Content Marketers Talk Balancing ‘Art and Automation’


In a world awash in marketing messages and entertainment options, spurring consumers to check out new movie titles at the multiplex is no easy task. And that was before pandemic conditions made everything about going to a theater that much more complicated.

“Now there’s an extra step,” said Michael Moses, chief marketing officer for Universal Pictures. “We have to convince them to go to the movies, and then we have to convince them to pick our movie.”

Moses spoke Tuesday afternoon as part of Variety’s Entertainment Marketing Summit, presented by Deloitte, which was held at NeueHouse Hollywood. The daylong, in-person event featured marketers and executives from across the content and distribution spectrum.

The lively discussion about the state of content marketing included Sony Motion Pictures Group president Josh Greenstein and Ukonwa Ojo, chief marketing officer for Amazon Prime and Amazon Studios and was moderated by Claudia Eller, Variety Editor-in-Chief. Eller pressed the trio on how the challenge of moving consumers to action has changed in recent years.

Ojo concurred with Moses and Greenstein that pandemic conditions and social upheaval have dramatically changed the game.

“As crazy as the world has become, the world actually needs our industry,” Ojo said. “This is what they escape from after watching the news.”

The content boom of the past decade has accentuated the age-old challenge of cutting through the clutter to touch the hearts and minds of consumers. But while the marketplace overall is more crowded than ever, Greenstein said there are definite benefits to marketing 21st century movies.

“Reaching people directly is so much easier in terms of data and feedback,” Greenstein said. “In the old days you put the trailer out and you put out a poster. And you basically lived and died by your TV campaign.”

The trio of marketers agreed that the complexity of marketing campaigns these days means that the process begins much earlier.

“Now we start marketing when a movie is greenlit,” Greenstein said.

Eller pressed Ojo on Amazon’s plans for a blockbuster September when it raises the curtain on its much-anticipated TV spin on Tolkien — “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” – plus the first season of “Thursday Night Football” being exclusive to Amazon’s platform.

One challenge that Amazon likes to seize is how to use marketing and distribution to enhance the viewing experience.

With the NFL, “we’re going to make sure the launch is very elevated. We’re bringing technology to that that will allow (viewers) to gamify in a different way. They’ve have access to stats they’ve never had before,” Ojo said.

As for “LOTR,” Ojo called it an “eight-hour movie – really epic in its storytelling and production.”

Amazon is preparing to unveil what Ojo called a “refresh” of the Prime platform over the summer in preparation for the company’s big autumn. With so much content on the platform, Ojo said the job of steering Amazon Prime is a constant balancing act of relying on algorithms to help drive business in concert with the hand-crafted work of developing marketing messages.

“We want to have it feel like it’s a personalized experience for every customer,” Ojo said. “Some of that you have to do with humanity and some with automation. You’ll see us trying to find that balance – how much do we do with art and how much do we do with automation so that every customer feels like this (platform) was created just for me.”

Moses noted that projects of the scale of “LOTR” create their own kind of momentum that marketers can build on. Universal is leaning into that approach with plans for the upcoming “Nope” from director Jordan Peele.

“There comes a point the filmmaker alone or the IP alone counts as the reason to go,” Moses said.

That said, the content has to be worthwhile, no matter whose name is above the title. “The good stuff will separate itself from the less-good stuff,” Moses said.

(Pictured: Variety‘s Claudia Eller, Sony’s Josh Greenstein, Amazon’s Ukonwa Ojo and Universal’s Michael Moses)

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