sports fans really want from social media. Our mission is to champion a smarter breed of content. To cut through the crap and deliver the kind of results that can be achieved when the superpowers of sport and social come together. Enjoy the read…
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What the art of storytelling can learn from a whale called ‘Big Blue.’

A few months ago we made a beautiful short film telling the inspirational story of a big wave surfer from Maui. We spent months scouting the island for perfect locations, practicing with drones and underwater cameras and developing the narrative, storyboard, script and soundtrack. All this with a view to making not just a film but a ‘social content pack’ of main edits, making-ofs, YouTube trailers, Instagram teasers, Twitter posters, Facebook gifs and media editorial. The success of this ‘film’ would be defined by its social engagement, which these days means (infuriatingly un-ambitiously) how many people watched more than half of it on YouTube!

The production team decamped to Hawaii for the shoot with storyboard in one hand and camera in the other. On day one we shot out in the ocean, grabbing footage of our surf star paddling his board, silhouetted against the setting sun. Nice work if you can get it. And then, out of the blue, quite literally, a humpback whale rose majestically out of the water, ten feet from our man. She gave him the beady eye, shot a gentle ‘hello’ from her blowhole, rolled to the right…and went back down from whence she came.

Blimey. A massive whale. A real one.

It took us a while to take in what had happened. Our new surfer friend hadn’t experienced anything quite like it before – you can see his reaction on film. Our Director was frantically checking to see what we’d caught (it was good). Our client’s excitement blew their ‘this wasn’t on the storyboard’ concerns out of the water. ‘Big Blue’ – as she became known – had thrown us a bit of a curve ball.

Over the coming weeks, across the rest of the shoot and throughout the editing process, Big Blue had quite an effect on things. Fundamentally, we now had a ‘killer shot’ to play with that we hadn’t planned for! How should we use it? Old-fashioned storytelling suggests you might save it for a climactic moment. Today’s YouTube metrics tell us to stick the money shot up front and secure the eyeballs early on. But, more importantly than all this, Big Blue reminded us of three fundamentals of the art of storytelling:

1. Create stories that have room to breathe. Any story that only works if every shot is captured as sketched on the storyboard and every line of script is delivered word-perfect will never have the emotional depth of a story that can go it’s own way. Yes, we need the brand story to sit strong at the core. The trick is to keep the narrative big enough to allow some freedom.

2. Be creatively ambitious, not a slave to media metrics.
Story first, channel second. A great story, well told to a receptive audience will overpower all the cynical media metrics you can throw at it. We didn’t use Big Blue’s surprise appearance for our opening shot. We drew the viewer in with a subtle underwater sequence…then hit ‘em hard with the whale! From then on, you know you’re in for a ride.

3. Always be open-minded about where a story could go on set. True creativity doesn’t like rules. Yes, you need a core narrative to stay true to – and in the world of marketing this is quite rightly what the brand wants to get across. But, beware the storyboard written in stone. Keep your narrative tight enough to say what you want to say, but loose enough to allow different ways to say it.

Channel proliferation, cynical media metrics and ‘best practice’ techniques are leading the art of storytelling down a commoditised and formulaic path.

When Big Blue said hello that day, she didn’t just help us make a great film. She reminded us that we should always be ambitious and stay open to that little bit of magic that could come along at any moment. When hopefully the cameras will be rolling…

Full Stream Ahead: How Yahoo’s Partnership With The NFL Is An Opportunity For Sponsors

While Jacksonville Jaguars’ 34-31 victory over the Buffalo Bills at Wembley Stadium in late October belied fans' modest expectations of a drab affair from two of the NFL's smaller teams, the fixture itself had far more significance for the future of NFL broadcasting and potential sponsorship opportunities
The game was played at Wembley as part of the Jaguars' four year deal to play one 'home' regular season fixture in London. The location of the game is no longer newsworthy, but the way the NFL broadcast it was.With a fixture between two sides with little hope of making the end of season play-offs, and an unfriendly kick-off time of 6.30am WT/9.30am ET in the U.S., it represented an opportunity for the NFL to trial something new. As a result, they signed an exclusive partnership with Yahoo to digitally deliver the game to fans around the world for free on any device.

