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Marketing Movies to the Modern Man

Sports. Speed. Women. Cash.

If you're a guy between the ages of 18 and 34, chances are we've got your attention.

For decades, Hollywood has relied on these cardinal concepts when crafting TV commercials to get guys to see their flicks. But lately, no matter how sexy or slick TV ads are, the message is being lost on young men who are abandoning the boob tube in favor of their Playstation 2s, Internet connections and DVD players.

Now, in what experts say is a major shift in marketing, Hollywood is starting to take its campaigns where the boys are: online.

"Kids have tuned out traditional media," said Erik Hauser, founder and creative director of the experimental marketing firm Swivel Media. "These kids don't want brands shouting at them and telling them what to buy. They consider themselves smart, clever and [they] know what they want."

Sudhir Muralidhar, a 22-year-old consultant in New York City, is one the elusive guys marketers are going after — and his habits reflect the larger phenomenon.

"I don't watch commercials," he said of his TV-watching habits. "I'll change the channel. Or if I need to do something, I do it during commercials."

To rein in people like Muralidhar, movie studios are looking to slip marketing into new venues.

For instance, when Paramount Pictures wanted to hype its recent Denzel Washington thriller "The Manchurian Candidate," it spent some of its budget placing ads on political blogs like Instapundit.com — a bit apropos, considering the movie involved shadowy organizations brainwashing unwitting victims.

According to statistics from Jupiter Media, a third of young men prefer to watch movie clips and read movie reviews on the Web rather than in newspapers, magazines or TV, compared to just 24 percent of 45- to 54-year-olds. And whether they know it or not, guys like Muralidhar may be responding to the new tactics.

Muralidhar, an avid movie fan, said he reads most movie reviews on the Web and watches trailers online if one of the blogs he reads routinely posts a link to it.

Marketing firms have even hired college students with university e-mail addresses to post to Web message boards to start a buzz about movies before they are released in theaters.

Although only a small portion of advertising budgets were spent on promoting online and experimental marketing last year, experts say the industry is set to explode.

Ned Barnett, president of Barnett Marketing Communications, said studios are also getting savvier about the influence between blockbusters and video games.

"Hollywood is doing even more to tie movies that appeal to 18-34 males to really hot games for those machines that are pulling the men away from TV," he said. "They were promoting the 'Spider-Man 2' game before the movie was out — and that's significant — and it's crossing the line between games and films in a way TV cannot do."

The trend really began picking up last fall when a Nielsen Media Research report showed that guys were bolting from TV.

Cindy Rakowitz, who says her previous job as president of promotions at Playboy makes her an expert on knowing what men want, said advertisers have to be innovative in grabbing guys.

"You have to bring it to them in their environment. What do they like to do? They play games, they like to listen to music and they like to go out clubbing," said Rakowitz, now CEO of Rak N Roll Entertainment. "The thing men today don't want that they were more open to before the Internet revolution is they don't want to be heavily branded."

For Hollywood, finding the right people in cyberspace can be marketing gold — but the 18- to 34-year-old guys remain a notoriously slippery demographic.

"I'm sure it influences me in some manner," said Muralidhar of marketer's covert tactics. "I can understand the appeal of that kind of advertising because it will comes across as more genuine than something that appears on television."

Advertisers like Hauser say that Hollywood will continue to expand its alternative marketing efforts to get their messages to an increasingly skeptical and techno-savvy generation.

"There's no stronger form of advertising than your friend or someone you trust telling you that something is good," Hauser said.

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