An art teacher once told me that a beat-up pair of tennis shoes is a lot more interesting to draw than a brand-new pair. I thought of my art teacher’s advice as I re-watched The French Connection during Oscars weekend.
The movie is justly famous for its gritty adaptation of Robin Moore’s book about two New York detectives who attempt to stop a French-based crime ring from distributing a large heroin shipment to the United States. The movie turned Gene Hackman into an international star and featured one of the most memorable car chases in film history. But 45 years later, I am equally impressed at how director William Friedkin and cinematographer Owen Roizman captured the grime and decay of 1970s New York. In the city’s fractured streets, they found a brutality that made New York fertile ground for drug abuse.
The French Connection endures as a testament to the appeal of ugliness, which we see through the perspective of its main character and the urban locations Friedkin chose as a backdrop for the drama.
A Fascinating Protagonist
The main character, Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle, is based on the real-life detective Eddie Egan, who, along with his partner Sonny Grosso, was the focus of Robin Moore’s book. Doyle and his partner, Buddy “Cloudy” Russo (portrayed by Roy Scheider), combine hunches and dogged investigation to try and stop French criminal Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey) from importing a massive shipment of heroin into the United States.
Gene Hackman plays Popeye Doyle as an unlikeable person. He is a racist. He drinks excessively. He treats women like sexual conquests. He is also so reckless in his pursuit of Charnier that he is willing to jeopardize the lives of his fellow police officers and any innocent bystander who happens to be in the vicinity when it’s time to draw his pistol and chase the bad guy. At the same time, his dogged pursuit of Read more »
With the 2016 Academy Awards fast approaching, Google has created a terrific piece of event-based content by ranking the popularity of the trailers for the Oscar Best Picture nominees. Google ranks The Revenant Number One based YouTube trailer views, which is ironic given that a trailer promoting a film made for the big screen was likely watched on tiny mobile phone screens. The Google analysis also underscores the important role that trailers play in the digital era as both a promotion and a form of viral entertainment, and even user generated content.
In the days of movie-going yore (aka before the Internet), studios usually dropped movie trailers in dark theaters as commercials bunched together before the marquee attraction. Studios hoped that trailers would create natural word of mouth to complement PR and advertising campaigns.
Watching trailers in dark movie theaters remains an inevitable part of today’s movie going experience. But the trailers have become high-concept productions distributed like morsels of viral content across the digital world, becoming so important that trailer launches get covered just like movie releases do. The popularity of the trailers for another Oscar-nominated movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, demonstrates the new reality of how we experience trailers.
The release of the trailers to promote The Force Awakens not only built anticipation for the latest movie in the vaunted series, they also became causes for celebration in and of themselves. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures enjoyed a special advantage with The Force Awakens trailers: each one tapped into a built-in fan base. The Star Wars films have been around since 1977. They have become a permanent cultural fixture like the Beatles have. So each trailer for The Force Awakens was guaranteed to generate interest among fans already eagerly awaiting the December 2015 release of the movie. (By contrast, The Revenant trailer was introducing an unknown movie when the trailer appeared on YouTube in July 2015.)
But Disney certainly didn’t take the popularity of Star Wars for granted. All the trailers were well-edited visual and sonic journeys. Taken together, the three trailers acted as a trilogy of sorts, revealing different details about the plot of The Force Awakens, giving you glimpses of new characters, and reminding us of the glorious return of Han Solo and Chewbacca. They were released months apart, with the first trailer landing in November 2014, the second in April 2015, and the third — in a brilliant masterstroke — on October 2015 during an ESPN Monday Night Football game, thus ensuring strong cross-platform viewing.
And, wow, did audiences respond. The second trailer set a Guinness World Record for the most viewed movie trailer on YouTube within 24 hours, with 30.65 million views amassed in one day.
But of course we don’t just watch trailers. We like them, share them, talk about them, and play with them, as The Force Awakens trailers demonstrate. All three have earned nearly 1 million shares and 1.26 million likes. The trailers have inspired user-generated versions that became viral themselves, including recreations by a U.S. Navy crew, a Lego version, and a mash-up with the 1987 Mel Brooks comedy Spaceballs.