The deal represented the first time the NFL has partnered with a company to live stream a regular season game globally and Yahoo paid an estimated $20m for the privilege. The deal came in light of a report from The New York Post that over the last four years the number of young adults in the U.S. who watch traditional prime-time TV has fallen by nearly 20 percent, whilst subscription streaming grew 22 percent in 2014 alone. These insights mean the NFL, as well as its partners, should try to adopt new ways of engaging with their highly lucrative, target audience.

For Yahoo, the game was a greater risk as they had to prove that their platform could keep up with increased traffic. Although there were perhaps inevitable buffering issues, results indicate that they did.

According to Yahoo, 15.2 million people overall watched some or all of the game, which in terms of web streaming a live event, is a significant number.

Although these stats pale in comparison to the viewership of a typical NFL game (Fox and CBS average around 20 million viewers for their Sunday afternoon games), Yahoo’s example of success could mean that when the NFL comes to renew its broadcast deals there may be new bidders at the table. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the likes of Apple, Google and Netflix enter the bidding process, leaving the NFL in the happy predicament of a greater number of distributors to negotiate with.

So, what could it mean for advertisers and sponsors?

Synergy’s Chief Strategy Officer Carsten Thode’s blog on the issue of “protectionism” in U.S. sponsorships highlighted that brands are contractually obligated to commit to a minimum media spend as part of their deal, meaning advertising is therefore a driving force in leading a brand’s sponsorship campaign.

Despite Yahoo offering brands a different platform on which to activate, advertising was still the way brands targeted their consumers as the stream attracted approximately 30 advertisers. However, according to a Sports Journal report, this was only achieved as they dropped their rates from around $200,000 to $50,000 for a 30 second spot.

Significantly, advertisers were also given the option of choosing either a global or U.S. only audience for its inventory, allowing Yahoo to display two adverts at the same time depending on where you watched the game from. However, the UK stream appeared to just showcase U.S. adverts, suggesting that brands either missed an opportunity to geo-target audiences or weren’t interested in engaging the audience outside the U.S.

Such opportunities occur in international football or "soccer" as rightsholders, such as the Football Association, maximise revenues by using technology to virtually replace pitch side hoardings depending on where the game is broadcast. Perhaps with a more diverse and global audience, football is ahead of its over-the-pond namesake regarding opportunities such as these.

Of the 30 advertisers who brought a Yahoo advertising slot, three were sponsors of both the NFL and the NFL International Series, which would already give them the right to activate their sponsorship around the game both in the U.S. and in the UK.

But despite the NFL conducting their annual Regent Street event in London and having a ‘Game Day Fan Plaza’, outside of Wembley none of these brands activated their sponsorship in any way. Similarly, during the live stream in the UK, there was little sponsor integration into the live feed which seems a missed opportunity.

It appears to be an easy win for brands to target fans in game, for example, by offering fans a chance to vote for the play of the game or the opportunity to select their favourite players for the Pro Bowl.In Carsten's blog, our research indicated that around half the people under 35 constantly checked their social media channels during a live game and, by making a game only available on what is normally a fans second screen, the NFL have shown a willingness to trial new ideas. However, are its streaming partner and sponsors missing a trick by not engaging them further? Or was it perhaps the case that by broadcasting directly on the 'second screen', brands believed they were taking away the fans ability to engage directly with them, alongside their viewing experience?

Of course there will be teething issues as rightsholders and sponsors adjust to how viewers consume sporting coverage and, with the traditional television broadcast deals set to stay in place until 2022 at the very earliest, brands may be reluctant to change the status quo for one-off instances such as the Yahoo deal. But with a rightsholder who, at the very least, is showing an appetite to adapt to viewing habits, those brands bold enough to take up this opportunity to try may find greater rewards.

Moving Social Media Measurement in Sponsorship from Vanity to Value

Closing the Telegraph’s Business of Sport article on ‘The importance of social media in sport’, Synergy CEO Tim Crow says rightsholders “need to focus less on selling price and impressions and much more on delivering engagement and value”.

