Halloween Horror Nights videos


Halloween – it’s fun, it’s freaky and it’s become a huge business, having grown into the 2nd largest U.S. holiday by commercial activity.

My colleagues and I at Universal Studios are very aware of the ever-increasing passion for the holiday, given our annual event called Halloween Horror Nights. The popularity of the holiday and the event itself has allowed us to expand the number of event nights offered each year, to the extent that the first nights are in now in September.

As quick background: Halloween Horror Nights is held at Universal Studios in Hollywood and Orlando, and features serious scares and gore. It’s not intended for children or the faint of heart.

The teams creating the event attractions pride themselves on authenticity and high production values. There’s a strong movie-industry tie-in, including partnering with film & TV properties for attraction themes (e.g., the very popular The Walking Dead series) and working with movie-industry talent (from makeup artists to film directors).

A recent Wall Street Journal article about high-end horror attractions described Halloween Horror Nights as: “The Grand dame of haunted attractions, this venue is the most popular in the industry and closely watched each year for cutting-edge techniques.”

Digital marketing has played an important role in building awareness of, and excitement about, Halloween Horror Nights. Video is a central element of the digital marketing.

In the spirit of the Halloween season, I’d like to share examples of the online videos we produced for the event this year. Generally speaking, the videos fall into one of these categories:

1. Preview videos

During the summer we release a video highlighting the upcoming event’s main attractions and intellectual properties (IPs).

Prior to the release of this ‘umbrella’ preview video, we also create videos announcing specific attractions and IPs. These videos play well with the event’s core audience that is hungry for the latest news as well as existing fans of the respective IPs (e.g., The Walking Dead or Silent Hill, both featured this year).

2. Guest Reaction videos

During the early nights of the event we film event guests reacting to the scary/gory content and package the highlights into rather entertaining videos.

These videos were unique to the industry in 2006 when we initiated them, but have since been copied in style and approach by our main competitor and others. (To that point, our approach to Preview videos has been copied as well, which we take in the spirit of “flatter is the sincerest form of compliment.”)

An example Guest Reaction video is featured at the very top of this post.

3.  Celebrity Reaction videos

This is a subset of the Guest Reactions video, but feature celebrities — either associated with the featured IPs or who visit the event as fans and agree to be filmed.

The above video of The Walking Dead cast has a little less attraction content than normal because it was filmed at a red carpet premiere (held at Halloween Horror Nights). But it offers Halloween eye candy, pardon the weak pun.

4. “Behind The Screams” videos

We also produce a series of videos looking behind the scenes/”screams” at how the event attractions are made.

The above video features Alice Cooper (who knew he was so funny?). He’s been involved in the creation of attractions (or “mazes,” as they’re known) the past 2 years.

We try to mix up the content to offer new insights each year, for example, previous years’ videos have looked more specifically at makeup and special effects.

5. Television commercial

The television commercial my colleagues produced is of great importance too (of course) and we promote it online.  I am listing it 5th in this list only because I was foremost highlighting the content we create primarily for digital marketing.

In summary..

These videos have played a significant role reaching potential guests on our event website, YouTube channel, Facebook and those of our partners. In  combination they are viewed hundred thousands of times and generate lots of social media interactions (comments, likes, shares).

We also like that they stay live on social media channels year-round, which helps maintain ongoing awareness of the event during the 10.5 months that Halloween Horror Nights is not taking place.

As mentioned above, that our approach to videos has been copied by others in the industry is a compliment — but it also means we need to get even more creative to stay a step ahead.

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoyed the video content and that it helped build the Halloween spirit for you as 10/31 fast approaches. Happy Halloween!

Give the people where they want

Mobile phone

Google’s third-quarter reporting fiasco last week certainly made for a juicy story.

Beyond the immediate news of the accidental early release of the report, what I found most interesting was the role of mobile ad prices in Google’s disappointing quarterly profit — and how this highlights a disconnect between the perceived value of mobile marketing by advertisers and the reality of consumer behavior.

As you may have read, Google’s ad sales were up 33% compared to the same quarter last year, but the corresponding profit dropped because advertisers on average paid less per ad click. These lower prices were largely the result of a shift in ad impressions from desktop computers to mobile devices.

Consumers are increasingly accessing the web and conducting searches via mobile devices, in particular smartphones. But there is less competition amongst advertisers for mobile ads so they cost less than desktop ads.

Why is there less competition for mobile ads?

For most companies, it’s probably some combination of the following:

  • Have not yet created a mobile-optimized site that they are happy with. (Not an app, but a site that can be seen via mobile browsers and to which ads can point)
  • Have decision makers/key influencers who believe a mobile site delivers a less powerful marketing impact than the company’s traditional website
  • Don’t believe they can sufficiently monetize mobile traffic

But companies must figure these things out

There’s no shortage of data points saying it’s imperative to develop a mobile plan.