Movie trailers work because they not only build buzz but also contribute to the bottom line. According to a Google study, nearly seven out of 10 consumers aged 13-24 view YouTube trailers before deciding which film to watch at a movie theater. YouTube also reported that from 2014-15, there had been an 88-percent year-over-year increase in movie trailer views on YouTube via mobile devices, which is significant because 56 percent of searches for movie tickets come from mobile devices.
Trailers generate advance ticket sales, especially when they are linked to mobile ecommerce apps such as Fandango to create a seamless buying experience after you view the trailer. It’s not surprising that advance sales for The Force Awakens really did break the Internet months before the movie opened, as websites and mobile apps struggled to meet the demand for tickets. Trailers optimized for mobile devices are the perfect type of content that appeals to consumers when we experience “micro-moments,” which Google defines as moments when we use our mobile devices to decide what to do, where to go, and what to buy.
Movie trailers will continue to entertain and inspire fan-generated content. In addition, we should expect movie trailers to integrate more effectively with the mobile experience. According to Google, mobile has overtaken the desktop as the primary way we conduct searches overall. To turn those mobile searches into revenue, businesses need to do more than offer useful information such as their names, addresses, and phone numbers (or, in the case of movie theaters, movie times). To succeed in the mobile era, businesses need to convince searchers to become customers by sharing compelling content and an easy purchasing experience. Movie trailers linked to purchasing apps such as Fandango do so now. Movie trailers with the purchase functionality embedded in them will become more common.
What are your favorite examples of movie trailers that have become celebrated for their entertainment and marketing value?
Advertising can sneak up on you in the most unexpected ways.
Recently I visited the Minneapolis Institute of Art for the simple pleasure of discovering art. For hours, my family and I got lost in an exploration of well curated paintings, sculptures, and immersive rooms, such as a recreation of a reading room from Jane Austen’s time. On the third floor, tucked away in a corner near a Georgia O’Keeffe painting and a Frederic Remington sculpture, I noticed three oil paintings that captured a long-ago era of the western frontier: a bear pawing its way through an empty box discarded in the snow, a grizzled cowboy on horseback delivering mail to a makeshift mail box, and a bronco buster dressed in a bright red shirt, brown vest, and chaps trying to master a wild horse while spectators in cowboy hats cheer him on:
A “Bear” Chance, by Philip R. Goodwin
Rural Delivery, by N.C. Wyeth
Bronco Buster, by N.C. Wyeth
Like good art so often does, these paintings engaged me by telling stories. They also advertised the Cream of Wheat brand. As it turns out, from 1902 to 1926, Cream of Wheat commissioned artists to create more than 400 original works of art for an advertising campaign centered on the theme, “Cream of Wheat: As American as Apple Pie.” The paintings, depicting scenes of Americana, appeared as full-page ads in magazines such as Ladies Home Journal and Saturday Evening Post. Today, these paintings endure as works of art and advertising. Why are they effective advertising in addition to art?
The Paintings Are Engaging
Cream of Wheat commissioned highly regarded artists to create these images of frontier life. N.C. Wyeth, a renowned interpreter of the American West, painted Rural Delivery and Bronco Buster. Philip R. Goodwin, who painted A “Bear” Chance, had a reputation for painting wildlife scenes and illustrated Jack London’s Call of the Wild in 1903. The artists delivered memorable scenes that convey the loneliness of the prairie, a wild animal encountering the existence of humanity (through a discarded box), and a broncobuster fairly exploding off the canvas. These are works of art that stand alongside Remington and O’Keeffe.
