WHY DOES CREATIVITY ALWAYS SEEM TO SUFFER?

Lately it seems that in the end creativity seems to always get the short end of the stick.

Disney and Pixar had a much publicized falling out a few months ago (which at least according to the spin of the media was largely Disney driven). Clearly this seems odd on the heels of “Finding Nemo” being the biggest single moneymaker at both the box office and on DVD for the studio.

This week, Reuters reported that Disney and Miramax are currently “negotiating” their relationship (Miramax Chiefs, Disney Debate Control, Money ). This would seem to defy conventional logic. Miramax is a consistent hit generator (and gets regular critical acclaim for their pictures — not a common combination in Hollywood). With Disney in a position to re-up the deal for another 4 years, why do they feel that they are also in the position to renegotiate the deal? Wouldn’t their continued success suggest that Miramax holds pretty much all the cards? Remember “Chicago” at the box office? How about at the Oscars?

But this isn’t meant to be a criticism of Disney…

Also this week, Variety ran a story about the $7 billion videogame industry and the “growing pains” that the bigger companies (EA, VU, THQ) are facing due to escalating production costs (what 3 years ago was ~$1,000,000 can now run as high as $15,000,000) and demands on Wall Street. The result is that the companies are trying to control the creative development shops by buying them up and by producing primarily franchise and sequel based product to “guarantee” audiences.

It’s important to understand that Hollywood and the videogame industry have fairly different businesses despite their surface similarities:

Hollywood has things like second-run, ancillary sales, etc, the videogame industry doesn’t. Talent (most notably actors) is willing/forced to promote the hell out of Hollywood projects because of their contracts and careers.

The videogame industry is still viewed by consumers more as a consumer product company than as a part of the entertainment business, despite increasing demands for entertainment in the actual product.

Of course the insanely high marketing costs are also a factor in all of this too. So what should Hollywood and the videogame industry do? For starters:

Hollywood

In terms of production, who’s to say that a dysfunctional system that makes ~$6 billion annually should change? Well, for starters, I am. It’s bad enough that the industry feeds on itself and turns out so much uninteresting and unwatchable television and movies these days instead of harboring and nurturing writing and directing talent. It seems that the current trend is worse though… where’s the justification in turning on your crown jewel(s)? It seems that some folks in ivory towers need to be reminded that very little good can come from biting the hand that feeds you.

In terms of marketing, stop paying people to come up with silly schemes like plastering movie logos on everything in site that isn’t even loosely related to the movie. Instead, see yesterday’s article The Changing Landscape of Advertising… and Pizza .

The videogame industry

Regarding production, considering how little cache “a list” actors bring to titles historically and above, spend those dollars on good concepts and stories. Harken back to the excitement of the early days of videogames. Who can forget the simple but powerful emotions brought on by the some of the arcade classics like “Space Invaders” and “Donkey Kong.” Or the original “Zork” text adventures… Don’t forget the “Ultima” trilogy. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m not looking forward to the next “Grand Theft” title, but that’s, sadly, become the exception to the rule.

Regarding marketing, spend more time working the core audiences and less time trying to mass market. For one thing, it’s likely to be as, if not more, effective… for another, it’s a fraction of the cost. There are companies that specialize in things like alternative, street and guerilla marketing. For starters, take $100,000 of that multi-million dollar budget and experiment a little to see what works. There’s only upside, because the money’s already being spent.

THE CHANGING LANDSCAPE OF ADVERTISING… AND PIZZA

About six months ago we ordered a pizza for dinner. When it showed up, instead of the corny “You’ve tried all the rest, now try the best” slogan, it was a bright turquoise box with a huge Snapple advertisement across the front.

My first thought was that this was the brilliant idea of a creative advertising executive. Not only minimal spend for maximum exposure, but a pennies on the dollar spend. Simplified, figure that Snapple negotiated a deal with a pizza box manufacturer to pay for the production and discounted distribution of the boxes (providing incentive to both the manufacturer and the local pizzerias). If the campaign was for 100,000 boxes, it might have cost Snapple a total of $150,000 and represents an inconsequential percentage of Snapple’s annual advertising budget for exposure that probably lasted over a month.

There are of course there are limitations to this genius. While soft drinks certainly go hand-in-hand with pizza in terms of product placement, I seriously doubt if a Volkswagen or Jeep add on a pizza box would incline anyone to consider looking at a new car.

On another note, Columbia Pictures recently struck a deal with Major League Baseball to place “Spiderman 2” logos on the bases during pre-game play. Despite the public outcry that caused MLB to balk at a bigger ($3.6 million) nationwide marketing deal, what was the studio executive who made that decision thinking in the first place? If advertising is about gaining mindshare to drive sales, is there logic in thinking that placement of a movie logo on a base that most spectators can hardly see will drive ticket sales? And how could you even begin to measure the success of the campaign. One might argue that the negative reaction of fans got enough people talking to make it a viral smash hit. The question for the studio is was that the intention of the executive from the start, or was it a stroke of luck?

