Author Archives: JCH

Watching Tomorrow This Weekend

I saw one of the best Science Fiction films I’ve seen in a while, this weekend. Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow. I’m not a huge Tom Cruise fan – I’ve never really forgiven him for Days of Thunder, but being the open-minded kind of guy I am I gave him another chance. The buzz on social media among the film folks I follow was strong, so EoT got the popcorn money this week. It’s everything folks who work on the creative side of the movie business say the movie business needs, but it’s the textbook case study for why the business side of the movies works the way it does.

The film has everything a great summer blockbuster should have – an inventive story, taut writing, solid star power in the leads, off-the-charts special effects and dynamic action sequences. You genuinely care about the characters and there are enough light moments to bring a smile and make it feel real. Yeah, there are a couple of plot holes and then ending isn’t as inventive as the first 90 minutes, but it’s still a top 10% SF film.

The only problem with this summer blockbuster is it didn’t do big boffo blockbuster box office. And that is going to impact inventive original storytelling for major studio motion pictures. Here’s why – studios used to want a built-in fan base for a summer tentpole movie. Now they’ll require it. You have to have lines of geeks or tweenagers camped out at the theater for opening night. Where a 30 million dollar opening weekend was once solid, now that has to be the domestic Saturday night and it better have done $70-90 mil oversees the weekend before. Studios have seen the half billion dollar franchise and that’s what they want – there better be a hundred million dollars in pent-up demand before the script even gets its first set of notes.  Because EoT didn’t have a generation of comic books to stand on or a series of niche genre novels or even a long cancelled TV show to get behind, it opened to a great chorus of “meh.”

Only after it began to run and critics started raving and the film literate began to talk it up, did EoT begin to get some traction. Even then the headlines weren’t that this was a cool film with a great POV and a solid story. No, the narrative became that Tom Cruise got beat by a girl with cancer in a love story that tween girls came out for in droves.  All because there was an existing fan base for the book.

So the next time you feel the urge to wonder why Hollywood doesn’t produce anything original, remember where you were when they did. You were probably next door, with a theater full of orthodontic girls, crying their eyes out to The Fault in Our Stars, a story everyone in the auditorium knew by heart.

The Humble Hashtag Comes to Facebook

Social media just took a big left turn. Facebook now does hashtags. If you aren’t Twitter literate, a hashtag is what the ancient Mayans called a pound sign – #. But several years ago a bright young web guy – Chris Messina –  started the idea that a word or phrase following a hashtag could be a type of topical hyperlink. The concept caught on and Twitter users began hashtagging everything. That led to trending topics and became a means to see what the twitterverse thought was the most important or at least most popularly discussed idea of the moment. There are humble hashtags in use on Flickr, Instagram, Tumblr, Google+ and probably it’s coming to every social media platform there is.

Now the hashtag phenomenon on Facebook. In my opinion – it’s gonna get messy. Facebook says it isn’t “selling” hashtags to brands and advertisers, but is encouraging marketers to use them. There’s a double-edged sword. Let’s say you’re a fine Texas brewery and start tagging all your advertising with the hash #Shiner. That’s great. But you have no control over that tag or who puts what into the conversation. Suddenly your post about the wonders of Shiner as the nectar of the Hill Country is inserted in between a frat boy who got hammered on #Shiner last night (complete with his buddy’s photos) and a protest by MADD against drive-through beer barns selling #Shiner.

On Twitter that’s not a huge problem – Twitter is fleeting. 140 characters and it screams through people’s feed like beer through that frat boy. But Facebook lasts a little longer. Things are more permanent. They remain on your timeline forever, or until Facebook reworks it’s platform and changes everything, so technically ‘ever’ could only be 18 months. Still, that barfing fratboy could still be linked to the #Shiner hashtag on their Facebook page for a long, long time.

Time will tell how hashtags change Facebook. Some don’t think it will be a big deal. I personally think it’ll be as big for Facebook as it was for Twitter. And I can’t even remember what Twitter looked like before the hashtag.

