cinema, streaming

It’s T-Day in Movie Theatres; can Christopher Nolan’s Tenet save Cinema as we’ve known it?

All eyes are on Christopher Nolan’s latest time- and mind-bender, which is released internationally today after a delay due to the ronacoaster. Can it turn around movie theatre’s annus horribilis and save the cinema business from a historical pivot towards home streaming?

Today could turn out to be a crucial day in the history of cinema. Or more specifically, the cinematic release. Of the many shifts that COVID has accelerated, those associated with our consumption of content across screens have been some of the most obvious and pronounced.

Perhaps most notably, streaming has surged. At the start of the pandemic, Netflix reported a record additional 15.77 million paid subscribers globally in the first quarter (that was double the number it expected). The second quarter saw the streaming platform add a further 10.1 million (2.9 million in the U.S. and 7.2 million overseas).

Netflix aren’t alone. At the start of this month, Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced that there were now 60.5 million global subscribers to Disney+, the House of Mouse’s streaming service which launched last November. Disney+ is now into 60-90 million range it told investors it would get to by 2024.

That puts Disney+ a whopping FOUR YEARS ahead of schedule, and will almost certainly have put to bed any debate about the short-term revenue risk Disney took by pulling their content (and revenues) from other platforms in order to bring the Skywalker, Stark and Oldenburg families under one streaming roof.

That said, the gains in the streaming area of the Disney empire weren’t nearly enough to offset the hits in other parts of the business – most notably in the shuttering of COVID-hit Parks and Resort, which (along with theatrical cinema closures) saw a USD $4.7bn loss in the quarter to the end of June (Disney’s first in two decades). But strength through diversity of revenues (especially in the recurring bundle space) will surely win out.

If the Disney+ news wasn’t enough of a headline, the same announcement also included the showstopper that the long-awaited live action Mulan movie would be available on Disney+ from September 24th, for USD $29.99.

Cinema chains, which have long enjoyed a 70- to 90-day exclusive “theatrical window”, recoiled at the announcement. Theatres were banking on Mulan to be one of the billion dollar-plus big hitters to land in the second half and help claw back what has been an agonisingly bad year for cinema revenues.

In the US, as of yesterday, the year to date box office gross stood at $1,813,328,945. For context, the 2019 haul totaled $11,320,889,639. That tracks as 84% down year on year so far. The likes of Mulan were desperately needed by theatres to mitigate what will be an all-time historically bad year for cinemas.

But the real danger isn’t the historical revenue hit that will be 2020, but rather the potential underlying tectonic shifts indicated by Mulan’s move to streaming. In short, will 2020 be a blip in cinema history, or a pivot?

From a consumer perspective, it will be fascinating to see how Disney’s experiment plays out next month. Will Mulan’s USD $29.99 price tag prove too rich for most, or will there be enough take-up and revenues to enable a sea-change in day-and-date content releases to streaming services?

Additionally, how will consumers perceive the relative value of a one-off payment to watch a new release at home, versus the recurring revenue bundle model that underpins the streaming platforms?

The implications go beyond the cinema industry and land much closer to home in media planning land, where its worth noting the huge consequences for advertisers and media planners should streaming pull the pivot off.

These are valuable and valued audiences and GRPs that, should they jump over and vanish behind streaming’s paywalls, will be unavailable as part of a campaign schedule’s multi-screen reach.

Enter Christopher Nolan, who’s extraordinary directorial CV includes Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Dunkirk and Interstellar.

The director’s latest offering arrives in international cinemas today (it opens in the US next month) and comes with a weight of unprecedented levels of expectation; an expectation that far outstrips that of the movie itself.

The mind- and time-bending, globe-trotting Tenet, see’s The Protagonist fight an nefarious incursion from the future as time flows in both directions at once. Its typically audacious, huge, and spectacular in its ambition and scale. The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw describes it as “amazing cinema”.

Its a movie that surely deserves to be seen on the biggest screen and surrounded by the most surroundest of sound; not glanced at from the sofa whilst dividing attention between The Protagonists unfolding fate and the latest feed from the socials. Surely this will be movie for which people return to cinemas?

Watching on eagerly for answers to those questions will be not only the movie theatre industry, but Hollywood and its counterparts around the world, the streaming platforms, the movie production industry… and this media planner.

