How Twitter helped “The Grey” become a box-office champ on opening weekend

The Grey gets Twitter.

The new Open Road Films thriller starring Liam Neeson features on its website a brief trailer that caught my eye because of the way the movie title, cast, and production team are listed. All names of the principal cast – including Neeson’s – are listed via their Twitter handles and hashtags exclusively. You don’t even see the movie’s name listed in a conventional way (it’s listed as #THEGREY). And the movie incorporates critics’ tweets in its reviews, which is a marketing first, according to Variety.

Granted, movies incorporate social media into their marketing mix routinely. But I am intrigued by the trailer’s exclusive reliance on Twitter hashtags and handles to list crucial information, especially Liam Neeson’s name. Neeson has the most brand recognition of anyone in the cast and is a clear box office draw for the macho adventure tale set in the Alaskan wilderness. The idea of tinkering with the way his name appears (even adding a hashtag) must have raised a few eyebrows.

The trailer refers to @TheGreyMovie Twitter handle in quoting critics’ tweets (but I think the handle should have been called out more clearly as its hashtag was). The Grey website contains the handle and all the other ways you can learn more about the movie via social media, including a Google+ brand page. @TheGreyMovie has accumulated nearly 14,000 Twitter followers since launching with its first tweet on September 23, and it looks like filmgoers and promoters are making good use of the hashtag to discuss the movie.

The movie has also garnered 145,000 Facebook Likes (as of January 29). By contrast, Man on a Ledge, which opened at the same time, has 77,000 Facebook Likes and no official Twitter presence (you need to follow its producer @SummitEnt to follow the movie on Twitter, which accumulates followers for Summit Entertainment – nearly 80,000 and counting – but makes the movie itself less visible).

Marketing tactics for The Grey also include screening the movie for bloggers in December, PR on the Weather Channel (owing to the movie’s setting in the rugged outdoors), and, reportedly, outreach to Christian groups because of the movie’s spiritual references.

Filmgoers are responding: The Grey has topped the weekend box-office charts. The movie’s $20 million take has surpassed the $12 million box office that Variety predicted. More movies will undoubtedly follow the example set by Open Road Films with its aggressive use of Twitter.

Let us now praise the Google Doodle

I awoke this morning to discover a fresh coat of snow on my driveway and on Google’s home page. Through a Google Doodle, today Google celebrates the 125th anniversary of the largest recorded snowflake – which was said to be 15 inches in diameter when it landed  in Montana in 1887. Not only are Google Doodles fun, they also inject playfulness and creativity into the Google brand. Note that Google does so by showing you through an engaging experience, unlike Microsoft, which typically tries to tell you (and not very convincingly) how creative and fun its own brand can be. For another example of showing, not telling, check out this video of how Google has celebrated the winter season:

The Google Doodle makes a statement about the global nature of the Google brand, too, having commemorated Federico Fellini’s 92nd birthday in Italy and elections in Taiwan.

Explore more Google Doodles here to see how Google has evolved beyond its reputation as a purely functional search utility.

You’re a fine DJ, Mr. President

I’ve often said that brands are the new DJs because of the exposure they can give to musicians through the commercial use of their songs. And it turns out that the president of the United States can be one, too. Sales of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” have increased 490 percent since Barack Obama slipped a few verses of the classic 1972 love song in a fundraiser speech last week.According to Billboard, “Let’s Stay Together” has enjoyed the best sales week for a song since SoundScan began tracking downloads in 2003. On the other hand, Billboard reports that singer Kelly Clarkson has seen a 40-percent drop in sales for her album Stronger since she unofficially endorsed presidential candidate Ron Paul. Here’s why Al Green saw a sales bump:

  • Obama endorsed “Let’s Stay Together” onstage in a public venue (whereas Ron Paul did not endorse Stronger).
  • Obama actually did a passable job as a crooner, due to his charisma and a voice that did the song credit. A lame rendition could have had the opposite effect. Bill Clinton might have pulled it off in his day, too; George Bush, definitely not (although Bush might have been an intriguing choice for George Jones material).
  • The song was captured on YouTube. Multiple uploads of the video footage have been viewed millions of times, and it’s only a matter of time before more DIY remixes circulate, like this one:

Without YouTube’s influence, the impromptu Obama concert would have been, at best, a one-day phenomenon reported on the nightly news. It also helps that we now live in an always-on world, where conceivably consumers have been viewing the footage 24/7 since last week. (I’m writing this post at 3:00 a.m. on a Saturday as a toggle between YouTube and sites like Global 14.)

The story brings to mind other instances of public figures acting as pitchmen, sometimes by their own natural habits, and other times in a more formal way. For instance, one-time legislator and presidential candidate Bob Dole became a pitchman for Viagra and even appeared in a Pepsi commercial with Britney Spears:

A few years ago, Obama himself famously voiced his support for his BlackBerry device, which prompted The New York Times to speculate that if Obama were to charge for his endorsements, he could probably earn $25 million. (Certainly BlackBerry’s manufacturer Research in Motion sorely needs his support now.) It is commonly believed that John F. Kennedy hurt the sale of men’s  hats by his own personal preference for going hatless — an assumption that has challenged, by the way.

