In 2010, 560 movies were released in theaters, most of which were accompanied by promotional advertising campaigns. In the age of the Internet, most of those campaigns incorporate digital advertising methods into their marketing strategy. Dull flash sites, irritating banner ads, and relentless trailers have all become standard issue when it comes to online movie advertising. Consequently, by the end of 2010 alone, habitual Internet users had been exposed to hundreds of the same dull, formulaic, standard digital movie promotion techniques. However, if Paramount and Nickelodeon’s animated blockbuster film, Rango, is to forecast the coming year, the uninspired digital movie ad campaigns of the past may be poised to undergo a metamorphosis in 2011.
Rango’s marketing strategy has a robust off-line advertising component including Super Bowl spots and other TV ads, but it is the digital marketing methods that are of greatest interest. While the digital campaign doesn’t do anything particularly revolutionary, it manages to make a variety of improvements to the ordinary online big budget movie advertising formula. Through heavy use of games, intelligent ad placement, and social networks; Rango’s digital advertising campaign engages and entertains consumers. The result is a near flawlessly executed and extremely effective digital advertising campaign targeting young teens, families, and PG audiences.
Released March 4th, Rango, played by Johnny Depp is a pet chameleon that ends up lost, far from his home in the middle of the Mojave Desert. He comes across an Old West town, called Dirt, which is desperately in need of a sheriff. Rango, thinking himself a hero, assumes position as the sheriff, not realizing the danger that places him in. The ensuing adventure tests Rango both physically and existentially, and before the end he must come to terms his true destiny.
With the creative plot, art style, and the enticing Super Bowl and TV spots, it would have been logical for a curious consumer to Google Rango. As expected, the first result is a paid search ad for the official Rango movie website, artificially putting it at the top of the Google rankings. Especially up until release date, it is important to control the messages and information being received by consumers. Buying keyword search results on Google ensures that if someone was curious enough to conduct a Rango related search, they would be shown the carefully planned marketing campaign, rather than a potentially negative blog post. Once the film is released, this becomes less important as word of mouth viral marketing and review sites take over. But Paramount Pictures’ purchase of Google search ads despite the strong SEO and ranking of the movie’s official site is tremendously intelligent.
Upon arriving at the official, RangoMovie.com, the site to appears to be another typical, formulaic movie promotion site. A movie trailer welcomes the user to a site made entirely with flash. However, moving past the trailer and into the features of the site, it becomes evident that this promotional site goes a step further than the industry standard. RangoMovie.com invites the user into the world of Rango, which is perhaps the movie’s most enticing element. The user can interact with characters, visit different locales from the movie, and see the vistas surrounding the town of Dirt. The user is granted freedom to step into the world of Rango explore the town of Dirt at their leisure. Of course, the site preserves typical movie promotional website conventions. There is advertising for the video game, multiple trailers, options to buy tickets, receive email updates, integrated social network functionality, and a link to purchase the movie soundtrack. But exploring the creative world of Rango does retain a charm that few other movie sites boast.
More importantly, RangoMovie.com incorporates the modern concept of gamification, or implementing game mechanics into non-game applications. In addition to playing actual games such as Go Fish in the town’s saloon, there are a number of hidden items and features. Users of the site can discover hidden wallpapers, a personalized wanted poster generator, and more. Yet, the site never prompts the user with any of the game mechanics. Instead, the user is left to discover them at their own pace. The only guidance the site gives users is a progress bar that slowly fills as they discover secrets; progress bars being one of the classic methods of gamification. Gamification has been proven to drastically raise user engagement. So to incorporate it into a necessary and traditionally bland site model was an intelligent move.
Unlike television or even web surfing, gaming is a medium that requires the full attention of the user, making it ideal for marketing. In addition, gaming is no longer a niche market; 80 percent of teens play games of some sort. These two notions in conjunction seem to be the underlying motivation behind much of Rango’s digital ad campaign. Through games, Paramount has capitalized on the opportunity to deeply engage it’s target young-teen demographic. In addition to the gamified official movie site, Rango also embraces gaming with advergames on Nick.com and through product placement in FrontierVille on Facebook.
Nickelodeon Studios produced Rango, so naturally the marketing campaign would include synergies with existing Nickelodeon properties, namely, Nick.com. Not only is Nick.com plastered with Rango banner ads, but the site also has a Rango hub where users can watch trailers, take quizzes, play games, send e-cards, and check out information on the movie. The games are standard online fare, such as target shooters, spot the difference, and other casual action games. While the games aren’t incredibly complex, they receive a ton of views from the target demographic on the extremely popular Nickelodeon gaming site, making it an ideal place for advertising. And of course, each play is a deep engagement with the product, not merely a display ad that is often overlooked or disregarded.