He's right – value metrics are the future. And with more words set to be published on twitter in the next 2 years than in all books ever printed, the cost of getting social media measurement wrong – by using vanity metrics such as “likes” and “clicks” – is set to skyrocket. This blog aims to provide a quick guide to moving sponsorship towards better social media measurement.

social media channels

The majority of data points available in off-the-shelf analytics packages are what author of The Lean Startup, Eric Reis, calls Vanity Metrics – they might make you feel good, but don’t offer clear guidance on what actions to take. Put another way, they do not help make decisions on how to drive value. Since around 80% of companies use vanity metrics, it’s clear that sponsorship must move from vanity to value in social media ASAP.

“But how?” I hear you ask.

Social media is very different to other channels in terms of data accuracy, frequency and availability. Platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter can offer a wealth of data on user actions to the very second at which they took place, and the rise of real-time is set to transform the way we estimate and track value beyond what I can imagine. That means a move to value metrics in social media will have to leverage some of the most advanced measurement tools and techniques out there today.

Future Dashboards

We can understand value creation through Social Media with a simple framework for understanding social media value:

Reach – the number of unique impressions (organic & paid) made on the audience. Put another way, it’s the number of people who actually see an ad pop up in their newsfeed on Facebook or Twitter, or the pinboard of Pinterest users.

Engagement – directly purchasing a promoted product or interacting with and sharing brand content. Fundamentally, it’s the people who “like”, “share”, or “comment” on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Advocacy – sentiment of the users who engage with the ad. In other words, the degree to which they are positive, neutral or negative towards the ad.

Purchase – the number of users who see the ad who, are converted to sale. In simple terms, it’s the people who have, one way or another, seen the ad and parted with their cash because of it.

Sales – Cost = Return on Investment (ROI)

Job done!

Or not, as it turns out. Analytics experts reading the above (I’m sure there are many…) will have noted the “simple” approach above is perhaps a bit too simple. Reach and Engagement are indeed hard to measure. There is, in fact, a relationship between impressions and interactions: the greater the Engagement level, the more users interact, the larger the resulting Reach. Put another way, albeit making an inference about causality, more engagement can drive more impressions – social media users who engage with and share brand ads are growing the number of people ‘impressed’.

Analysis has shown the correlation coefficient between impressions and engaged users to be +0.83

Transitioning to an approach like the one outlined above, and addressing the interaction across stages, would be represent a significant step forward for the sponsorship industry.Learning from Social Media

While data frequency in more traditional channels such as live-event, TV or Radio broadcast may never reach the levels seen in social media – it does not need to – brands should push for the same level of data accuracy and availability. The key is to transform their respective vanity metrics, like branded mentions and views, into value metrics.

Further lessons lie in the dashboards and user-interfaces used to visualize social media metrics today. In an age of big-data, it is easy to get lost in a sea of information without getting to insight. Social media platforms like Facebook – and behind-the-scenes Facebook Insights – are a step ahead of other sponsorship channels in tracking user data pre-, during- and post-campaign. We must learn from them.

So what next?

With only 1% of companies currently being “socially native” – meaning (among other things) they have measurement to match business objectives – the sponsorship industry has a long way to go. But a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I hope this blog will help the industry take it.

 

If you need a nudge or some guidance on social media measurement please do send Synergy an email at tom.gladstone@synergy-sponsorship.com and, if you haven’t already, take a look at how Synergy think about sponsorship value in our Synergy Decisions white paper here.

Millennial Movie Fans: The Battle of the Five Armies

It’s a time of war.

Five forces, locked in bloody conflict, light against dark, in a fight to the death. Old adversaries clash in bitter skirmishes, as fresh rivals reveal new fronts to a timeworn battlefield. All the while, uneasy alliances are forged in the face of the common foe: malevolent and intangible, a shadowy presence hiding in plain sight, its bitter poison laying waste to the very earth itself.

It’s an ancient battle for a very modern prize: the love (and lucre) of the Millennial movie-watcher.

An appropriately dramatic analogy, perhaps, but the point is still clear: Studios, Multiplexes, Streamers (think Netflix and the like) and Brands are facing up against an army of Pirates in a conflict set to shape the future of film. So now, with the battle lines drawn for 2015, how can brands best prepare themselves to strike a telling blow in the war for Millennial film fans over the coming year?

With this question in mind, it’s worth considering the relatively unprecedented context presented by 2015: in cinematic terms, this could well be the single biggest year the industry has ever seen.