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Amarillo Economic Development Corporation

Community economic development is an area where we have significant experience. Amarillo, Texas is a good example. Amarillo has long been an agricultural and logistics hub. But with significant wind energy resources and one of the largest airport runways in the world, they’ve become a viable relocation target for aerospace companies and renewable energy firms. Our work included rebranding the EDC with a more modern logo (the old one featured barb wire), and a brighter more dynamic look to everything from relocation publications, trade ads and online ads.

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Putting More Blue in the Blue Light Special

Kmart has never been a brand to stand for class and sophistication, so perhaps it’s really little surprise their new campaign aims for the scatological shopper Shipping Their Pants and the sophomoric snickers of Big Gas Savings. These aren’t just mind-numbing yucks from the Will Farrell – Jonah Hill school of “it was funny when we were 10, why wouldn’t it be funny now?”. These are bad advertising at its fundamental worst, with a hat tip to the fine folks at Sofa King.
Is it bad because it’s cheap laughs and bathroom humor? No, not completely. The biggest problem is it doesn’t sell. That’s the first thing an ad needs to do. I’ve only seen the Ship My Pants ad run once – but I’ve seen it linked to online, posted on Facebook and referenced dozens of times. As viral marketing goes – it’s getting terrific views. Plenty of people are talking about shipping their pants. But is anybody talking about going to Kmart?
This is the problem with using blue humor in an ad – it generates lots of commentary, but unless you do it right, unless you balance the gag with the brand, you are simply running a dirty joke.Entertainment is great, if you’re Warner Brothers. If you are Kmart trying to promote the fact that you have free shipping from your online store? Not so much. Same with Big Gas Savings – This feels like a gag looking for a reason to happen – I’ve never seen a Kmart with a gas station. But then I rarely shop at Kmart and with ads like these, I doubt that’ll change anytime soon.

To me, the sad thing is these could have worked. The gag is in the phrase, not the constant repetition that happens in the spot. The agency could have made the point, gotten the gag through, and easily tied it to the brand, the fact that Kmart has free shipping or Kmart sells gasoline at a discount to their loyalty club members. It actually would have been simple. And blowing that is the reason these are bad ads, not because they are blue light specials.

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There’s more to Social than tweets and blogs

Social media is a huge catch all – and like PR – it can feel like a free deal that you get what you pay for. Spend a lot of time and then hope something comes out of it. But there is another side to Social that does generate some quantifiable returns. Paid advertising. Facebook ads offer audience targeting that is on par with direct mail, performance-based budgeting and seriously good analytics. In English, that means you can define your audience by zip code, age, interests and a good variety of other criteria. Once you know who you’re after, it’s a measure of budgeting, and here, Facebook is easy – pay per click. Figure your budget – say $100 – bid however much you want to pay for each click to your specific audience – say $2 – and Facebook runs your ad until 50 people click through. And once the ad runs, you can see how many clicks came from where and when. As time goes along, the information allows you to tighten you targets, refine your budgets and test different creative executions.

Are there downsides? A couple – Since it’s Facebook they tend to change things on the fly. What they are doing today may not be happening tomorrow. And as more and more advertisers jump on board, the costs of those clicks go up, as more people try to reach that audience. Creative limitations are sever as well.

We’ve seen it work for a weight loss surgery client. They opted to try a social campaign instead of TV. While it didn’t have the impact of the television ads, it was a fraction of the cost to reach a very targeted audience. There weren’t a lot of skinny 70-year-olds seeing the Facebook ads.

Next time you’re looking for a quick hitting promotion to a targeted audience, talk to us about a paid campaign on Facebook.

 

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That was a great ad. Or was it?

Paul Harvey for Ram Trucks

A zillion people watched the Superbowl. How many ran out and bought Ram pickups because they ran a really good ad?