For more insight into public figures and product endorsements, check out this Cracked article that covers some decidedly offbeat moments in the history of famous public figures endorsing products. And hum along with President Obama while you read it.

A slice of hip-hop: “Lounge Music” by Ha-Rih

Just when you think you’ve heard enough chill-out from Hed Kandi to last a lifetime, along comes a song like “Lounge Music” to make you feel like you’re discovering the genre all over again. With “Lounge Music,” Ha-Rih blends chill-out with hip-hip to create a pretty damned sexy and coy tribute to the joys of lounging, Ha-Rih style.

What makes the song for me is piano that really works as baseline anchoring the melody while Ha-Rih raps, “Listen up I’m your host just vibe/We on the road roll slow just ride out/blow smoke watch it go to the sky,” complemented by a gentle percussion. Here’s how Ha-Rih describes the song to me:

“Lounge Music” is a laid back type of song that was inspired and composed off of the daily, weekly and occasional routines of my crew, or group of friends as well as myself. The song basically describes things we like to do in our spare time as well as certain rules or mottos we may follow as a group.

The “Lounge Music” video was actually shot in my hometown Richmond, Virginia, inside an upscale hotel. The view from the suite’s window was very fitting for the song as well as the room’s decor and hotel’s amenities.

Ha-Rih also credits the work of friend and producer Smooth for the creation of the track.

The song is one of the highlights of Ha-Rih’s mixtape, Digital Vinyl, which is available for a free download here. The entire mixtape alternates between laid-back vibe of “Lounge Music” with the brash swagger of “Digital Vinyl (Intro)” and “Nostalgia.” Here’s another taste of Digital Vinyl via a new video Ha-Rih just released, “By the End of the Night”:

Ha-Rih raps about turning her on at the end of the night, but the song turned me on at 6:00 a.m. when I heard it.

Ha-Rih, a rapper, producer, and business executive from Richmond, considers music his calling. He has been involved in music production since he was 14, composing tracks in high school. He continued developing his career while attending Full Sail University, where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in entertainment business and developed relationships with artists, producers, fashion designers, and engineers.

He released Digital Vinyl (his first mixtape) in 2011 and will soon release a new mixtape, The Syndication.

I first heard about Ha-Rih and “Lounge Music” on Global 14, which is a social site run by Jermaine Dupri and source of vibrant communities who share lifestyle interests ranging from hip hop to relationships. Check out Ha-Rih on Global 14, follow him on Twitter @Ha_Rih, and Like his page on Facebook here.

A slice of hip-hop: “Put My Mack Down” by Aye-P

Aye-P performs some sweet alchemy with “Put My Mack Down.” He takes a familiar scenario – a guy coming on to a woman in a club – and creates a funky rap built on top of his own beats and samples of Isaac Hayes’s version of “Look of Love” and Lil Wayne’s “Fireman” (a line from the latter being the inspiration for the title).

This song moves. After the soulful Hayes intro, Aye-P and fellow rapper Rell trade verses about a guy making the move on a woman with “Bright red skin/Light Brown eyes/Slim in the waist/Thick in the thighs.”

What makes the song for me is the interplay between the bass and tenor rap of Aye-P and Rell combined with the steady mix groove. The pace of their rap picks up gradually as they repeat their pick-up line, creating a sense of urgency before the song drops you with a brief burst of whammy guitar.

Aye-P, a music student in Jacksonville, Florida, says he first got serious about hip-hop in 2007. He cites Pimp C and Scarface as his musical influences. He created “Put My Mack Down” in a garage.

“I felt like writing a club song about how dudes might approach girls in a club,” he told me. “I made the beat first by sampling Isaac Hayes and then built on top of it.”

He said he started writing the song about a year ago. “I’m a perfectionist,” he said. “If it doesn’t sound exactly like I want it to sound, I won’t put it out.”

I think the song was worth the wait.

I first heard about Aye-P and “Put My Mack Down” on Global 14, which is a social site run by Jermaine Dupri and source of vibrant communities who share lifestyle interests ranging from hip hop to relationships. Check out Aye-P on Global 14 and follow him on Twitter @dopetracks904.

4 technologies every CMO must know

In 2011, IBM released a report that identified the four biggest challenges keeping CMOs awake at night: the explosion of data, social media, the proliferation of channels and devices, and shifting consumer demographics. Those challenges also represent growth opportunities with emerging technology as the catalyst. To help marketers anticipate and respond to a constantly changing marketplace, I have collaborated with four of my colleagues at iCrossing on a white paper, Four Technologies Every CMO Must Know in 2012.

