Cinema and viral marketing according to Federico Mauro, art director Fandango [INTERVIEW]

Saturday, 3 PM

I’m visiting Federico Mauro‘s website, Fandango‘s art director. A viral communications expert, he has designed and cured the campaigns of movies like XY, Habemus Papam, Qualunquemente and L’ultimo terrestre. A few days ago he won the “Professional of the year” award at Premio Web Italia 2011.

Ok, I’m convinced. I’ll call him!

Federico, while I look at your portfolio I think to myself “finally someone who believes in viral strategies”. Something rare for Italy: we’re experimenting now what Hollywood has been doing for ten years. So, is something finally changing over here?

In Italy innovative communication strategies and techniques linking cinematic products to non conventional marketing are not particulary diffuse. Even if – in my opinion – there are interesting projects, titles and movies where something new could be thought of, the great majority of strategies for cinema promotion follow a classic and consolidated model. And it’s too bad.

Personally and in Fandango, we believe in a new strategic structure. It’s a great way to broaden a movie, to go beyond its mere promotional launch aspects, to build a series of elements that involve the audience and let it become an integral part of the movie’s overall communication campaign.  Furthermore, it’s a great way to position the product from a commercial point of view. From an advertising standpoint, you can obtain a greater value for a lesser cost – or anyway, a smaller cost than a traditional advertising campaign.

But I believe that non conventional strategies have more of an editorial and content value, other than promotional; value that can create new and interesting impressions and experiences. This is why, for example,  J.J. Abrams uses viral marketing for his projects.

I confess, I was expecting you to mention Abrams!

My approach is typical of who loves movies: my starting point is not marketing, but the movie itself. I’m talking about those typical case studies like The Blair Witch Project, and more recent examples like Abrams’ work. In these cases the web has not been used to consciously make the product viral, but it has been imagined as an enitrely fresh narrative channel.

Like Lost, Cloverfield or Super8. Their marketing campaigns were based on hints, elements disseminated just about anywhere waiting to be picked up and processed by the audience. You’re not part of a product you know, but of one you have to discover. These are campaigns that have a point of view and that make way for a storytelling dimension. This is the new element: it’s an interactive, multimedial and transmedial way of promoting movies. As I said, non conventional activities don’t have to be limited to the product’s promotion, but have to be intended as a new way of narrating.

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Is this the concept that has inspired your viral campaigns?

Absolutely, I’ve always tried to harness viral potential as a narrative formula. Obviously, this means creating specific content for the campaign, not simply adapting what you had already available for promotional purposes.

For example, for XY (Sandro Veronesi’s latest work) we designed a 6-month campaign: an experiment in which for the first time we have used viral marketing to promote a book. The idea, a very simple one, was to create a campaign that replicated the narrative scheme of the book. The web, for its interactive and diffusive abilities, has been an extraordinary medium supporting the editorial project: we dispersed hints on internet and involved the audience in processing them, creating thus anticipation on the nature of the product by offering original textual content. As if it were bonus material. Entire pages written by Veronesi, used for research on the book but not inserted in the final edition. We gave life to XY’s story as if it were a movie and the results, in terms of followers and media coverage, have been positively unexpected.

Indeed the marketing campaign has in some ways influenced the product itself: the book’s cover was derived from some graphic suggestions from the movie website and the booktrailer teaser. From website to cover, and not viceversa.

 

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IFRAME Embed for Youtube

 

And what about “L’Ultimo Terrestre”? How was the campaign born?

The first thing you read in any communications manual is what happened with The War of the Worlds by Orson Welles, a source of inspiration for anyone doing this job and even for us. Within a few days we created something amazing. The “Esseri di Luce” website, launched online a few months earlier, had attracted attention, but had not reached significant numbers in terms of views. It was a fake product for a bunch of ufologists and other people with that kind of passion.
We only made it in order to bring some reality into the fiction.
The fake news of TG3, instead, collected 500 thousand views in one day, was shared by major national newspapers (Aldo Grasso wrote about it on Corriere della Sera‘s front page) and has even transcended national borders, thanks to an article by The Guardian.

 

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IFRAME Embed for Youtube

 

For its latest products Fandango has focused heavily on viral contents. Is it meant to be a long-term strategy?

I would not say it’s a strategy ex anteIt depends on the movie.
We do not use unconventional as a model: it’d become, by definition, absolutely conventional and it would not work. I think a link with the product is rather essential : the viral effect is something the project must have in its veins in the first place, that can be perceived and then built, planned and coordinated.

