Facebook Top 10

Facebook Year In Review 2014

I’m happy to share Universal Studios Hollywood made Facebook’s Year In ReviewMost Checked-Into Places in the US” list for the 3rd straight year. This year the park was #2, up 5 spot’s from #7 in 2013 and #8 in 2012.

Congratulations to the social media marketing team I’m proud to have hired and led, and everyone at Universal Studios Hollywood who helps make the park so much fun (i.e., a place where guests want to tell their friends they are visiting).

Facebook’s Year In review includes other Top 10 category lists, including the Most Talked About Global Topics.

Here’s their overview video if you haven’t seen it yet.

New Halloween Horror Nights Videos

 

Just a quick follow-up to my post about Halloween Horror Nights last week. The event keeps many Universal Studios employees, including my team and me (with digital advertising, social media, website content and e-commerce ticket sales) busy this time of the year. Luckily it’s a lot of fun to work on. For these reasons, I’ve got Halloween Horror Nights (a.k.a., HHN) on the brain.

While the event is top of mind for me, I know some readers aren’t familiar with it and may be curious to learn more, so I wanted to share two new videos we just released.

The video above is our first Guest Reactions video of the year. It provides a glimpse of what the event experience — i.e., walking through the themed mazes and scare-zones — is like. It also showcases why we don’t recommend HHN for kids.

We’ve been putting out Guest Reaction videos for years and, in the spirit of “imitation is flattery,” are proud to note that many other Halloween events have copied the style.

We also create Behind the Scenes videos. This is the latest in the series:

 

I’m happy to share that we’ve received a lot of good media coverage, such as this USA Today article.

If you’re in the L.A or Orlando areas and like Halloween / Horror content, please check out this year’s event.

 

(Disclosure and disclaimer:  As noted throughout this blog, I am an employee of NBCUniversal / Universal Studios Hollywood. All company information mentioned in this post is publicly available. All opinions are personal and do not represent the opinions of the company. See media relations website for official press contacts and press releases. To state the obvious, the achievements of Universal Studios Parks & Resorts are the result of the hard work and commitment of many people.)

Halloween. It’s back…. Again!

 

One year ago I wrote a post just before the start of Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights 2013. It looked at how our use of social media to market the event reflected the major developments in mainstream U.S. social media since the days of MySpace.

Now another year has flown by. Tonight marks the start of the 2014 event, including the opening night Eyegore Awards ceremony.

Halloween Horror Nights is a great event to market. The nature of the content — gruesome entertainment largely created in partnership with horror-film directors and producers, TV shows (such as The Walking Dead), and musicians (like this year’s collaboration with Slash) — combined with the young-adult target audience allows for a lot of creativity.

The content and the audience are both perfectly suited to digital marketing.

As in past years, we’re creating videos to highlight the guest experience as well as our entertainment team’s creative partnerships; for example:

 

Social media fan engagement is a year-round activity but naturally intensifies during the event period. We have active fan bases on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This year we also started posting on Snapchat.

My team and I are responsible for the event website, a work in progress as we always continue to add videos and photos as the event progresses. Please check it out. (Note: it includes some gory images).

For commerce, this year’s ticket store is optimized for mobile check-out.

All this work keeps us busy but it really is a lot of fun.

If you’ve been to Halloween Horror Nights, please share your thoughts about the experience in a comment below.

(Disclosure and disclaimer:  As noted throughout this blog, I am an employee of NBCUniversal / Universal Studios Hollywood. All company information mentioned in this post is publicly available. All opinions are personal and do not represent the opinions of the company. See media relations website for official press contacts and press releases. To state the obvious, the achievements of Universal Studios Parks & Resorts are the result of the hard work and commitment of many people.)

Minion-fueled growth

As unlikely as it may have seemed during the 2000 – 2009 decade, when successive corporate owners (Vivendi and GE) didn’t make meaningful investments in the company, and a period punctuated by the Great Recession, this week Universal Studios Hollywood is celebrating an outlook of unprecedented growth.

It’s truly been a monumental week for the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park, with expansion-related news coming fast and furiously (literally).

Most tangible for 2014 is tomorrow’s grand opening of the new Despicable Me Minion Mayhem ride. Also opening is Super Silly Fun Land, a Despicable Me-themed family play area.

