Fast & Furious: Making friends, a marketing fast track
In his film article on movies and the internet, Mike Jones finds that social networking applications make a new film a community event.
This is part of a series of articles on FilmInFocus in which Mike Jones examines the role played by the internet in both film production (on Medicine for Melancholy and Taking Woodstock) and film promotion (Bottle Shock, Fast & Furious, Milk and Scott Walker: 30 Century Man.)
Like Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, Universal's new high-octane thrill film Fast & Furious wants to friend you. Studios are hoping that social networking sites, like Facebook, which allow people to find out everything about their real and virtual pals, will work for big-budget films as well. The Fast & Furious site is built to allow friends to pop the movie’s hood and kick the tires, all in the hope they will also be interested in taking a drive when the film is in theaters.
Universal's Senior Vice President of Digital Marketing, Doug Neil, crafts much of the studio's marketing strategy around social networks. It's about being close to the consumer at all times. "It's pretty awesome to see how contagious it is," Neil comments.
This kind of personal connection was nonexistent before the internet. Originally marketing films was all about exclusivity, using klieg lights, red carpets, and velvet ropes to create a sense of privilege and celebrity.
Online marketing now is all about including the fans, rather than shutting a door in their faces. Names like Martha Stewart, Britney Spears, and Ashton Kutcher spill out their private lives on Twitter feeds. Universal is promoting that same intimacy with Fast & Furious. Its MySpace page has 65,000 friends. Its Facebook profile boasts over 400,000.
And much like anyone's profile, Fast proudly shows off its goods as well as looking for like-minded fans to befriend. There are long discussions of cars, plenty of photos to grab, and a model competition where women can upload their photo. Contests help connect a chain of possible fans. The hottest femme straddling a muscle car gets five grand. To get votes, those women reach out to their friends, who then become friends of Fast & Furious, and who then upload their own Hot or Not photos.
For the marketing team, the film’s demographics are crystal clear. "We want to hit the ethnic and urban audiences," says Neil. "With online you really have the ability to drill down to ethnical likes and dislikes. Your ability to target against past behaviors has increased a hundred fold in the past three or four years." To that effect, Fast has bought internet advertising on Vibe.com, Black Planet, All Hip Hop, and The Rundown, among others.
It’s one thing to bring people to a site, and quite another to keep them there. "It's important to create an experience that is not only complementary but immersive and engaging and has a payoff," says Neil. Among the web perks, for example, Fast's homepage includes a game called “Desert Run” that recreates components of the film.
Fast also wants to be a part of your desktop. A custom widget is available that includes a GPS map of "Furious cars in your area," Vin Diesel wallpaper and icon downloads, and "Fast Talk" where users can chat with other Furious members. Users can also watch a short doc about graffiti artist Mr. Cartoon creating a billboard for the film, which now hangs over Sunset Blvd. It's Universal's attempt not only to make its films "friend-worthy" but also to cozy up to a specific culture.
And like a good friend, Fast and Furious wants to hang with you, wherever you go. Neil says having a mobile component to a campaign is now so standard that he includes "mobile" in his own title. "The big evolution hit when the iPhone came out," says Neil. The Fast & Furious app is a truncated version of the website, yet with features that use the iPhone's GPS locator to guide the user to a theater where pre-bought tickets are waiting.
Moreover, friends of Furious can still maintain the relationship after the theatrical run because a franchise keeps on giving. The DVD release, the video game series and countless other future ancillary properties can keep the relationship fresh so that the next Furious movie will now have hundreds of thousands of eager, ready-made friends.
Mike Jones is a screenwriter and journalist based in Los Angeles. He’s held staff positions at Filmmaker Magazine, indieWIRE, Variety and currently blogs on the film festival beat at The Circuit. He's written scripts for Columbia, HBO, MGM/UA, among others. Recently The Gotham Group optioned his adaptation of The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break.