Mobile’s share of Internet traffic is growing rapidly, and is up to about 20% in the U.S. and Canada in 2012. About ¾ of this is via smartphones, ¼ tablets (data source). This traffic will continue to increase quickly.

Mobile accounts for an even larger role in search queries.

I recently attended a conference co-sponsored by Google during which two of its executives referenced a research firm’s forecast that half of all U.S. searches would be made on a mobile device in 2013. Given Google’s knowledge of search data, I take its executives’ endorsement to mean the forecast is reliable.

Key point: consumers want and are looking for information via mobile. If they don’t find it from your company, they’ll look for it elsewhere.

Consumers are also getting comfortable with mobile transactions. According to Internet Retailer Magazine, in 2012 U.S. mobile commerce sales will increase 99% over last year, to almost $21 billion.

“In 2012 U.S. mobile commerce sales will grow nearly 10 times faster than U.S. e-commerce sales” and “will account for about 9.2% of all U.S. e-commerce sales compared with 5.4% in 2011.”

Meanwhile, mobile content has an even larger impact on in-person sales. According to a report from Deloitte, smartphones influence 5.1% of sales made in retail stores, and this influence will increase to 19% by 2016.

Mobile mindset

While some companies have embraced mobile marketing – from offering great user experiences and compelling content to achieving robust m-commerce sales – they are the exception to the rule in the U.S. market.

More typically, corporate thinking needs catch up with the new consumer reality.

In terms of comparing a mobile site’s branding impact to that of a traditional website, it’s important to understand that the users don’t expect the same experience with mobile.

What they want is a site that functions well – i.e., allows them to easily fulfill their objectives – on the platform they have chosen to use.

There is a brand benefit to ease of use. Just as customer service helps shape a brand’s image, in the digital world so does usability. A positive user experience is a positive brand impression.

On the flip side, 48% of people surveyed in July reported feeling “frustrated and annoyed when they get to a site that’s not mobile-friendly.” (data source)

Meanwhile, in terms of more ‘traditional’ web marketing activities, consumers do watch videos, look at photos and interact with content via smartphones when good content is offered in a mobile-friendly manner (for example, check out the user activity on Instagram).

It’s not necessarily easy

I can speak from experience in saying that creating a great mobile experience is not easy.

Most companies’ digital teams are already stretched thin trying to keep up with the growing number of platforms for which they need to create content.

Mobile adds complexity to that situation– for example, the need for mobile-optimized ad landing pages, the challenge of multi-screen analytics, figuring out how to enable transactions, etc., etc.

And of course there’s the challenge that doing mobile well requires securing additional resources. For example, the funding for additional call center agents since in many cases the best mobile call-to-action is a phone number (“click to call”).

But it’s undoubtedly necessary

It will probably take some testing and false starts, but more and more companies are going to figure out how to offer their users great mobile experiences.

The downside is just too great: customers and potential customers abandoning them for competitors.

It’s only a matter of time before enough companies embrace the mobile opportunity that mobile ads cost the same as non-mobile ads, especially search ads.

The Google earnings report with that news is likely to come in a not-too-distant fiscal quarter.

Quick Link – 10.21.12

MANAGEMENT – Superior Superiors” in The Wall Street Journal’s Week In Ideas.

A 4-sentence summary of the findings of a recent study that’s worth reading by anyone who manages people and/or organizes teams. Short but thought provoking.

The study showed that best bosses in an organization dramatically increased employee productivity, and “the boss made his or her biggest contribution not by motivating workers but by teaching more productive skills.”

Am I as dumb as I feel?

A senior and seasoned executive I know pretty well confided in me more than once that a critical, sharp-tongued person to whom he had to answer at work made him question his own intelligence.

“He makes me feel dumb. I know I’m not dumb. But when I try to explain something it’s like my brain turns to jelly.”

It turns out that according to academic research, my friend might not have just felt less intelligent than normal when in the presence of the difficult executive — he might actually have been so.

A recent opinion article in the New York Times written by Annie Murphy Paul titled “It’s Not Me, It’s You,” discussed research showing that intelligence isn’t static and that social forces can significantly impact test scores, academic achievement and I.Q.

The article references work by various psychologists, including Joshua Aronson, an associate professor at NYU. Murphy Paul wrote:

“Professor Aronson calls the doltishness induced by an uncomfortable social situation ‘conditional stupidity.’ We should use that insight to create the conditions for brilliance.”

The author focused her attention on the research’s implications for childhood education, such as the importance of educators putting in place social environments in which children can excel.

