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Project type:
Movie promotion
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Anchorman (Dreamworks)
June 2004
Most of the Anchorman web site is pretty typical of the movie site genre -- character, cast, and crew descriptions, downloads, trailers, and the like. All of these play up the hyper-macho personality of the movie's lead character, Ron Burgundy, and the movie's setting in the swingin' 70's. A collection of Flash-based games does much the same thing -- which pick-up line would work best on a particular woman? And so on. It comes across as rather overbearing to me, but whatever.

The more interesting thing the movie's promoters have done is to create profiles for the lead characters on the Friendster social networking service. You can find out that Ron is a graduate of the Frank S. Nugent School of Journalism, and that his favorite movie is Breakfast at Tiffany's. There's a clever idea in here somewhere -- as you explore the Friendster space, you might discover that a friend of yours is a friend of Ron's, and so maybe your interest in the movie goes up. Setting this up didn't take much effort on the part of the studio or agency -- some design time to work out the properties of the characters, and an intern to log in every day and handle the "make me your friend" requests.

The problem is that it doesn't seem to be working. By the end of August, somewhat less than 3000 people had signed up to be Ron's friend, which has to be a lot less less than the promoters were hoping for. And, as Nate Elliot pointed out here, there's something wrong when you have to issue press releases and run promotional campaigns to promote a promotional campaign.

Offhand, I can see all sorts of problems with this use of Friendster. The most obvious concern I have is that it fails to reach out to new people and draw them to the movie. One scenario of how this campaign is supposed to work is that I'll be browsing through Friendster, see Ron listed as someone's friend, explore his profile, and get interested in the movie. But this doesn't work, for all sorts of reasons:
  • It only works if you already know who Ron is -- "Hey, that's the guy from that movie...". But if you already know who Ron is, you already know about the movie, so there's little payoff to the promotion. And, if you don't know who Ron is, there's only a payoff if you look at his profile and make the connection. But there's nothing in the profile to unambiguously connect Ron to the movie -- not even a sponsored link -- so the connection is very unlikely to get made on the basis of the profile.

  • Friendster's structure isn't optimized for this promotional purpose. It only shows ten friends on a person's profile page, and only 40 if you go to the "show everybody" page, so the likelihood that I'll happen to see Ron's name and picture on someone's profile is statistically pretty small.

  • It assumes that people will be spending a lot of time browsing through Friendster. As people get used to the idea of social networking system, that chunk of time is likely to shrink.
I guess there's a "weak" interpretation of the campaign, where it's meant to leverage off Friendster's popularity -- "I'm hip to Friendster and they are too, so maybe we're like-minded enough that I'll like the movie". So the press releases about the use of Friendster may produce some value here. But that seems like a stretch to me.

The broader problem I see here is that the Friendster connection between a visitor and the movie isn't a very rich one. After I signed up as Ron's friend, nothing happened -- no e-mail from Ron, no links to other web sites, no nothing. Everybody in this area knows that it's hard to get people to give up their e-mail addresses these days; here's a case where I've given my address to a company and they've effectively ignored it.

There are things that could be done here: I can imagine using a Friendster profile as a part of a more active web-based game, like ilovebees or our own Exocog -- the profile would be a good place to leave hints or clues that would tie into other parts of the game. But looking literally at what's been done here, this campaign has the feeling of one that made a lot of sense at the beginning, but that has ultimately been somewhat wasted.

Friendster people out there will note that, in the past, Friendster was quite against the idea of people creating fraudulent profiles -- people posing as Jesus, the Buddah, or even the Golden Gate Bridge -- and killed off such accounts as they were found. But that was before Friendster needed a business model that suggested the possibilitity of revenue, and they are soliciting media companies interested in putting their characters into Friendster, as noted here. Times change, but too late, I guess, for The Passion of the Christ...

Update, 28 August 2004: And so it begins: gives us a set of links to the Friendster profiles of the next round of candidates for the Donald Trump reality show The Apprentice. We're invited to "...view the official profiles of all 18 new candidates, become a 'fan' of your favorite candidates, and write testimonials expressing your thoughts and opinions of the different candidates." So far, there's no particular integration of the Friendster stuff with the show's official site, but perhaps that will come.