Will audiences return to cinemas for Tenet? What scale of ticket stubs and revenues will its release be judged a success by the industry? Will the tide of 2020 be turned or will this year be seen as pivotal (in every sense) in the shift to home-streaming? Can Christoper Nolan save cinema as we’ve known it?

Given the director’s fascination with the temporal, it’s perhaps fitting that the only answer to those questions, is that time will tell.

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advertising, celebrating, community-building, innovating, marketing, responding

The five-point Covid-19 Response Playbook; according to the awesome Aesop’s Bangkok

Back in the olden days when we used to get on aeroplanes and visit other countries, one of my favourite places to drop by was the awesome Aesop’s Greek restaurant in Bangkok’s Sathorn district.

The food is just the best, but so is the atmosphere, with owner (and PHD alumnus) John Gamvros, creating a shared social space with dancing, plate smashing, parties, quiz nights, and the occasional Queen singalong party (you can see why I didn’t mind stopping by occasionally).

Like many restaurants, Aesop’s Bangkok has been hugely impacted by this year’s pandemic and the shut-downs that have been introduced around the world to slow its spread.

The fall-out from the closures could be devastating to the industry: Forbes reports that – according to a study commissioned by the Independent Restaurant Coalition – the pandemic could force 85% of independent U.S. restaurants to close by the end of the year. Over on this side of the world in Japan, which is weathering the crisis better than many, that figure is reported to be around 20%.

It was most heartening then when I received, via the awesome Heather, a write up on Chope outlining how Aesop’s Bangkok responded to the challenge of Covid-19 – or, as John puts it – the ‘ronacoaster’.

The article outlines the innovative, creative and generous steps John and the team at the restaurant took to adapt and respond to the crisis. A little WhatsApp banter with John later, and I’d seen and heard what I thought was as great a Covid-19 Response Playbook as any that I’d seen.

I present to you then, the five-point Covid-19 Response Playbook – as inspired by the awesome approaches and actions of John and the Aesop’s Bangkok team.

Step One: Pivot and Operationalise, Fast

Like many restaurants, Aesop’s immediately kicked into gear re-launching their delivery product, creating a dedicated consumer-facing channel at orderaesops.com, as well as accelerating their digital marketing effort to support the platform. They also had to work with their staff to re-engineer the menu, change operations and back that up with training.

In the current moment you have to follow more then ever Nick Fury’s observation to The Cap in CA:TWS that you have to “… take the world as it is, not as we’d like it to be.” What do you realistically need to do right now to capitalise on the opportunities and overcome the barriers to driving revenues?

Now delivering Gyros

Step Two: Play To Your Strengths

Rather than reinventing the wheel, the restaurant found a way to deliver the added magical elements that made the Aesop’s dining experience so special. This included, for example, plate smashing. So the team found a way to deliver orders complete with smashable plates, so you can bring the Aesop’s dining experience to life in your own home (you presumably have to do you own in-home clearing up tho too).

Step Three: Do, Don’t Say

Actions really do speak much louder than words right now. The team built trust with the restaurant’s followers by communicating updates directly and regularly on our social media channels, and responding to specific queries and concerns.

The bigger the brand, the harder this is to do of course, but I couldn’t help but think of the contrast between the personal approach and the – much lambasted – generic response from big brands in the early stages of the crisis.

Film from YouTube creator Microsoft Sam’s supercut shows the striking similarities in the ads made in response to the crisis

Step Four: Pay It Forward

Some of the most heartening stories to have emerged from the crisis have been around brands and businesses retooling and responding by paying efforts forward, and Aesop’s were no exception. They partnered with Ramathibodi Hospital to launch Eat it Forward Fridays, providing much needed fuel to the hard working doctors and nurses on duty. For every order received, Aesop’s donates one meal to Ramathibodi hospital to feed the hospital heroes with fresh, healthy Greek food.

Step Five: Be Honest

As John describes: “… it actually takes a lot more work than you’d expect to maintain the same high standards we set in the restaurant. We have overcome it through teamwork, listening to customer feedback, and constantly tweaking things. I have been honest with my customers, I tell them we are on a journey and that we are learning as we go. More often than not they appreciate that honesty and reward it.”

I think most people would agree that we’ve all at times felt out of our depth over the last six months. Being honest with customers (and with each other) about what we are trying to achieve, along with an equally honest assessment of how we are doing in getting there, will be appreciated and rewarded in kind.

