Interview with Dan Light, Part I: engaging online communities
14th July 10
Author: Ben Shaw (@BenShaw), Strategist, BBH London
Dan Light’s profile description on Twitter (@danlight) reads: “Interactive marketer (and maker) of movies”. Although the bio may be short, his experience certainly is not. Dan has recently left Picture Production Company (PPC), where he led an award-winning interactive team producing some of the most innovative online marketing campaigns of recent times. In previous Labs posts we looked in more depth at the work they produced for Watchmen last year here and for Iron Man 2 here.
Working primarily on blockbuster movie releases, PPC Interactive has produced a variety of transmedia marketing materials serving to promote and extend the narrative of the story beyond traditional media. Those who know Dan will know he can talk for Earth about any topic he’s passionate about. We’ve split the interview up across 3 different blog posts which we will publish across three consecutive days. We spoke to Dan about his thoughts on engaging online communities, his extensive knowledge of transmedia entertainment, and the potential role for brands in this space.
Engaging online communities in 2010
Transmedia. It’s becoming a buzzword of 2010 and was certainly one of the most talked about topics at SXSW back in March. Your last piece of work at PPC was for the latest Iron Man film – what role can transmedia marketing play for an entertainment property?
DL: Like film itself, it’s about guiding people through an experience, and a sequence of emotions. With a movie like Iron Man it starts with intrigue, which is a really powerful motivator for people ready to take a flight of fancy. Film is also about escapism, especially a movie like Iron Man – part of that is not knowing what’s next.
It’s worth saying up front that when we’re talking about transmedia as marketing, it’s not suitable for all films, probably not for the majority of films, but that there are those where there’s an opportunity for a film maker and their marketing team to do something a bit different.
The communities that exist around films; are you focused primarily upon creating a deeper experience for them individually, or do you view them as a means to propagate content amongst and beyond their network?
DL: Both really. By its nature online marketing has become a process of exploitation – in a non-sinister sense of the term. It’s about getting that core group to germinate these seeds of intrigue into wider awareness, so that they continue to permeate through other communities. That said, it’s always hard to be certain how much wider it does permeate out. It’s a mistake to assume that by reaching that audience you’re going to reach the popcorn moviegoer.
What a good transmedia campaign does achieve is that it anchors core fans in your campaign. At the same time you need to find ways to make it as accessible as possible to the mainstream, reaching the audience who aren’t living their lives in the Unfiction forum.
One of the best things about The New Frontiersman (the WATCHMEN online campaign) was that it made truly integrated use of YouTube, Flickr, Twitter and Friendfeed, all of which made it easier for a wider audience to access the latest content as it went live. We brought in a consultant on the project, Annie Ok, specifically to help us make sure that we weren’t just paying lip service to social media the way a lot of campaigns still do.
I guess we saw that with the Dark Knight ARG, in that most people didn’t participate, but the ones that did were so engaged they spoke and blogged about it and the story permeated into the wider online community.
DL: But that ARG became the story. That’s the ‘innovation marketing’ approach of saying “we’ll break new ground, maximise the publicity upside, and if it works at a consumer engagement level maybe we’ll do it again.” And that campaign was truly ground-breaking.
Why do you think film makers are engaging people much, much earlier in the process – in some cases before the film is even made? Is it simply about extending the relationship with the audience? Can you imagine a point in the future where that’s a paid-for experience?
DL: I think a lot of time where that kind of thing is happening its originating from the film-maker. If you look at the stuff that happens on [J.J.] Abrams titles, it originates from Abrams and his team. He’s a film-maker who understands that there are new ways to tell stories, and is experimenting accordingly. Making it part of the marketing campaign is a good way to legitimise it, given that the models aren’t in place yet to monetise it in its own right.
That’s got to be the long game though. I mean, if people are prepared to spend thirty pounds on a computer game for 30 hours of immersive entertainment, maybe there is an audience that will pay three, four, five times the price of a cinema ticket to invest the same time in a good ARG.
So there might be an end game here – a core audience who are more valuable per capita, in the sense that they are prepared to pay. They’re actually paying for a deeper transmedia experience beyond the cost of a movie ticket?
DL: The issue at the moment is people don’t expect to have to pay for that experience, in fact people don’t really expect to pay for anything film-related until the films are released. I think that will change.
< * SPOILER ALERT – DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN ‘THE GAME’ * >
DL: For me the ultimate ARG is THE GAME. It’s that logical continuation of an ARG to the point where something hugely elaborate has been created around one person. He picks up the bill at the end and it’s about an inch thick – of course it is, but one day people may pay that kind of money, if the experience is absorbing enough.
</ * SPOILER ALERT * >
Dan was talking with Ben Shaw and Mel Exon. Check back tomorrow for part II of our interview with Dan Light where we’ll be talking about transmedia and what’s required to get engaging transmedia content made.