Not one, but three billion-dollar movies will be hitting screens in the coming 12 months. In May, we have Avengers: Age of Ultron – sequel to the third most successful movie of all time ($1.5bn worldwide gross, according to Box Office Mojo); Spectre, the follow-up to Skyfall (at $1.1bn, Bond’s biggest ever outing), appears in November; and that’s not forgetting a small production in December by the name of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the latest episode in the $4.2bn box office mega-franchise.

On top of that, in sequel terms, we’ll see the conclusion to The Hunger Games (the preceding movie having made $695m worldwide), Jurassic World, Ted 2, Mission: Impossible 5, Furious 7 and Magic Mike XXL. When you add in Pixar’s Inside Out, Josh Trank’s reboot of comic book The Fantastic Four and – ahem – Fifty Shades of Grey, there’s something in there for just about everyone.

So where does this leave Millennials? After all, a trip to the cinema represents only a single touchpoint with Film as a passion point…and an expensive one at that. With the average price of a cinema ticket in the UK now £6.53 (a 26% hike since 2007, with London seats topping £13) and US tickets hovering around the $8 mark, it’s not hard to see why a trip to the movies is becoming less of an impulse decision. In 2014, research published by Nielsen in America identified a 15% drop in attendances from the previous year amongst 12-24s.

The average Millennial’s world is fast-paced and relentless. Whether picking up emails from work or endlessly checking feeds for social currency and connections, they are seldom ‘off’. For the Multiplexes, this creates an interesting and relatively unique dilemma: while the cinema is considered by Millennials as one of the last places where they can still genuinely disengage from life, attendances amongst this group are still declining.

Time-poor, experience-rich

With the average length of the year’s highest-grossing movies up from 118.4 minutes in 1992 to 141.6 minutes in 2012 – not counting the incremental half hour of adverts and trailers – starved of smartphones and live pausing, Millennials need to commit or quit when considering a trip to the cinema.

What’s more, it’s fair to say that the cinematic experience itself at the Multiplex is generally not up to par for the young, free and single Millennials. As born multitaskers and social animals, there’s an expectation that a night out offers more than just silent contemplation of an IMAX screen. Look at the popularity of Secret Cinema, the immersive movie experience encompassing themed costumes, food and event production, whose 2014 UK screenings of Back to the Future saw 17,000 of the available 66,000 tickets sell out in under five minutes. There’s even proven to be an audience for East London’s Hot Tub Cinema pop-up events, with the Hot Tub Time Machine 2 surely a shoo-in as content for screenings this year.

Similarly, more ‘regular’ viewing experiences are available for the Millennial multitasker, with the Electric, the Everyman chain and the Roxy Bar and Screen leading the charge in London in terms of luxury and/or homely seating, refreshments and even mid-movie debate. Grab a beer and order some food; make a night of it; feel sociable and connected.

While brands may struggle to have an impact on the long-term Multiplex experience itself, there may be a mindset shift occurring here, with Cineworld’s acquisition of the independent Picturehouse chain in 2012 a conscious (albeit controversial) move to recognise and grow both brands in tandem.

The question is, what can brands learn from the independents that they could take to a national level in partnership with Multiplexes? One of London’s most popular independent theatres, The Prince Charles Cinema, a stone’s throw from Leicester Square’s Empire, ODEON and Vue, provides a few clues as to how sponsors might help the chains get a little more creative, whilst engaging relevantly with Millennial audiences.

Double-bills, seasonal themes, franchise marathons, fancy dress evenings – even sing-along events (Frozen being the spectacle du jour) – you name it, the PCC could be the ultimate incubator when it comes to replicable in-theatre ‘moments’.

All you can eat content

Whether the big chains like it or not, the Millennial perception of acceptable pricing policy is changing. The Streamers have it right: at £5.99/$8.00 per month, Netflix/Amazon/Hulu have this audience wrapped up, feeding the Millennial binge-watcher a constant supply of on-demand content, all for a low (or, at least, acceptable) monthly charge. So why haven’t the Multiplexes adopted the same approach to generating a regular subscriber base? To date, of the UK’s major chains, only Cineworld offers this with its Unlimited card, £16.40 granting you as many screenings as you can fit into a month.

