Q: Films and TV shows are no strangers to product placement. But this marketing blitz is almost the opposite, in which the film and its character Ron Burgundy, portrayed by actor Will Ferrell, are making appearances in commercials and live TV. What do you make of this marketing campaign, in particular the move to bring this character to life?
A: I agree this is a kind of “reverse product promotion.” I’m not sure how much this can be generalized though. Part of why this works is that Ron Burgundy is a fake media personality in a world obsessed with media personalities. It’s hard to imagine a Thor or a Walter White (from TV’s Breaking Bad) movie executing this campaign. A lot of the success here also depends on Will Ferrell’s incredible gift for improvisational comedy in live appearances. There are very few actor/character combinations that work so well. On the marketing campaign itself, I do think this is innovative, at least in the degree of its intensity. The only other film character I can think of who tried this kind of approach has been actor Sacha Baron Cohen for his movies, but those are much more niche films. This is a mainstream comedy attempting to reach a very broad audience. My reaction is that while it’s clever, it’s also somewhat limited.
Q: Released in 2004, the series’ first film made about $90 million worldwide. Will this film’s marketing blitz translate to box office success? How do you measure the return on investment?
A: I think this will affect the first weekend box office, which is very important in launching a film. If the film is horrible, then there’s not much that can save it, but I think this will encourage more people to try it up front. The studio should be able to compare pre-launch awareness for this film compared to other films to get a sense of ROI. It will be harder to get an exact ROI on ticket sales, but I think analysts will look at the original film’s benchmark sales, adjusted for inflation. If the sequel beats the original, this will be considered a success. Some other interesting indicators will be the sales of the products into which Ron Burgundy is placed. So, for example, how do Durango sales change? How many units of Ben+Jerry’s Scotchy Scotch Scotch ice cream or Jockey’s Anchorman underwear get sold? Every one of those is a big impact advertising impression.
Q: Social media has played a huge role in marketing the movie, including a call for people to submit audition videos to “Join Ron’s News Team.” What do you make of the balance between traditional advertising and connecting with the audience via social media, and does the strategy vary between industries?
A: Movies are very much a word-of-mouth product, and social media is the word-of-mouth method of choice. Movies also have a fairly short shelf life—three months is an eternity in theaters—and so maximizing impact prior to launch is worth a substantial short-term investment of time and money. Will Ferrell could not keep this up for two years, for example. It’s hard to imagine selling TVs or cars with this kind of campaign. Other high word-of-mouth products, particularly cultural products such as books, video games, TV shows, and events, as well as restaurants or other businesses or products that are hard to evaluate in advance may benefit from a stronger emphasis on social media. User-generated content is also a big part of this campaign, and that’s a great way to get social engagement. It’s usually a plus if you can get people making videos of themselves showing how much they love your product. Target market probably matters in this kind of campaign as well. People who like YouTube and Internet humor generally are going to love the Will Ferrell videos and the user-generated content. I would say that audience skews young, and young people tend to be important to movie box office.