Programmatic Buying for Film Advertising: How Big Data and Algorithms Are Changing Movie Marketing

As a Nov. 15th, 2012 article by Tanzina Vega in The New York Times explains, "[p]ublishers and broadcasters have long tried to offer advertisers the right audience for their products."

For filmmakers this often meant expensive ads in the Friday newspaper or on Thursday night TV - heralding the Friday release of a new film in theaters.

But the new tools of digital advertising are evolving in ways that allow marketers to selectively target individuals. For example, algorithms can now analyze huge amounts of data and sift out only highly-motivated potential customers (e.g., people who might be very interested in your movie based on information collected from a huge database that includes information about prior movie purchases but also information about use of keywords in online searches and data mining of messages sent via email, Twitter or Facebook) - and then deliver individualized marketing messages to each such customer.

According to Tanzina Vega, this shift in how advertising is targeted and delivered "is punishing traditional online publishers, like newspaper, broadcast and magazine sites, who are receiving a much lower percentage of ad dollars as marketers use programmatic buying across a much broader canvas."

This shift to what marketing insiders call "programmatic buying" is just beginning to change how filmmakers reach out to potential customers online - but many of us believe that it is the future of indie film marketing.

How does programmatic buying differ from the Old World ways of placing ads?

According to Larry Allen, programmatic buying is "the process of executing media buys in an automated fashion through digital platforms such as: exchanges, trading desks, and demand-side platforms (DSPs) [in a way that] replaces the traditional use of manual RFPs, negotiations and insertion orders to purchase [traditional and] digital media."

As Tanzina Vega writes in The New York Times: "Programmatic buying includes a number of different technologies and strategies, but it essentially allows advertisers to bid, often in real time, on ad space largely based on the value they have assigned to the consumer on the other side of the screen. Say, for example, that Nike wants to sell running gear to a particular consumer who has a high likelihood of buying shoes based on the data it has collected, including the type of Web sites that consumer typically visits."

What does this mean for filmmakers?

Filmmakers (like other marketers) will soon be bidding on ad space that reaches only highly-motivated potential customers. For example, if your film is about the romantic adventures of a female snowboarder over age 30 - then you can reach out to selected customers online - targeting only customers who are likely to buy your movie based on a set of rules your team has devised (e.g., heavy female users of Netflix born before 1982 who also bought 50 Shades of Grey and liked the Winter X-Games).

How will a filmmaker implement such a strategy?

As described in a Sept. 21st, 2012 Business Insider article, a filmmaker "no longer needs an army of sellers to blanket the market to drive hundreds of sales. Instead they will hire a SWAT team of sellers who are consultative, think like marketers and build integrated and highly creative programs."

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