Lately we’re focusing on two other projects that will be released shortly and that, in my opinion, may have the right keys of this approach.

Let me add one more thing. Since its ability to spread into the community, unconventional marketing is very useful to estabilish a different relationship with users. For example, movie trailers, as well as posters, production stills and information about our products and activities, are published exclusively on our website and our official Facebook page before we distribute them on other platforms. And this is a demonstration of a privileged relationship we intend to estabilish with our internet audience. It also shows how much Domenico Procacci, Fandango’s CEO, is receptive about the potential of new media and is aware of the actual importance of sharing one’s work.

The other significant element is that we do not outsource to external communication agencies. Fandango internally manages (with the Marketing and communications department) everything about promotion, marketing and art direction of books and movies.
This is quite atypical in Italy, but it also enables us to follow every stage of production work. Communication, marketing and creativity turn out to be an integral part of production, not something that relates only to promotion or distribution. This is something that really gets you in the middle of a movie or a book.

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How can viral marketing be useful for Italian cinema? What’s its added value?

It really can be useful, there are two fundamental values. First of all, a viral campaign has a chance to be successful independently from the main assets of the production. It can be very useful for a film with a great cast, but also for a small production or an indie prod.
On the other hand, things are not so easy. There is not a certainty of success with viral marketing. Everything is very casual, often random.
Viral communication only works if there is a real interest in developing the campaign and it’s not about distributing things already produced. Viral means not only a methodology, but also creating and disseminating new contents and new ideas.

Here comes the second aspect to consider: transversality, the possibility of combining different mediums, resources, skills and communication methods.
Websites for Esseri di Luce and Partito du Pilu have been essential in conveying new content produced. Obviously you need the author to partecipate. Nanni Moretti, for example, [usually not inclined to use new technologies] made a brand-new short movie for the launch of Habemus Papam. Successively he’s turned it into a game and published it online for free. Veronesi instead has been writing unedited pages of his novel just for online users. That’s how you can bring to life a movie before it is released. For enthusiastic users, like me, it’s awesome. Being able to see the unedited scenes, listening to the soundtrack, watching previews.
You can gather an attentive audience that follows you and becomes attached.

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Unconventional campaigns in Italy are mostly being made by smaller or indipendent productions. Do they believe more in unconventional marketing? Or is it because they don’t have to worry about box office results?

It is a matter of mindset and it depends on how production companies are structured. For the majors, distribution strongly relies on adv campaigns, billboards, television commercials. We’ve also to consider that often communication aspects are outsourced to other agencies. These agencies start working when the product is already packaged, so they adapt their communication strategies to what has been already achieved.

Things are obvioulsy different when you’re part of the project from the beginning. People should understand that communication is not only a matter of promotion. Creativity should follows the entire life of the product. Then, of course, the launch is crucial.
I wonder why Italian majors, having also many resources available, fail to implement such strategies. Maybe they already get what they want, so they do not need any more strategies. I don’t know what to think.

 

During the Premio Web Italia Award, Michele Ficara Manganelli, President of Assodigitale – the Italian Association of Digital Industries, said: “Go abroad. Italy is not a country for digital startups. Investing here is useless.” To make matters worse, Maurizio Sala, founder of TestaWeb, Armando Testa’s web agency, also said: “I always say to my 6 year old daughter: you owe nothing to this country. Go away from here.”. What do you think about it?

I sincerely admire Manganelli and Sala. But I do not agree with their thoughts. It seems weird to hear this from those who remained in Italy and still work here.
If we realize that running away from Italy is the right conclusion, it would be the final defeat of this country.
Italians are sought throughout the world. Still, it’s true we have too many problems: it is difficult to network, to do business, and we have a ruling class that lacks the height of a modern and advanced country. Unfortunately this is all true.
At the same time we have to stop the demagoguery that sees success in merely “going away and making money.” It is not a prospect that attracts me, nor one that I accept. Probably because I was not taught this and I’m glad. Leaving is the easiest thing. The real challenge is to do anything possible to stay.

Anyway, I do not want and I can not offer advices. I consider myself as a lucky person and for me, coming from the province of Avellino, every goal achieved is even more a matter of great satisfaction. Now I’ve the privilege of living doing what I enjoy doing, and this is something that anyone should aspire. That’s what Steve Jobs once said, i guess.

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