The Branding Is Natural
The painters integrated the Cream of Wheat name organically into the art — a natural form of product placement. A bear paws through an empty Cream of Wheat box. The makeshift mailbox in Rural Delivery is fashioned out of a Cream of Wheat box, and the broncobuster bucks and twists in front of a grandstand wall covered with a Cream of Wheat ad, a natural element in any American sporting venue. These are not random product placements. The product is part of the story. Similarly, over the years, Absolut Vodka has emulated Cream of Wheat’s approach by commissioning artist Romero Britto to reinterpret the iconic Absolut Vodka bottle in his own colorful way:
And Prada teamed with director Wes Anderson to present the short film Castello Cavalcanti. The 7-minute movie stars Jason Schwartzman as the racecar driver who discovers the joys of slowing down after being stranded in a small Italian town.
The Prada branding in Castello Cavalcanti occurs as a subtle product placement. When the storyline takes hold, you have to look closely to catch the Prada name appear on the back of the uniform worn by the driver.
Prada and Absolut Vodka are just two examples of many brands that have collaborated with artists either to create advertising outright or to do more subtle forms of content co-creation. The more successful partnerships focus on creating great content, period. When people are immersed in engaging content, they don’t care whether they’re watching an advertisement. An ad only becomes annoying when it feels irrelevant.
The Art of the Brand
It seems fitting that you can find the Cream of Wheat paintings not only in a museum but also on the Cream of Wheat website, which contains a representative sample of artwork from the campaign (along with little tidbits of trivia, such as the fact that Cream of Wheat’s advertising budget in 1902 was $10,000). Today Cream of Wheat tells its story through the benefits of healthy living. The Cream of Wheat blog urges site visitors to integrate Cream of Wheat into a healthy diet for kids and describes the advantages of adults pumping up their daily iron intake with Cream of Wheat. All of the blog tips are well and good. I expect that kind of information from Cream of Wheat. I did not expect Cream of Wheat to enrich my understanding of art.
What are your favorite examples of advertising as art?
The release of Kanye West’s new album, The Life of Pablo, is a testament to the enduring relevance of record albums even as people buy fewer of them year after year. Albums no longer possess any of the commercial power they once had. But they can create tent pole moments that generate awareness for an artist and support other commercial endeavors.
The Kanye formula for an album release combines Kanye’s penchant for creating controversy and cultural relevance with some confusion tossed in for good measure. It looks something like this:
Months before the release date, stoke interest by leaving hints on social media that you’re going to drop some new music, even giving your new album a name, So Help Me God. Keep leaving hints on Twitter but don’t release any music, thus inspiring news articles such as “So Help Us God: Where’s Kanye West’s New Album?“
Collaborate with a music giant and a hot star on a single to remind everyone that you exist, as he did when he created “FourFiveSeconds” with Paul McCartney and Rihanna
In case no one noticed your single, draw attention to yourself by annoying Western Civilization with an ungracious remark about a popular Grammy Award winner. Break the Internet in the process.
Continue to remind the world of your relevance by appearing at a major music festival, as he did by performing at the Glastonbury Festival. Surely Kanye was pleased that 135,000 people signed a petition against his appearance. You must be doing something right to generate that kind of reaction when you haven’t released new music in a few years.
Keep your name and pending album in play by distracting, breaking, and confusing the Internet with the launch of a presidential bid.
I’ll bet you’ve never heard of S7 Airlines. But you’ll be hearing more about the Russia-based airline now that OK Go released a new video, “Upside Down & Inside Out.”
“Upside Down & Inside Out” is the latest crazy video from OK Go, a band that long ago set the standard for sharing music through viral videos. During “Upside Down & Inside Out,” OK Go band members float, careen, and summersault in a zero-gravity airplane, creating a madcap moment that is typical of OK Go’s work. Oh, and the video is also a product placement for Russian-based S7 Airlines, which made available the plane and receives prominent acknowledgment at the end of the video.
As OK Go demonstrates, content-based co-branding is not just for A-list musicians and brands. OK Go has famously collaborated with State Farm in the creation of music videos, as has Deerhunter and Intel. With “Upside Down & Inside Out,” OK Go and a lesser-known brand (to American audiences) are demonstrating how to do content co-creation the right way:
The video is fun, and the song is catchy.