Hollywood studios often have marketing budgets for their tentpole pictures that approach the production costs. While an automobile advertisement on a pizza box is a ridiculous notion, the marketing of a movie could be a brilliant win-win-win for everyone (and at a whole lot less than $3.6 million).

Here’s how it works:

First, the studio starts strikes a distribution deal with a national chain like Domino’s to produce and distribute the desired number of branded boxes over the desired timeframe (of course the same thing could also be done nationwide or regionally with local pizzerias in the Snapple fashion). Next, they put a code onto the ad (this will be made clear in a minute). Last, they strike a deal with moviefone.com and/or movietickets.com to allow customers to purchase tickets for showings using the code from the ad before they go on sale to the public.

How it’s a win-win-win:

Hollywood Studio

Win #1: Using $1.50 as the per box price (which I’d be willing to guess is VERY conservative), a one million box campaign would carry a cost of $1,500,000, which is still less than half of the proposed MLB campaign above.

Win #2: Instead of select 3 hour windows, the campaign lasts about a month and has repeated placement for people who buy more than one pizza a month.

Win #3: In conjunction with moviefone.com and/or movietickets.com, depending on the nature of the code placed on the box, the success of the campaign can be measured. A single code would be a straight “click-through” measurement (100,000 pre-sold tickets = 10% conversion). Regional or individual box codes allow for potentially quite a bit more data about the individual ticket buyer.

Domino’s (or pizza box manufacturer and local pizzeria)

Win #1: Cash and/or lower cost of operations for duration of campaign.

Win #2: Depending on the nature of the code in the advertisment, the promotion could drive sales in pizza during the campaign.

Win #3: Product tie-in.

moviefone.com and/or movietickets.com

Win #1: Pre-sale of tickets at full price (with full markup).

Win #2: In conjunction with the Hollywood studio, depending on the nature of the code placed on the box, the success of the campaign can be measured. A single code would be a straight “click-through” measurement (100,000 pre-sold tickets = 10% conversion). Regional or individual box codes allow for potentially quite a bit more data about the individual ticket buyer.

We are no doubt continuing to approach a world in which all once free space is sadly occupied with advertisements. Some will be interesting and viable for business, others will be despicable, and sinkholes for both society and corporate bottom lines. For more reading, ABC News’ Buck Wolf posted an editorial this morning on the subject entitled All the World’s an Ad.

TAKE THIS JIHAD & SHOVE IT

*** WRITTEN APPROXIMATELY ONE MONTH AFTER 9/11***

KABUL/OTHER PARTS OF AFGANISTAN TOO – Hundreds of once Taliban supporting militia have defected to the now leading Northern Alliance, paving the way for the US to continue ferreting out schoolyard bully Osama Bin Laden.

Faced with the futility of trying to fight an elite and state-of-the-art military with a late-model Red Rider BB Rifle, one former Taliban fighter said, “What am I fucking nuts? I’m risking my life needlessly when I can just as easily change sides as the tides of favor turn.” The newly converted freedom fighter had just received an air dropped Oster hair clipper from a US Army Psyops mission and went on to wave the clipper defiantly in the direction of Kandahar, complaining of a beard related facial rash.

GOD BLESS AMERICA-NIZATION

Furthering efforts to bolster morale and pave the way for Americanization among the newly freed citizens of Afghanistan, the US government is looking to feed the voracious appetites spawned when the Taliban abandoned Kabul. Finalizing plans with Britney Spears, the Army is planning to air drop 50,000 copies of her newly released and much anticipated CD “Britney.” Asked how the average citizen would be able to listen to the music, the Army spokesman scratched his head, but offered no comment. MTV Networks and McDonalds could not be reached for comments about future plans by press time.

BEEN LADEN WITH RESPONSIBILITY

As if the United States isn’t working hard enough on the world’s problems, the domestic economy has shown little sign of improvement, despite another Federal rate cut, the tenth such cut this year.

Despite continuing headway in the “War to force the Arab World to like America,” White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer has acknowledged again (and again) that “our job is far from over.” In response, the White House has been flooded with resumes from many of the 400,000+ Americans who were told during the month of October that their job was, in fact, over.

The unexpected increase in mail caused the executive branch to momentarily falter, to the dissatisfaction of many Americans, who, in a recent poll, perceived this as a breach in the President’s sworn vow to “not falter” and “not fail.”

Fleischer scrambled to put a halt to the misperception that there was a falter as well as the influx of mail, clarifying for the disgruntled would-be workforce that the job he referred to is figurative and concerns activities associated with military efforts in Afghanistan.

ROCK STREWN PARADISE

Afghanistan, once widely revered for its topography of strewn rocks, has suffered greatly at the expense of US coalition military air strikes. According to several accounts from news correspondents who requested anonymity, the strikes have left much of Afghanistan indistinguishable rocky rubble.

American officials have expressed the hope that a day not too far in the future will offer Afghanistan a new kind of rock strewn landscape thanks to the help of patriotic artists such as Britney Spears.