As you can imagine, we have numerous initiatives underway to spread awareness of the new ride. For me personally an interesting one was the video embedded above, featuring James Franco and some Minion friends. It was created for online use, particularly social-media sharing. (Developing and releasing this video has been an experience — one that would make for a good blog post if only the details didn’t fall into the realm of confidential information.)

Ride launches are big deals for theme parks. Given the high development and construction costs, they tend to be fairly infrequent.

That makes this week’s situation at Universal Studios Hollywood extra unusual.

Not only do we have the Despicable Me grand opening, but we also announced two 2015 launches: Fast and Furious – Supercharged and the expansion of the Simpsons Ride area to include stores and venues right out of Springfield (e.g., Mo’s Tavern). Also it was officially announced that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter will open in 2016 (the date hadn’t previously been communicated).

The New York Times published an article that provides a very good overview of the expansion plans, which include infrastructure improvements such as new parking garages.

Unlike previous corporate owners, current owner Comcast is making a huge (over $1 billion) investment in the Universal theme park business.

This investment in physical expansion coincides with a period of strong financial expansion. Comcast/NBC Universal publicly reported the theme parks division’s operating cash flow increased from $400 million in 2009 to over $1 billion in 2013.

Walt Disney has also reported strong financial results from its theme parks division. Disney and Universal Studios are also both increasing their international footprints with new overseas parks in development.

A heightened appreciation for real-world entertainment?

The growth of Disney and Universal Studios theme park businesses runs counter to a fear that was whispered a few years ago.

While never an official outlook, I recall hearing people in the industry privately express concern that the emergence of high-quality digital entertainment (HD TVs, highly realistic video games, and the unknown impact of the Internet) would render theme parks less relevant. The concern was that less expensive in-home entertainment would rival or outpace the park experience.

Perhaps what really happened is that increased time spent with digital devices has made reliable out-of-home entertainment more valuable. This might be especially true for parents who see a day at a theme park as being a way to get kids away from the Xbox for a period of shared, heads-up family fun.

These last thoughts are only personal speculation. However, it’s noteworthy to me that so many theme parks are thriving despite an ever-increasing volume of competitive leisure-time activities and attention-grabbing digital devices.

For many families, experiencing fun attractions together — with kids looking away from iPads — is worth the price of admission.

(Disclosure and disclaimer: As noted elsewhere on this blog, I am an employee of NBC Universal. All company information mentioned in this post is already publicly available. All opinions are personal and do not represent the opinions of the company. See media relations website for official press contacts and press releases.  To state the obvious, the achievements of Universal Studios Parks & Resorts are the result of the hard work and commitment of many people.)

 

Hiring Alert – Digital Analyst

The Universal Studios Hollywood digital marketing team is growing.

New job posting:  we’re looking for an experienced Manager of Digital Analytics. Strong Omniture background is a key requirement.

Please kindly share this link with anyone you feel is qualified and may be interested.

http://www.nbcunicareers.com/view-job?id=202991

Thank you!

Video ads poised for takeoff

One of the noteworthy digital marketing stories of last year – the growth of video advertising – is picking up momentum.

Expect many more headlines about this trend in 2014.

I posted about the topic last summer. Half a year later I’m even more confident the market will quickly expand.

I anticipate significant growth and innovation in the video ad space this year, both on the advertiser side (from the number of buyers to an increased willingness to test creative specifically tailored to the medium) and on the publisher side (e.g., the types of formats made available).

Factors driving video ad growth include:

Expanding audience

There is increased consumption of the digital media that supports video ads, especially via mobile phones.

Increasing number of ad vehicles

For example, Facebook introduced video ads last month. Expect Facebook, Twitter and other ad sellers to tweak their existing video ad formats and to add new ones.

A front page story in today’s Wall Street Journal discussed the WatchESPN app, which ESPN owner Disney sees “as a way to cash in on growing demand for online video.”

Media agency recommendations

Agency planners are more frequently recommending video ads as a component of comprehensive advertising campaigns.

Increasing comfort level of ad buyers

As ad buyers themselves watch more online videos it’s natural they’ll become knowledgeable about, and interested in, video ad formats.

