NZ On Air presented Anna Dean’s How To Create Impact session at the Big Screen Symposium.
“Marketing is as important as getting your lighting or sound right,” Dean noted, putting her stake in the ground early on. “It should be done by people who understand it.”
Among other successes, Dean created the award-winning campaign for What We Do in the Shadows.
What she did in the shadows
Dean touched briefly on the What We Do in the Shadows campaign, noting that it played out over six weeks from trailer release to opening – about half the time she’d recommend for most projects.
There was a one-page strategy “but much of it done on the fly.”
Despite that, it was a very layered campaign offer, built around major events (eg the Vellington sign) and six weekly hits of new material. There was also unique content released to individuals and outlets with big social media lists.
Dean also noted the importance of a good hashtag, because nobody can be arsed typing #WhatWeDoInTheShadows and even if they could it doesn’t really give good clues about the film to those coming across it for the first time. #DeliciousNecks said ‘vampires’ pretty clearly.
Using Shadows as an example, Dean noted the seismic shifts in the marketing of content through social media, sharing that although the campaign is barely 18 months old, “Most of what we did online we can no longer do.”
For Shadows, Dean spent $400 on a Facebook campaign that grew likes from 5,000 to 38,000. (It’s now at over 125,000.) 18 months on that sort of campaign would cost a minimum of $25 a day for three months – over five times as much. Just like everyone else Facebook likes to get paid and has changed its algorithms to make it more difficult to grow traffic organically around pages it perceives as having commercial potential.
Lies, damn lies and statistics
Dean shared some other stats, that more people in the world have a mobile than a toothbursh, for example, and that Facebook users check their page on average 100 times a day. While one might argue over the accuracy of individual stats (and Facebook certainly jumped through a lot of hoops to define “user” in a way that would deliver that stat) there is overwhelming evidence of the power of the value of social media in attracting, growing, engaging and satisfying potential audiences.
As well as Shadows Dean has recently worked on Jess Feast’s Gardening with Soul – possibly the least obvious candidate for a social media campaign given the older demographic it played most successfully for. She worked on the equity crowdfunding campaign for Lee Tamahori’s Mahana (fka The Patriot) and is presently working with Taika Waititi again on Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
Waititi is notorious for taking his time in post, so why is Dean on board now with no release set, let alone in sight? Because marketing is not publicity.
“Marketing is no longer about the product,” Dean said. “It has to be about the audience. We’re all up against the casual smart phone flick, so all content is equal. I have an incredible amount of respect for anyone who can create long form content in this environment.”
Dean defined marketing as “a decision-making process about how to make your audience behave in the way you want them to”.
Understanding what success would look like was an important part of the process, Dean suggested, adding that it probably contained a number – of people engaged, tickets sold, DVDs bought, SVOD hires, whatever. Achieving that success was a lot easier with an understanding of who the audience would be and what their needs were.
The big picture
On the bright side, for those worrying that the process might be wholly about algorithms and other numbers, Dean emphasised, “It’s all still about storytelling.”
Like all good stories, a marketing plan needs a begninning, and Dean was clear that the beginning of the plan should happen at the beginning of the project.
So much promotional material used by successful campaigns is around but not from a production, like clips or trailers. It makes sense to capture that material when the production has all those assets on hand, during production, and it needs a plan to know what to capture.
Returning to the importance of understanding a project’s audience, Dean observed that “I want all New Zealanders to see this” and “It will find its audience” are not acceptable or viable approaches to content – unless you’re self-funding. Or, perhaps, delusional.
Dean recommended the Creative NZ report Culture Segments. Although it’s a little dated now, it classifies by motivation and offers something more than demographic breakdown.
Just as all the members of any demographic group are not really the same, the channels through which to reach those people offer different opportunities.
Dean noted the importance of not releasing the same material to each channel but acknowledging that the user demographics varied from Twitter to Facebook to Instagram to YouTube … to Tinder. What worked for one wouldn’t necessarily work as well in another context. It wasn’t necessary to use all the available channels properly – and nobody with NZ budgets would be able to afford to – but a good understanding of who users which channels can help determine where effort and content should be directed.
With the arrival of VOD, SVOD, audiences have moved from “buy now” to “buy whenever”, Dean suggested. “Motivation and push points need to be different, well thought out and well implemented. It’s all about user experience – and it’s all transactional.”
Room for improvement
“Stills are not up to scratch,” Dean noted, returning to the point about using people who know what they’re doing, not interns, for important jobs.
One thing the music industry did very well in Dean’s opinion was “bringing people behind the scenes and taking them on the journey”.
Film hasn’t been so good at it, she reckoned.
“Multi-platform is no long optional,” Dean said. “You can’t underestimate the value of behind the scenes material – proper behind the scenes material.”
Dean also touched on the issue of other people’s work, preferring the rising tide (raises all boats) approach to the competitive approach. “Don’t be gatekeepers,” she recommended. “Share other people’s content.”
What we do well
On the subject of different channels for different purposes, Dean noted that she used Instagram like a workbook and praised Toa Fraser’s account.
She also noted the work Ant Timpson had been doing recently, particularly with Turbo Kid and Deathgasm, including the latter’s deal with PikPok’s Into the Dead game. “We need to get broader in our thinking to attract audiences and get money back to filmmakers.”
However, Dean noted, “There are no magic formulas.”
Although that’s true, successful marketing comes from skills, techniques, knowledge, experience, metrics, insight, understanding and many other things that directors or producers don’t have the time or inclination to learn and do. Like finding locations, designing costumes or painting a set, “It should be done by people who understand it.”