The branding feels organic: although S7 Airlines receives a thank-you at the end of the video, the real branding occurs throughout the video itself, in which the content (the song and the video of OK Go having a rip-roaring good time) positions S7 as a playful, forward-thinking brand. After all, it’s an S7 Airlines zero-gravity plane that acts as the content-sharing platform.
OK Go earns your attention. Unlike Apple and U2, which tried to force their ways on to our radar screens with the Songs of Innocence download fiasco, OK Go uses social media (debuting the video on Facebook) and earned media to spread the word (Gizmodo, Rolling Stone, and ABC News are among the news media jumping all over the story.)
Everyone wins. Fans win because we get great content. OK Go wins by promoting new music. And S7 Airlines has just expanded its reach to a global audience.
The viral effect of digital has made it possible for artists to experience meteoric rises, falls, and rebounds within a matter of a few short years. If you didn’t know any better, you would think that Lady Gaga demonstrates this reality. She exploded in popularity in 2009, but by early 2013, the critics were asking, “What Happened to Lady Gaga?” because her album ARTPOP didn’t match her previous efforts in terms of sales and critical reception.
Then, just as suddenly as they were vilifying her, the critics began singing a different tune throughout 2015. After a stunning performance at the 2015 Academy Awards, and after winning a Grammy for Cheek to Cheek, her collaboration with Tony Bennett, the critics spoke of a “Lady Gaga comeback.”
But Lady Gaga never went away. From 2013-15 — supposedly years of living in the wilderness — she was ranked consistently among Forbes‘s highest-earning musicians. For the past three years, she has earned $172 million according to Forbes, with most of her money coming from touring as well as commercial ventures such as her Fame fragrance. That’s what happened to Lady Gaga.
It isn’t just the money that matters.
She continues to set the standard for fan engagement. She is all over social media, celebrating her Little Monsters on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. But, being Lady Gaga, she takes engagement to another level: her LittleMonsters website now boasts 975,000 members worldwide and is the most vibrant of any celebrity-run communities.
She continues to expand her artistic reach. She has always understood the power of theater, as her over-the-top appearances at public awards ceremonies demonstrate. In 2015, she channeled her knack for drama into her appearance as the Countess on American Horror Story: Hotel, for which she won a Golden Globe. Her American Horror Story performance has been lauded as “her greatest invention yet” by Daniel D’Addario of Time. What’s next for Lady Gaga on the drama front?
Image credit: FX
She is culturally relevant like no other artist. She is, of course, noted for being a champion of LBGT rights and youth empowerment in ways that go beyond the scope of my blog post. She is, quite simply, a champion of human rights. She is involved in so many philanthropic efforts that it’s easy to overlook the many times she has risen to the occasion to help people, whether donating concert proceeds to victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake or donating $1 million to help victims of Hurricane Sandy. During the height of her fame and the depths of the critical backlash, her commitment to human rights has been unwavering.
And there’s more to come: she will perform a tribute to David Bowie at the Grammy Awards February 15, will perform at the Academy Awards February 28 (which will make her the first artist to perform at the Super Bowl, Grammy Awards, and Oscars in one year), and reportedly has a new album on the way.
In fact, Lady Gaga is the first artist to win the Super Bowl, making the actual game between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers look small.
When Forbes publishes its annual list of highest-earning musicians in December, Adele’s name will surely be on it. Her astronomical album sales, even surpassing the standards of the pre-digital era, will be a large part of the story. Within its first seven weeks of release, 25 had sold 15 million copies worldwide, including about 8 million in the United States. 25 set a new record for most album sales in one week, an incredible feat given that 25 was released in the digital age. She also made headlines for refusing to stream 25, joining Taylor Swift and other artists who have protested that streaming services fail to compensate artists fairly and cannibalize music sales. Adele’s success has also raised the possibility that record albums, after experiencing years of declining sales, might come back in 2016, with the rising tide of 25 lifting all boats. Will the music industry enjoy an “Adele effect,” or is Adele’s success an anomaly?
