Mr. Glasses Agency

IT campaign gets a write up in The Australian

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Posted by The Australian | 12:00AM September 11, 2017

No clowning around with this killer of a marketing campaign

Mark Ritson Columnist @markritson

Horror master Stephen King has penned some chilling stories over the years. His work includes classics like CarrieThe Shining and Misery. But for many his most terrifying novel is the 1986 classic It. The story follows the experiences of a local gang of children who encounter an evil clown, called “Pennywise”, who is often glimpsed in possession of a red balloon attempting to lure children to their doom. The novel was made into a TV miniseries in 1990 and for those of a certain age the image of Tim Curry as the evil clown is seared into their memory.

Almost 27 years on, Pennywise returned over the weekend in a new movie version of It. Box office returns are not yet known, but many are tipping It to be one of the biggest grossing movies of the year. Part of that success can be attributed to It’s marketing campaign.

At this point, given the very bifurcated media world we live it, you are probably anticipating the story of how It was promoted with a brilliant new fangled digital campaign using the latest virtual reality technology or, alternatively, how the movie went “traditional” and launched with a focus on TV and print media, ignoring digital media completely.

I am delighted to report the answer is neither or, in many ways, both. Village Roadshow hired creative marketing company Mr Glasses to help with the launch and the agency, headed by Chris Campbell, played it perfectly.

The brief from Village was tricky. Although the client wanted to create mass awareness and drive traffic into cinemas at the weekend, there were two distinct limitations. First, even the biggest movies are constrained by how much they can invest to promote their opening weekend and this was especially the case for a film that cost only $US35 million ($43m) to produce. Second, even more challengingly, distributors banned the agency from using any footage of Pennywise the clown in the promotional material. A recent spate of nocturnal incidents in America where people dressed as clowns and terrorised passers-by had understandably made distributors sensitive.

That left Campbell and his agency with a significant issue. How do you promote a movie about a titular evil clown without actually showing the clown in question, and on a very tight budget? At this point the generic response would be a spot of TV, a little bit of print or a splash page and a big investment in digital display.

Mr Glasses is an unusual agency. It isn’t necessarily a digital agency nor are they fans of any other particular category definition. Campbell and his team did something that happens increasingly infrequently in the modern world of advertising media. They looked at their target customers. They looked at the product they were promoting and the content therein. They looked at the budget and had a long hard, creative think about it.

And they came up with balloons. Red balloons. Lots of them. Tied to street drains.

In the book and the previous TV miniseries, the most frightening and remembered moment of the plot is the use of red balloons to attract young children into the clutches of the killer clown. By picking up on this and attaching balloons to storm drains all around Sydney and Brisbane (Melbourne was also intended but the immediate success of the first two cities made a Victorian campaign unnecessary), the campaign struck the right note of a sudden flash of horror among the everyday while satisfying the low budget and no-clown requirements of the brief.

The initial media might have been red balloons and a few street murals, but the real strategy was to engage Australians to promote the movie organically. As Campbell explained to me last week: “Remarkable things get remarked upon.”

Images of lone red balloons hovering above storm drains appeared across news media, radio and TV and photographs from creeped-out pedestrians rapidly created a wave of social media impact along with an explanation of the link to the movie.

It is clear that media in this country is currently engaged in a war between established, traditional channels and newer, digital options. People are taking sides and the debate grows ever more furious and pointed. Aside from personal relationships, the other big victim of this media war is media neutrality.

Ever since advertising began there has been a tacit acceptance that there is no single, superior medium. It always depends on the brand, on the target audience, on the campaign objectives and on the budget available. The more media channels fight to assert their superiority over their rivals, the more we lose the more nuanced and independent belief in media neutrality.

And those battles also obscure another long-held and now increasingly forgotten media truth — that combining multiple channels into an integrated campaign almost always performs better than investing everything exclusively on one.

The campaign for It last week was a rare step back to a better, less tribal time in media and marketing.

Meanwhile, Facebook has admitted to yet another ad metrics error. Facebook tells brands that it can reach 25 million more people in the US than census data shows existed in 2016, according to research by US analyst Brian Wieser.

In and of itself this is a remarkable story. But what makes it all the more incredible is the general response of the marketing and media community.

The reaction of most digital marketers was one of unconcerned equanimity. Some accepted that Facebook had erred but they pointed out that it was no better or worse than other traditional media vendors who also overstate their reach.

But in my long and torrid history of looking at media data this is the first time I have come across a claim that exceeds the physical population. There are lies, media statistics and then there are Facebook audience measures.

And yet, through all of this, Facebook will continue to grow their advertising business at an annual rate of around 40 per cent this year. Their ascendance appears impervious to errors even of this magnitude.

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