Big thanks to Heather for the share, and John and all the team at Aesop’s Bangkok for the inspiration. We’ll stop on by just as soon as we can.

Stay safe everyone.

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Combining the power of short and long-term effects to improve brand performance
planning, marketing, attributing, learning, researching, evidencing

Getting your hands dirty; mediating the messy reality of combining the long and the short of marketing approaches

There should probably be statues somewhere of Les Binet and Peter Field. Their comprehensive, considered and rigorous work into the effectiveness of marketing has hugely influenced the industry – to the point where its essentially unofficial agency law to reference their findings in your thinking.

I’ve always however found their short vs long-term marketing step chart a little overly-theoretical. The logic is clearly sound and the general findings of course backed-up, but the danger is that its (over?) simplicity misses the messier reality of the real world.

Les Binet and Peter Field’s illustration of the impact – in general terms – of brand-building vs sales activation marketing activities, via Gracious Economics

Happy days then, as Dr Grace Kite from Gracious Economics has recently shared a trove of real-world examples and findings based on twenty years’ worth of economics projects.

The data proves out Binet and Field’s work, with evidence that many real-world brands drive growth via incremental sales when both sales-activation and brand-based activities are deployed.

“This advertiser’s email activity worked well to drive sales in the week it mailed and the week after. But, just as Les and Peter’s analysis predicts, the business didn’t begin to see growth until they increased their investment into longer-lived brand-building activity on TV.” Source

Beyond the general model holding up to real-world analysis, some addition messier and interesting examples were also identified – not all with positive growth stories. For example there were cases where the addition of more brand-based activities were unsuccessful, and unfortunately abandoned in favour of the more immediate wins.

“Four brand campaigns on TV were tried and found to have neither long-lived effects nor a positive return on investment. After evaluation, the advertiser understandably gave up and reallocated budget away from brand and into short-term sales activation online.” Source

There also a lovely example of a case where initial use of social and TV didn’t product long-term effects. When an alternative TV creative was paired with radio however, the advertiser saw incremental sales growth. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again (tho obviously with a considered test and learn agenda and performance benchmarks to ascertain success metrics).

“Initial experiments with social only had a short-lived effect and TV creative X was not strong enough to produce a long-lasting effect. It was only when they switched to creative Y on TV and radio that advertising was able to deliver growth.” Source

Working with Tom Roach (who, as an aside, wrote a great piece on the current state of brand purpose-based marketing worth reading if you haven’t already), they have developed an adapted view of the Binet and Field model – which combines both short-and long term effects as force-multipliers, as opposed to a long and short of it trade-off.

Having real-world examples – with all their sometimes messy and not always first-time successful outcomes – makes for a valuable addition to the general evidence available to support the case for investment in both short-term sales activation and longer-term brand building marketing activties.

And it is both.

As Tom notes on his blog post to accompany the research, “whilst the theory says we should all try to achieve a balanced approach in order to maximise both saleability and sales simultaneously, there’s a massive gulf between the theory and the actual practice, which is increasingly divided between practitioners of ‘brand’ and ‘performance’ marketing.”

Its unfortunately true that the two effects are too often seen as a trade-off. Of course they work hand in hand. If that’s a lesson for the best of times, its an even more important reminder whilst navigating our current moment. Both are needed, and you won’t always get the combination it right first time.

Its also true that all too often the focus is purely on return on investment, rather than growth – an analysis in which its easier for pure short-termist approaches to win out. Ensuring that we optimise to effectiveness goals, rather than to efficiency-based outcomes, is crucial if we are to ensure that we maximise growth opportunities.

Efficiency (including ROI analysis) is a means to an effectiveness end.

My very awesome colleague Malcolm Devoy discussed this, and the broader challenges and opportunities for brands navigating this Covid moment in the first of eatbigfish and PHD’s Challenger Strategies podcast.

Adam Morgan, founder of eatbigfish, and Malcolm Devoy, Chief Strategy Officer at PHD EMEA, discuss how the media landscape has changed for brands and the opportunities to build brand value through creativity and challenger thinking.

Dr Kite’s generous sharing of her work is a reminder – as if we needed it – of the need to mediate the long vs short absolutist elements of media planning and practice; but also a timely reminder that there are very few silver bullets. The combination of media and marketing efforts that unlock growth won’t always be found first time, and never in power-pointed theoreticals.

To navigate, and win, in a messy world – you have to get your hands dirty.

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