Are Record Albums Coming Back?
Without question, 25 refocused attention on the album,. As journalist Chris Willman wrote in Billboard, “[W]hat Adele has really revived, more than any style, is the primacy of the album as an emotional experience that a single digital track is not equipped to provide . . . Voices matter. Albums, against all odds, matter. Honestly jerked tears still matter. And when you can give a parched populace all these things, we’ve now learned, they will follow you to the ends of the earth . . . which we now know to be the downsized CD section at Target.”
In other words, great music delivered in album-length form matters. And Willman has a point. Adele is not the only one making critically acclaimed received record albums that also sell. For example:
Ed Sheeran’s X, released in 2014, has sold 10 million copies globally.
Taylor Swift’s 1989 has sold 8.6 million globally.
Justin Bieber’s Purpose, considered a comeback critically and commercially for Bieber, has sold 1.2 million copies.
Drake’s If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late, released in February 2015, has sold 1.1 million units (even though Drake claimed it wasn’t an album proper).
Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, while not achieving the coveted 1-million-selling platinum status, went gold and then some, selling close to 800,000 units.
There are more big albums to come: Drake (again), Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, Frank Ocean, Katy Perry, and Kanye West are among the megastars dropping albums in 2016. All of them are capable of moving big numbers, too. Meantime, Rihanna’s Anti, released on January 28, went platinum in 15 hours — thanks to Samsung, which bought 1 million copies and gave them away as part of a promotion.
For years I used to wake up in the dead of night the day after Thanksgiving and interview Black Friday shoppers while they stood in line, enduring cold weather as they waited for stores to reward their patience with door buster sales. Eventually I stopped doing so, mostly because Black Friday has been gradually losing its significance. Oh, Black Friday still matters very much. But the holiday shopping season continues to expand its reach well beyond Black Friday and its love child, Cyber Monday. My new post for SIM Partners, “The 2016 Holiday Shopping Season Starts Now,” reflects this reality. In my post, I discuss how offline retailers especially are facing a stronger threat from online retailers, as businesses such as Amazon develop more on-demand delivery capabilities. My post urges retailers to adopt a one-two approach:
Be present when people use their mobile devices to search for things to do, places to go, and things to buy during the holiday shopping season. Mobile fuels holiday shopping behaviors.
Offer something that online retailers cannot. You cannot visit Santa on Amazon.com.
Between now and the holiday shopping season, retailers should hone their mobile chops and strengthen their offline experiences. One way is to practice through special events, both the ones you create and natural ones caused by milestones such as non-winter holidays. The holiday shopping season starts now.
Rihanna’s Anti went platinum in 15 hours. But before you think, “albums are back!” bear in mind a big caveat: Samsung bought one million copies of the album and gave them away. For Rihanna and Samsung, Anti going platinum is not about record sales — it’s about creating a moment that earns attention for two giant brands at a time when attention is currency, as Brian Solis has noted. There are many more moments to come, as prepares to launch her Anti World Tour, where the real money will be made.
What $25 Million Will Buy a Brand
A platinum album is certified by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) as selling at least one million copies — a difficult feat to achieve in the digital age. Only three albums released in 2015 went platinum: Adele’s 25; Drake’s If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late; and Justin Bieber’s Purpose. Adele, Drake, and Justin Bieber all earned their sales the traditional way: by releasing and promoting music for consumers to buy, stream, and download (with the exception of 25).
Samsung, in turn, gave away 1 million free download codes to its customers. Each of those downloads came with a 60-day free trial to Tidal, the high-end streaming service that counts Rihanna as one of its owners. The entire album was available on Tidal before any other streaming service could have access to it.
Twitter should ask Kanye West to be its CEO — or at least a member of its board.
In 72 hours, Kanye has done more to make Twitter relevant and compelling than anything its beleaguered executive team has done during the past year.
First came the #SWISH moment on January 24, when he tweeted a hand-scrawled image of the track list for his forthcoming album, Swish, with the words “So happy to be finished with the best album of all time.”