Archive for the 'Film Festival' Category

Second Skin and We Are Wizards

Two of my favorite films this year from the Film festival are documentaries with many parallels. The first, We Are Wizards, takes a look at the subculture of hardcore fans of the enormously popular Harry Potter book series, mainly the ones who create their own new content in the form of themed bands or blogs. The other film, Second Skin, follows the stories of a group of people obsessed with Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG) such as World of Warcraft and Everquest.

I’m not as much interested in writing reviews of these films, although both were excellently made and produced. I do find it interesting that the people in We Are Wizards were shown to be highly creative, working within the world that author J.K. Rowling created. The people in Second Skin, on the other hand, were shown to have more of a true addiction, where isolation, weight gain and loss of family and friends were all symptoms.

But what intrigued me the most, and why I think these films have an interesting connection to corporate branding, is a little vignette from We Are Wizards. Heather Lawver, a 16-year-old, created a fan website called The Daily Prophet. She then received a letter from Warner Bros, who owns the rights to the Harry Potter franchise, making it quite clear that it was doing what it could to shut her site down because it infringed on its intellectual property. So Heather became part of Potterwar.org (the site is now gone, but the manifesto still exists) calling on a ban of all things Harry Potter, save for the original books. Heather was one of many people, many of them children, who all had Harry Potter fan sites that were served legal papers. Potterwar garned enough signatures over time to force Warner to drop most of the challenges. But the fact still remains that Warner Bros is very, very protective of all aspects of the Harry Potter brand.

Contrast that with a company like Blizzard, makers of World of Warcraft. They arguably have just as rabid (if not more rabid) fans and all the similar fan extensions you find with Harry Potter – the blogs, the conventions, the forums. But you never hear a peep from Blizzard in any way, fighting to protect their intellectual property.

Obviously, part of it might have to do with money. Advertising Age estimates the Harry Potter brand to be worth about 15 billion dollars. Blizzard made 1.1 billion dollars last year, largely from sales of WOW. But I think the main fundamental difference is what Brian Oberkirch alluded to in our Advertising Anarchy interview about companies of the web as opposed to those merely on it. Warner Bros., despite their web presences, is still a traditional media company. Blizzard’s entire income almost comes exclusively from a made-for-web game. Blizzard’s intellectual property is more of the framework, rather than the meat– that’s because it’s the users of the game who create their characters, names and adventures.

There are plenty of arguments (some successful, some not) about the healthiness of MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. But no one can argue that companies like Blizzard don’t understand, and respect, their most rabid fans.

Picking Apart the SXSW Film Schwag Bag

(Looking at the second of 3 SXSW Gift Bags – One for each festival.)

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When it came to free schwag from the Film festival, it was an unequivocal bomb. I’ve mentioned already that all the bags seemed a little lighter than last year, and my guess is that it has something to do with SXSW positioning itself as green.But the film bag is just ridiculous- a handful of postcards, maybe one or two trade publications and a random CD. I don’t know if the film industry is just on hard times the last year or so (the writer’s strike?), but clearly their heart wasn’t just in it.What stuck out to me the most wasn’t something with a “wow” factor, but more of an oddity factor. A bright orange brochure about the boutique hotels in Miami. Also a postcard for Friendster, with my first thought being “they’re still around?” Another postcard, from Jaman.com stuck out from the rest of the stack mainly because of its extreme pandering. A photo of 4 people with nooses around their necks (one of them being in a mechanized wheel chair). I suppose that’s “extreme.”

Finally, just because I wanted to have at least four things to talk about, a CD sampler from A21m. What with the 3,000 bands at the festival, I don’t know if this is quite the time to want to be thinking about “independent music for licensing,” but you never know.

Door Number 3 Endorses Moby

Say what you will about musician/DJ/composer Moby. He got a lot of flak for licensing just about every track off of his wildly popular Play album. His vegan lifestyle and his opinionated essays have had him labeled as a blowhard and a preachy leftist.

Moby gave an intimate interview at a joint Interactive/Film panel and he came across as extremely affable, humble individual (a luxury, maybe, having made tons of money). What I was most excited to hear about was his new website/venture, Mobygratis.com. Basically it’s a resource for independent and student filmmakers where they can download original Moby music for free to use in their films. And if any of the films down the road make any kind of profit, a portion of the proceeds go to Moby’s favorite non-profit (and a local Door Number 3 client): The Humane Society.

Talking Shiner Beer & PR with Eric Webber

Eric is managing partner of Austin-based Webber/McJ Communications, an agency focusing on communications consulting, public relations and reputation management.

Door Number 3: What plans does Shiner Beer have for SXSW? Is it tough to compete with the “official” beer of SXSW? How do you position a beer like Shiner?