I heard from two camps – some friends who are agriculturally enlightened and some who believe that hamburgers come from somewhere they don’t think about and then magically appear at McDonalds.  The urbanites gave the Dodge ad a small WTF? and moved on. Not exactly the target audience for a half-ton pickup. They don’t need a truck to haul the Bichon Frise to the groomer.

But I come from a  rural part of the world and Dad still owns a small wheat farm. Those friends and compadres from the barnyard world were ecstatic that Dodge would run a spot praising the hard work of farmers. Even the ranchers were impressed. There were large amounts of warm-fuzzies throughout the Heartland. And why not? Here were amazing photos of hard working families, salt of the earth folks, being lauded by the resonant tones of Paul, By God, Harvey. I remember many a day enjoying a Saturday hamburger at Stanley’s Drive-Inn, in Dad’s red Chevy pickup, listening to Mr. Harvey bring the lunchtime news. And then because Mr. Harvey was on the “farm station,” we then got the commodities report on pork bellies and winter wheat prices. Feeder heifers by the hundred weight. That spot was one of the most nostalgic 90, or was it 120 seconds(!?!), of advertising I’ve ever witnessed. Farm friends told me they got goosebumps. Only one problem with the commercial –

Nobody said they’d buy a pickup.

More than a few didn’t even know who was running the spot. The urbanites didn’t get it at all.  And then when word got out that the Richards Group had bought the idea from a different advertiser – farms.com. A web site? Really? At the end of the day, advertising is supposed to tell you about the product, or entice you to buy it. Will people go look at a Ram pickup because of this ad? Time will tell. I owned a Dodge Ram once and liked the truck. But Ford has a a twin-turbo V6 and Chevy and GMC have new trucks coming out with high-tech interactive displays and new engines. Frankly, I’ve seen farmers. Talk to me about that twin turbo

Good day.

Waiting

The single hardest thing about screenwriting is waiting. And man, is there a lot of waiting. Finish a script? No, not really. It goes to someone. A reader. An assistant. A manager, agent, producer, studio, director, talent… Sometimes, it seems as if there’s as much waiting to hear back from people as there is writing. I’m in that mode right now. One script with a producer looking for a green light on financing my first independent film, and another with a network to see if they’ll come play with my movie of the week. It’s exciting and frustrating and more than a little nerve-racking.

I used to think I was a fairly patient guy, but this gets to you. I’ve started other projects. One for research on a feature,  did a rewrite of my animation spec and I’m about half way through a draft rewrite of my action adventure thriller. If nothing else, the nervous energy of waiting creates a good deal of work at the keyboard. It’s good to just lose oneself in the motivations of a character or reworking a plot point to get the mind off wondering how things are going. In the advertising world this was never a big problem – you did your client pitch and before you got back to the agency after the presentation, there was another deadline looming. I’m new enough at the screenwriting bit to not have those issues yet.

Since I only have self-imposed deadlines and way more time to kill while things move on other people’s schedules – I really get a lot done. The website has been tweaked. Catching up on blog posts. Fixed the twitter feed problem. I’m not to the point of cleaning the garage, but I can feel that coming. Nah… that can wait.

Why Woody Allen is a Genius

 
I read a quote from Woody Allen. He was asked, “What’s the hardest part of making a movie?” Allen replied – getting the money. I get it. This morning I’m preparing for a 6-hour trip to spend an hour with a producer and a banker so he can tell his investors that our group knows what it’s doing, and they should commit enough money to make a small independent film.

I think the entire project hinges on this one meeting. But at this stage I can say that about every meeting. I’ve met with CFOs, CEOs, a parade of Vice Presidents and ad-hoc committees. I have happily and, I hope politely, answered the same question, the same way a dozen times. And now we’re down to fishing or bait-cutting.

If this meeting goes well, then in two weeks a Board of Directors in a far-away wood-paneled room will take a recommendation from this man and give the command to move forward. If that happens as we’ve presented the concept – there should be development money attached and, bang, we’ll be making a movie. If… If… If.  It’s close to out of my hands at this point. The story is terrific. My draft script is solid and the producer has made a ton of films. We’ve even built a strong marketing and business case for the ROI wonks

I really think it’ll get that legendary greenlight.