Stateside, the cross-chain MoviePass subscription service lets users go to a film a day for $35, a ‘premium’ version of which (think 3D and IMAX showings, not just standard 2D) AMC – the second biggest Multiplex in Northern America – is also now trialling.

The question is, if the Multiplexes aren’t offering this themselves, then how could a sponsor make this happen? And we’re not necessarily talking for free: Orange Wednesdays – arguably the biggest thing to happen in cinemas in the past 10 years – was essentially a customer BOGOF. With EE now having walked away from the offer, perhaps a reboot is in order (this is the cinema, after all), especially now that Aleksandr Meerkat and chums are now involved.

How about adding a premium bolt-on to your monthly mobile phone tariff and then using your NFC-enabled smartphone to claim tickets as often as you like, every month?

I’d buy that for a dollar (or even twenty).

Instant gratification

Another area where the big boys – in this instance, the Studios – could learn from the Streamers, is in how they deploy Video on Demand (VOD). The hacking of Sony Pictures’ systems in late 2014 – their very own Nightmare Before Christmas – actually went some way to demonstrating that whilst physical distribution in theatres is critical, it’s not essential.

Following the decision (by the major cinema chains, rather than the studio) to pull the release of the North Korea-baiting comedy The Interview, Sony Pictures finally released the movie as VOD content, making $15m in the process. Sure, this is still short of the reported $44m production budget, but (if you believe the financial documents released by the hackers) just about covered stars Seth Rogen and James Franco’s fee.

The controversy of this particular film aside, from a sponsorship perspective, the lack of a physical presence for a movie in theatres presents an opportunity for the right brand to create the necessary real-world touchpoint for consumers. Whether through Coke Zero’s excellent ‘Unlock the 007 in you’ Skyfall tie-in, or more standard marketing real estate, sponsors have the unique ability to meet Millennials half-way, and bring them closer to the movie itself.

Another related consideration for brands is that of simultaneous cross-platform release schedules. This is not a new phenomenon, with examples of ‘opening days’ synchronised across multiple media stretching back at least a decade, from such film-makers as Steven Soderbergh and, more recently, Ben Wheatley. Although unlikely to ever replace the release model for the summer blockbuster – where even the most extravagantly proportioned household flatscreen will fail to do justice to the scale and seat-juddering spectacle of a good movie theatre set-up – the provision of both immediacy of content and a choice in how to view it are drivers for Millennials across the globe. This would likely also prove popular for Gen Xers with childcare issues…

How about a sponsor-driven release day, with loyal customers or promotion winners provided unique access to either a VOD stream, DVD or viewing party – rather than just the typical activation of a local premiere we’ve come to expect? The trick is realigning the Studio- Multiplex licence agreement, which generally provides a 3-month exclusivity period to the theatres before movies can be distributed as hard copies or as digital pay-per-view content.

Any sponsors wanting to demonstrate how much they ‘get’ the Millennial film fan would also do well to consider supporting lower budget movies through this instant medium. With the blockbusters often hogging screen time at the Multiplexes, the opportunity for brands to use existing VOD technologies to drive audiences to the best new, yet otherwise unheralded films may help rather than hinder some of these productions. IMDB’s #1 rated movie amongst users, Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption, was almost completely overlooked when on general release, with only VHS bringing it into the homes and hearts of millions across the world. What if yours was the brand that had first said ‘Welcome to Shawshank’, and facilitated bringing a masterpiece to the masses?

If you love something, give it away…or, more likely, share it

It’s the ultimate double-edged sword for the industry.

Avatar, the most successful film of all time ($2.87bn worldwide gross), is also the most pirated (hitting 21 million individual downloads as far back as 2011) – demonstrating a curious co-existence and begging the question of which came first.

Whilst it’s often digitally savvy, legally unfazed Millennials who help perpetuate online piracy by viewing and distributing studio content, there’s little doubt that sharing is critical to the movie marketing ecosystem.

Without word-of-mouth recommendations, film forum debate and the excited re-posting of trailers and outtakes, there would be no cult classics or sleeper hits, and viral teaser campaigns for movies such as The Dark Knight or X-Men: Days of Future Past would fall flat.