However, the concepts outlined in the article also serve as a good reminder for managers and team leaders.

We typically hear about the importance of creating positive work environments in which employees feel valued and secure to foster creativity and risk taking and increase morale.

The research discussed in the New York Times article adds that a company’s social environment also affects the level of cognitive ability at which employees function.

Managers should ensure they’re creating environments in which team members are given the right to feel intelligent, to enable them to think and contribute to the fullest extent of their intellectual abilities.

An obvious step is to not tolerate dismissive, condescending or belittling attitudes – i.e., essentially the type of behavior that tripped up my friend.

Another is to embrace the adage “compliment in public and criticize in private.”

Less obvious I think (and maybe harder to implement because of prevailing mindsets) is not allowing people to be boxed into role stereotypes.

Think of someone from the finance department who’s in a meeting during which the conversation takes an unscheduled turn when a bunch of marketers in the room start brainstorming new marketing messages. The finance guy might conceive of a great contribution, but it’s less likely to happen if he’s been conditioned to believe that people in finance jobs aren’t creative.

Enlightened management should not only encourage the sharing of opinions and ideas but should also attempt to break down mental barriers that prevent them from occurring in the first place.

That includes role stereotypes, which are commonly joked about in the workplace. By words and example, managers should encourage the idea that a person’s abilities aren’t defined by his/her job or department.

The problem is that stereotypes about ability – as the psychology research indicates – tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies.

In a world where headcount is stretched thin, technical complexity is spiraling upwards and companies count on individuals to contribute ever-higher rates of productivity, there’s a tremendous onus on managers to maximize human resources. Achieving this requires letting those humans be as intelligent as possible.

Google’s “win-win and win” situation

eMarketer, Inc. recently released an estimate that Google is on pace to take the top spot in US display ad revenue in 2012.

This would earn Google its first digital advertising triple crown: leadership in US paid-search ads, mobile ads, and now display ads.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “Advertising executives said the eMarketer estimates are something of a surprise given that Google is best known for its search ads.”

Not me — no surprise here. I oversee a digital ad budget and have seen the shift to Google mobile and display ads firsthand.

However, the news has made me think about why Google is outpacing its rivals.

Clearly Google has made large, well-known investments that are fundamental to its growth beyond search ads, such as the purchases of DoubleClick and YouTube and the creation of an ad network (enabling it to sell ads across a stable of third-party websites).

But from my experience there are also numerous things Google does at a practical level that are less headline grabbing but which are relevant to people who decide how to allocate digital ad budgets.

Google’s approach to video ads – a fast-growing segment of the display ad market – offers a great product-level example of many of these things, including:

1)   Easy to justify a test budget

While other video ad pitches were based on TV tradition, Google offered an alternative: ads that viewers can skip by choice and which advertisers only pay for when not skipped.

If I only have to pay when a viewer actually watches the ad, why not run a test campaign?

2)   Easy to advocate

The ‘no play means no pay’ model also makes it easier for digital ad managers to sell the relatively new concept of online video advertising to internal stakeholders.

“We only pay when someone chooses to watch our full 30-second ad” is a very convincing statement and allows the person saying it to speak confidently.

3)   Easy to implement

Campaigns are quickly initiated and implemented in the AdWords system, using the same log-in many advertisers already use for paid-search ads.

Google also offers a lot of ‘how to’ information – how to set up campaigns and define audience targets, etc. – including helpful tutorial videos.

4)   Easy to like the end-user experience

If users can select whether or not to watch your video ad, then those who view it are much more likely to do so in a positive and more receptive mindset.

Offering a better user experience is one-third of the user/advertiser/company “win-win-win” that Google first embraced when it introduced the notion of relevancy to paid-search ad rankings many years ago (as opposed to simply selling to the highest bidder).

Heaven help the yahoos

In my opinion it’s difficult to see how any competitor will slow Google’s growth in the major digital-ad categories.

The competitive advantages gained from owning and integrating ad technology’s murderers row – DoubleClick, YouTube, AdMob, etc. – are obvious.

It’s also obvious that the company is committed to, and invests heavily in, innovation.

And unlike many other examples in corporate history, there’s no sign that the access to resources and/or its past achievements engender complacency at Google.

In the case of video ads, YouTube is 20x larger than the world’s second largest video platform but that hasn’t stopped Google from offering innovative ad products and then continuing to tweak them for improvements (and recently increasing the number of format options from two to four).

Google’s competitors are, of course, beyond aware of these topics.

But in my experience as an ad buyer, there are important things Google does that its competition doesn’t fully grasp, such as how much better Google’s account teams are at partnering with large clients and selling new opportunities.

Nor this simple reality: how much easier Google makes it for me to give them more of my advertising money.