Nick.com also has a social gaming element where players can customize their avatar and enter rooms to chat, hang out, and make friends. Rango has gamified this feature too by hiding Rango amongst the various rooms. Those who are able to spot him receive special rewards. Players can also purchase Rango themed clothing and items for their avatars, placing the brand directly into the player’s experience. Product placement in video games is a mechanic too often overlooked. But as mentioned above, with 80 percent of teens engaging deeply with games, it’s an invaluable medium that Rango’s media buyers correctly decided to use.
FrontierVille is a Wild West themed social game on Facebook where players stake a claim, beat back the brush, and start a small farm town with their friends on Facebook. The game includes missions: a game mechanic that requires players to complete a set of tasks in return for items, experience, or in-game currency. With over 18 million monthly users and a Wild West theme, Rango resourcefully placed branded missions into the game. The three missions first have players find Rango hidden around their town, then collect ten buckets of water for him, then watch the movie trailer. Doing all of this rewards the player with 30 experience and three tools, a strong incentive to engage with the brand. 60 percent of gamers say they would accept more product placement in games if it didn’t interfere with the experience. Not only does Rango not interfere with FrontierVille, but it also adds extra functionality, which gamers are happy to accept. In traditional video game product placement, 64 percent of people remembered seeing the advertisements. Rango’s game product placement was far more upfront than that of traditional games, making the advertising even more effective. Paramount smarty used games to appeal to its target demographic with highly interactive and deeply engaging media that positively improves brand recognition and awareness.
Games and gamification take Rango’s digital advertising campaign beyond the average marketing strategy average movie campaign. However, the digital advertising doesn’t disregard the traditional promotion methods. There are rich media banner ads on relevant sites featuring trailers and video interviews with the cast and crew. On every Rango advertisement there are opportunities to buy tickets through Fandango and other ticketing sites. The Rango websites and advertisements also promote the companion video game and movie soundtrack. In addition, a Facebook fanpage brings the ad campaign to the popular social network.
Facebook fan pages are a good idea for any brand doing digital marketing. Not only does the fanpage serve as a cheap distributor of information, but it also allows fans of the brand to engage with the product in a somewhat personal space and allows others to see that engagement. The Rango Facebook fanpage does everything right. There are photos of the cast and crew, video interviews and trailers, and places for fans to discuss the movie. In addition, the site consistently posts links to movie reviews, ticket purchase sites, Rango news, and other goodies for the fans. With almost 380,000 ‘likes’, the fanpage is definitely making a positive impact and doing efficient advertising the movie.
As previously mentioned, Rango, builds upon ordinary movie promotion methods. The campaign includes banner ads, trailers, and an official movie site, but goes further by involving gamification and some creative marketing techniques such as product placement in games. However, there were still many ways the digital campaign could have been improved before the movie’s release.
There were a number of solid digital media products created to advertise Rango: the Nick.com hub, the Facebook fanpage, and the official movie site. Yet, there was very little cross-linking between the pages. For example, nowhere on the official site is there a link to the various Rango games available on Nick.com. Creating one central Rango networked hub would definitely have reduced the bounce-rate on the various pages and created a more powerful branding experience. This would have been relatively inexpensive had the notion been planned into the original digital campaign design.
A second inexpensive improvement to the digital advertising would have been to include more viral marketing. A brand as bizarre as Rango has huge potential to spread through word of mouth or other means. A video series, a real life publicity generating stunt (such as people in Rango costumes walking around major cities), or a pseudo-event that is later posted to YouTube, would all have been equally appropriate. When done correctly, viral marketing is a cheap way to generate a massive amount of publicity.
Finally, though many film blogs discussed the movie and the Super Bowl spot, there was very little buzz in blogosphere leading up to the movie release on March 4th. Involving the blogging community is another cheap way to generate publicity. If enough buzz is created by blogs, the topic starts to trend and the more major news networks are certain to pick up the story. Perhaps involving bloggers and viral marketing seemed rather petty to a big budget campaign featuring Super Bowl ads. Maybe Paramount was aware of Rango’s quality and was confident in the post-release buzz and viral marketing it was to receive. But nonetheless, these inexpensive advertising methods would have indubitably been strong additions to the digital marketing methods employed.
Rango takes movie digital advertising a step in the right direction. Online movie promotions have fallen into a tired, formulaic mold. Uninteresting flash sites, trailers identical to their TV counterparts, and the dull display ads in particular, are all are starting to feel blasé to Internet surfers. Though Rango acknowledges the central importance of these methods, it seeks innovative and exiting ways to engage its target audiences. Mainly though games, product placement in games, and gamification, Rango manages to stimulate an otherwise ordinary campaign. So while a few improvements could be made, the digital advertising sells its product near perfectly through strong brand engagement. And after grossing $38 million in its opening weekend, it’s more than evident that Rango’s somewhat novel digital advertising methods more than paid off.