Then all hell breaks loose. We’ll go to production.  And maybe, just maybe, Good Lord willing, we’ll be watching our movie this time next year. At that point, I really hope that Mr. Allen is right, and this has been the tough part.

Writing is Rewriting

There is a really good reason for clichés like writing is rewriting. They are usually correct. Kinda like stereotypes. This week has been rewrite week. I’m on rewrite number 6 or maybe 7 on my Rom Com. As this is the first time I’ve dealt with “Hollywood” I don’t know that this is typical or unusual, but the working writers I’ve talked to tell me this is how it is.

Originally, this story started out as a comedy with a female lead. I sent it to my story reader and she said it needed romance.  I put in a little side arc for two of the characters as a romance.

When it went to the manager he said, “No, no, no. The lead needs the romance.”

Rom Coms have to have the lead in the romance. When I tried to explain that it wasn’t a Rom Com, just a Com, I was told that if I want to sell it, with a female lead, it needs to be a Rom Com. Rewrite three – add more romance. And wrap it around a holiday.

Then it went to the Producer. Still needs more romance. Amp it up he said. Use a different holiday.

Here’s the rub. I’m about as romantic as a tree. Ask my wife. The last time I brought home flowers was … well, neither of us remembers. I’ve never read a romance novel, never knowingly even watched a Romantic Comedy – Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan would have starved if they waited on me to buy a ticket.

This quandary led to two revelations – One, thank the Good Lord for Netflix; and Two, how do people watch this crap? I watched a couple. I’ll not name names but Diane Keaton and Reese Witherspoon have made better films. Not a single explosion in 240 minutes of movies. I did not know they could do that.

I sit here rewriting in a genre I don’t know, going with my gut and wishing for a car chase, a bomb plot or a mystery shooter. But I want to sell this. So now it’s a romance, it happens during a holiday that’s not the same holiday as every other Rom Com and I’ve got a solid 30 pages of notes recommendations and suggestions.

I’m rewriting and rewriting and I guess something good is coming of it. I did get my wife some flowers. Who knew? Christmas Poinsettias are only five bucks at Home Depot.

The Golden Quarter

We are right in the middle of the most important marketing time of the year for retailers. So why is the advertising so dang dull? This should be the time to break through. Ads should be slashing through the clutter like a hot knife through gingerbread.

I just did a quick mental rundown of TV commercials I’ve seen this year that make me stop and say, “Wow! Wish I’d done that.”

This year, I’ve got nothing.

Car companies usually do something – I mean I kinda like the Chevrolet campaign with Santa’s day job as a car salesman. They are funny and the guy playing Nick the salesman is dead-on. But there’s something sad at its core about Father Christmas hawking pick-ups at the Chevy dealer. Acura has a different kind of spooky going on – Celebrities driving like maniacs. In these spots, celebs like Dr. Phil, Suze Orman and Santa (he’s an equal opportunity car guy – he also shills for Mercedes) kidnap unsuspecting shoppers and take them for a spin in an new Acura. But they drive like a Jason Stratham chase scene. I guess we’re trying to show a real world confident sports sedan, but it comes off as wonderful holiday panic of distracted driving meets road rage.

Through the years there have been some classic Christmas ads – Santa riding a Norleco shaver, Lexus started a big trend with the giant bow on the car as a conspicuous consumption gift and beer companies usually do nice things. The Bud Clydesdales in the snow are impressive. I always liked the Miller ad with the one horse sleigh to a class version of “I’ll be home for Christmas.” Some of these ads are 30 years old. I don’t see anything this season that deserves to be running next week much, less next decade.

I know how hard it is to create a breakthrough campaign, but retailers must demand this of their agencies at this time of year. The next year of survival might just depend on it working right now.