Eric Webber: Shiner sponsors a party (two actually) with Bloodshot Records at Yard Dog. We’re also involved in a deal with ME TV, and Shiner Records (a small label owned by Shiner Beers) has a party featuring their artists at Waterloo Records. We try to keep it about the music and the musicians more than about the beer. We do run print ads reminding SXSW-goers that Shiner is a small, independent brewery and so understands the challenges of independent labels and the bands trying to gain recognition. It’s not tough to compete with the “official” beer in that way. Miller merely buys the sponsorship, but their connection to the event, musicians or labels doesn’t go any farther than that. I think there’s an unfortunate disconnect between a mega-corporate brand like Miller being a sponsor of an event like SXSW, but I certainly understand why the organizers want and need deep-pocketed companies like that.

What are ways in which you get the word out about a brand during SXSW, given that the environment is already so saturated with messages?

We try to do it subtly. Partly because we don’t want to clash with the official beer sponsor, partly because that’s Shiner’s style and also because we don’t have a lot of money to spend. One thing we developed last year, which we’ll use again, was a “musicians survival kit.” We used Shiner Bock six-pack containers, but only one can of beer was in it. We filled the other slots with a t-shirt, a pair of Shiner logoed tube socks, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a bottle of water and an assortment of pain relievers. We tried to think of some of the things needed by struggling musicians who might be traveling lean and sleeping on couches during the festival. Again, it was about demonstrating that we understand them. At the parties we mostly rely on signage, including a very cool retro-poster for the Waterloo event that’s plastered all over town. And, of course, giving away free beer is always a hit.

How are the tactics to get buzz around a movie different than, say, a new mobile device or a website?

The tactics about getting buzz for a movie aren’t very much different than for, say a website. You want to get influencers on your side and let them help you with the heavy lifting of getting the word out. So you offer to give some people a preview peek, and then you hold your breath and hope they like it. That much hasn’t changed in a long time in the movie publicity business. But you know we also have the power of social networking working in our favor. So influential bloggers are important as mainstream media. And you should have had a MySpace and Facebook presence for months leading up to the debut so you can build interest and a fan base. You can work multiple angles in that regard. If music is a key to the movie, then you can talk it up among the music crowd. Or if addresses a particular social issue, you can hit it from that angle. You don’t want to only speak to movie enthusiasts. And did I mention that you have to pucker up and hope people like it?

The whole Zuckerberg interview drama unfolded in real time – on Twitter and Meebo, liveblogging and then video. How could a PR firm do damage control on a situation like this?

I’m not sure that just letting that particular fire burn out on its own isn’t the best approach. Nobody looked very good after that train wreck. The reporter came of as arrogant and ill-prepared, Zuckerberg didn’t do anything to shine either, and the audience mostly came across as churlish and immature in a lot of ways. For the reporter, she violated a number of rules that PR pros would have advised her about. First, she didn’t seem to know her audience. She said as much after the interview. That’s a cardinal sin. Second, she didn’t adapt to the changing tone. You could sense that things were going poorly, and she just forged ahead anyway. In preparing someone to be interviewed, you always spend some time talking about worst case scenarios and how they should be handled. You can’t always anticipate everything, but you can make a pretty guess about what the most obvious speed bumps are going to be.

Speaking of Twitter and Meebo, are more real-time communication tools being used for public relations? Are traditional media formats still the most important?

PR pros who don’t recognize the potential (good and bad) of real-time communications tools are, well, tools. The principles of PR haven’t changed much at all, but the speed at which information is disseminated and the channels available seems to be changing about every day. Blogging allows everyone to be a journalist, or at least for everyone to think they are. That’s a potential opportunity, but also potentially very dangerous. At the very least, companies have to keep an eye on what’s being said about them in the webular world, and be prepared to respond quicker than they would have in the past.

Moustaches & Rainbows

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I stumbled upon this scene the other night – anything that involves fake moustaches is definitely worth checking out. It ended up being a little promotional stunt for a film at the festival called Rainbow Around the Sun. The street team gave me my own fake moustache, a flyer and a CD with a few tracks from the film. It definitely caught my attention, but I suppose its effectiveness is based more on one’s interest in this particular film.





SXSW is an Austin event. And Door Number 3 is an Austin advertising agency. We're interested in how new ideas in advertising, media and branding will be presented during these 9 quick days. From inside the lecture halls where top specialists present their thoughts, to out on the streets where advertising is put to the test on tens of thousands of festival-goers. We'll be there with the complete coverage, reports, photos, editorials, and perhaps some tricks on how to sneak into a few sweet afterparties.

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