Encouraging Millennials to share what you want about a movie (rather than just its BitTorrent download address) is the key for studios. This is something that the team at our sister agency Trailer Park know all about. By building excitement about the Multiplex experience, they maximise their profits, and by drawing attention to the must-see lower-budget films – which perhaps don’t get so much airtime on general release – even the little guys get to benefit.It only takes a short flick through Twitter, Facebook or Reddit to discover a wealth of talented individuals lovingly creating their own take on the films that touch them. From alternative homage posters, brain-bending FullMovieGIFs and the niche but nifty 8-Bit Cinema animations – the democratisation of design has enabled credible, cool fan-made marketing campaigns to live and breathe across the social networks.Marketers that could appropriately leverage the creativity of the talented masses to deliver genuinely shareable content or relevance to the Millennial audience will win here.

As we enter into 2015 proper, for the big players in film the audiences have never been more empowered, and the stakes have never been higher. One thing is clear, however: in the Battle of the Five Armies, it’s the Brands – in particular, the sponsors of film – that have a genuine opportunity to help raise the standards for the conflict ahead.

It’s showtime…

Jonathan’s blog comes from Synergy’s Now, New & Next sponsorship outlook for 2015, which can be viewed in full here.

Five Real Time Marketing Lessons From #Suarez

So, the World Cup has just had what you might call its first Oreo moment, in the shape of Luis Suarez's alleged bite mark on Giorgio Chiellini, the subsequent social media explosion (there were two million tweets mentioning Suarez in the hour after the game), and numerous brands' social media attempts to exploit the opportunity. Given all the pre-tournament buzz about Brazil 2014 being the first real-time World Cup and the readiness of brands to leverage moments like Suarez's bite real time, it's interesting to take a look at what actually happened. Here are five things I noticed in the 24 hours since the incident.1. Despite the significant number of brands who attempted to leverage #Suarez, very few achieved mass levels of engagement. Here are the two most successful I've come across so far.

(Translation: Hi Luis Suarez, if you are still hungry, come take a bite out of a Big Mac).

I doubt that either of them will win any awards for creativity, or humour, any time soon. There are more creative, and much funnier executions out there. This, by Bud Light, for example.

But look at the number of re-tweets compared to McDonald's and Nando's, and most importantly the time it took to publish the tweet after the event. Bud Light, like most, didn't react quickly enough. McDonald's and Nando's did. And in real time, above all, speed wins.

See also Evander Holyfield. Fast (over an hour quicker than Bud Light), relevant and funny.

 

2. Talking of funny, there was some absolutely brilliant stuff out there created by outliers, but none of it went big because they didn't have the distribution skills or the platforms.

For brands, crowd-sourcing from outliers is an untapped opportunity in real time.

3. By far the majority of the brands that did try to gatecrash the party were non-sponsors. Search for Suarez on Twitter, or check out the innumerable lists of Suarez executions that are flying around in the media, and you'll see what I mean.

Bye bye Bavaria et al. Ambush marketing has gone social and real-time.

4. Of the sponsors, McDonald's was the big winner, but most of the sponsors didn't play, in all likelihood because they couldn't come up with something good enough fast enough that was relevant to their brands. All those brand World Cup war-rooms would have been an interesting place to be last night. But I noticed several of the bigger brands buying Suarez as a term on Twitter.

If you can't think your way in, buy your way in. Fair enough, but nowhere near as good as becoming part of the conversation organically.

5. There was a lot of hilarity in the sports marketing ecosystem when Listerine, a World Cup sponsor via Johnson & Johnson's FIFA deal, unveiled its #PowerTo YourMouth campaign, in particular this quote from a senior Listerine exec in the launch PR:

"The World Cup is a good opportunity to get people to reconsider the importance of oral care beyond cleaning your teeth, and to consider what a mouth goes through."

Really? But when the Suarez incident happened last night, the first thing I thought of was #PowerToYourMouth and the gilt-edged real-time opportunity it presented for Listerine, and I tweeted as much.

Now I can't say that what Listerine came up with really did justice to the opportunity, especially compared to the likes of McDonalds:

 

But I loved the fact that they took the time and trouble to reply to my tweet with a customised line.

Now that's great marketing.