Four Technologies Every CMO Must Know in 2012 uses (I hope) approachable, down-to-earth language to explain geeky sounding terms like HTML5 and Hadoop – and discusses their business impact on marketers. For instance, a section on the data management platform (DMP) focuses on how a DMP helps marketers segment audiences and customize content more effectively.

The paper is the result of the efforts of Doug Bryan, Mac Ling, Malcolm Leach, Matt Pouttu-Clarke, and myself. We combined subject matter expertise ranging from analytics to mobile. As we say in the white paper, it’s important that marketers get into the habit of becoming more comfortable with technology, and it’s also pretty easy to do so thanks to the proliferation of free content from the likes of Forrester Research, Gartner, and Mashable.

What technologies are you tracking?

Slash defines a new kind of cool

A few nights ago, I was hanging out with my 10-year-old daughter Marion and her fifth-grader friend Emma as they took turns showing each other their favorite YouTube videos on a laptop. They surfed from one video to the next as children do, giggling their way through goofy stuff like “Banana Song (I’m a Banana),” a surreal depiction of a guy singing a banana suit, which has garnered 23 million views. All of a sudden, the banana song stopped, and I heard a grinding rock and roll guitar riff.

“Slash!” my daughter and Emma shouted.


I took a close look at the video screen. Yup — that Slash, or at least an animated version of him, was blasting his way through the song “Kick It Up a Notch” onstage with the animated Disney characters Phineas and Ferb. Meantime, Marion and Emma played air guitar and gushed about his famous opening riff on “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” a song they’d discovered after the fun-loving Phineas and Ferb introduced them to the guitar god in the top hat.

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Google disrupts with Google Search Plus

Google’s launch of the awkwardly named “Search, plus Your World” has the web buzzing with commentary. Blogger John Jantsch believes Google is “shaking things up a bit” by making search a more personal experience. Twitter says Google Search Plus (as “Search, plus Your World” is quickly becoming known) is “bad for people” — an uptight reaction that actually legitimizes what Google is doing. And in a newly published blog post, my iCrossing colleague Nick Roshon offers tips for how brands can benefit from Google Search Plus. In his post, Nick asserts that Google Search Plus is a major overhaul that makes search more personal and social.

“For brands, it is now more critical than ever to pay attention to the intersection of search and social and cultivate an active social following, particularly on Google+,” he writes. “Your social prominence can make or break your visibility in the new Google Search Plus results.”

So what’s a marketer to do about Google Search Plus? Nick articulates seven steps you should take now, ranging from getting active on Google+ to cultivating share-worthy content.

For example, he writes, “Being active on Google+ will provide increased visibility for your brand, both on Google+ as well as the content on your website that you share on your Google+ page.”

We should not be surprised that Google continues to find ways to synthesize search and social — with Google at the center of the experience. Thought leaders such as David Armano and my colleague Alisa Leonard have contended that Google is creating a social data layer across paid, earned, and owned media, giving brands new ways to connect with consumers via rich content on platforms ranging from YouTube to Google+.

Are you on Google+? Is your brand? If not, why not? If so, how has your experience been so far?

Co-creation is the future of marketing

I recently wrote a blog post for the iCrossing Content Lab regarding the Raytheon Sum of All Thrills ride — an intriguing experience in which you build your own virtual ride using computer design tools provided by Raytheon. I was excited to see Doug Williams of Forrester Research comment on my post through one of this own, “Co-creating Value at Disney World.” Doug goes beyond what I wrote to describe some other ways Disney World guests can create their own entertainment content. I hope you take a moment to read his post as well as this one by Joe Chernov on content co-creation.

Co-creation is the future of marketing. As my colleagues at iCrossing discussed in a white paper last year, both brands and consumers are acting like their own media now, with access to the same tools to publish their own ideas year-round. So it’s only natural that those two worlds would converge. Content co-creation occurs in a few important ways:

Have you heard? “Get Away” by Latasha Lee

LATASHA LEE music video 2011 “Get Away” from LaTasha Lee on Vimeo.

Latasha Lee needs to get away from you — and it’s definitely your loss. In her song “Get Away,” the R&B artist from vamps for the camera with a gorgeous kiss-off that plays like an homage to Motown.

After a brief black-and-white close-up of her approaching an old-school condenser-style microphone, the video for “Get Away” cuts to a bold straight-away shot of her caressing the mike, singing goodbye to someone who evidently carries a lot of bad baggage. Her hair evokes Ronnie Spector, but her voice is all Latasha.

If “Get Away” makes you think of the Supremes, that’s probably the intent — according to her biography, she entertained her family with a rendition of “Stop in the Name of Love” at the tender age of 3.

I first heard about Latasha Lee on Global 14, which is a social site run by Jermaine Dupri and source of vibrant communities who share lifestyle interests ranging from hip hop to relationships. Check out Latasha on Global 14 and follow her Twitter @Latashaleesing.