Movies Circle Mobile Marketing Cautiously

Despite predictions to the contrary, the relationship between movies and mobile marketing has not yet blossomed into a full-blown love affair. As of the end of what has turned out to be a disappointing summer at the box office, the relationship between movies and mobile seems to be stuck in the flirtation phase.

There is no question that the entertainment industry is bullish on mobile marketing. The studios, always eager to try out shiny new marketing toys, were early adapters of augmented reality, location-based marketing, QR codes, scavenger hunts and other mobile bells and whistles. According to information compiled by Millennial Media, the entertainment industry mobile ad spend grew 234 percent from Q2 2010 to Q2 2011, and entertainment is routinely one of the top three verticals in the company’s monthly analysis of mobile marketing spending. It has become a particularly important component of marketing campaigns aimed at young men, aged 18 to 35. But it has not yet risen to the level of line item in budgets, according to Megan O’Neil, associate media director with the marketing agency Ignited, which creates mobile campaigns for Universal Pictures.

Even though studios are aware of the potential upside, that awareness doesn’t always translate into a willingness to spend. O’Neil says that studios are still working out where mobile fits in to marketing plans. Studio marketing departments are aware of and open to mobile programs, especially those that entice consumers to interact with campaigns. When it comes to allocating adverting dollars to promote a movie, television, print and the Internet are givens. But marketers are still setting the bar higher for the mobile platform.

“Certainly, mobile has moved beyond the novelty factor,” said O’Neil. “It’s more than just another touch point. It all has to make sense for the particular campaign we’re working on.”

One way that studios have been using mobile consistently is by building buzz for films that have yet to open, often weaving the mobile component into a multipronged campaign that can include social and TV. To promote the eagerly anticipated “The Hunger Games,’ Lionsgate, a studio that includes a mobile component in the marketing of virtually every film it releases, launched the first trailer for the film during the VMAs. At the end of the trailer was a hashtag, #whatsmydistrict, that sent Twitter users on a hunt for a hidden website that contained clues and prompted users to access the next stage of the campaign. “The ways in which we use mobile have become a lot more inventive,” said O’Neil, who was not involved with “The Hunger Games” campaign. “And we are working hand in hand with other parts of the media mix.”

To promote “Johnny English,” which skews toward ‘tweens and young teen boys, Universal, which is more selective in its use of mobile marketing, created a mobile app that evokes a souped up 21st-century Dick Tracy decoder ring. The free app includes a voice disguiser, a lie detector, an intruder alarm, a nightvision camera and a message decoder that unlocks additional content.

But not all effective mobile movie marketing involves developing dedicated apps with elaborate beginnings, middles and ends. For example, studios have had success by simply placing advertising in movie discovery apps such as Fandango and Flikster.

“Having the tools with which to reach people when they are making a decision about what to see is very powerful,” said ONeil.

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