Meanwhile, Google took a step to comfort some more traditional-minded marketers when it recently announced it’d allow advertisers to test the use of Nielsen measurement tags on YouTube ads. (Nielsen reportedly expects this to become permanent in 2014.)

These tags will provide third-party metrics similar to Nielsen’s television audience ratings and should lead some hesitant marketers to initiate YouTube video ad campaigns.

More inventory made available on ad exchanges

Publishers are increasing the amount of video ad inventory available on a growing number of so-called programmatic platforms/exchanges, which makes it easier to plan, execute and optimize large-scale ad buys.

Predictions

1.  Many of the marketers who step into the arena for the first time in 2014 will quickly increase their expenditures on video ads.

They will be impressed by the flexibility and measurability of video advertising. For example, the ability:

  • Target specific DMAs (defined geographic areas) at low cost; e.g., to expand into additional markets, including international ones, that are beyond the reach of their TV ad campaign budgets
  • Test creative executions head-to-head while monitoring metrics such as completed plays, clicks to website and online conversions

2.   More marketers will run tests to see how their target markets respond to broadcast plus online video ads

My former Universal Studios colleague and now co-founder of a digital marketing & analytics agency, Frank Vertolli, recently published an article that references such a test his agency ran on behalf of a travel industry client.

3.  Customized creative executions

We will see more examples of video ads that take advantage of the medium’s unique opportunities to engage target audiences.

One of best video ads I’ve ever seen in the wild (i.e., while going about my business) targeted me based on a previous YouTube.com video view.

I was on a weather site when I saw a video thumbnail image featuring the stars of the Comedy Central show, Key and Peele. The comedians’ faces caught my attention because I’d recently watched a few of their show clips on Comedy Central’s YouTube channel.

I clicked the “Play” button. The video opened with voiceover saying, “We know you like watching Key and Peele on YouTube, but you’ll love watching the whole show even more on Comedy Central.” After a snippet of comedy the spot ended with the comedians pitching benefits of watching on TV.

The ad was a fantastic example of a creative execution specifically made for a given situation.

Here’s one of the ads from the series:

For many advertisers the easiest way to get video ads online is to reuse television spots. However, in time we’ll see more advertisers embracing the fuller potential of video ads by creating content geared to the medium.

All the trends and opportunities mentioned above reinforce one another, which strengthens my belief that 2014 will be a year of impressive growth in the video ad market.

On the (Check-Ins) list

Top Check-Ins Around The World

Last week Facebook posted its Top 10 U.S. Check-Ins list as part of its 2013 Year in Review. I’m happy to share that Universal Studios Hollywood made the list again. We climbed one spot from last year, from 8th to 7th.

A big Thank You to my teammates and co-workers who helped make this happen over the past two years. (Disclosure: I’m an employee of Universal Studios Hollywood and am responsible for digital marketing).

I find the milestone to be extra sweet because I’ve been working on the company’s Facebook presence literally since its first day.

On an even more personal note, I have to admit that I felt some joy in seeing Universal Studios Hollywood’s name next to Fenway Park, which is 8th on this year’s Top U.S. Check-Ins list.

7. Universal Studios Hollywood (Universal City, CA)
8. Fenway Park (Boston, MA)

Growing up in Massachusetts I shared the New England kid dream that my professional career would someday lead me to Fenway. OK, so side-by-side on a Facebook list isn’t quite the stuff of childhood fantasies…. but I appreciate the irony.

Reader Beware

The Facebook Stories Top Check-Ins list generated a decent amount of media attention last week. It was interesting to see how the information was often reported in a slightly inaccurate way.

Looking at how Facebook released the information, it’s understandable where the confusion began.

The first and most prominent of its two Top Check-In lists was presented as:  “Top Check-Ins Around The World:  Explore the most popular destinations people checked into this year”. (I.e., the image at the top of this blog post)

That headline links to the following eye-catching map highlighting 25 locations around the world:

Facebook Stories 2013 check-ins map

Not surprisingly, many news outlets rans stories implying that these locations were the most checked-into spots in the world. For example, a CNN Travel article was titled, “The 25 most popular destinations for Facebook check-ins in 2013”. And an article in The Telegraph (UK) referred to the locations as “the 25 most popular locations of 2013.”

However, there’s a nuance that makes this billing inaccurate. The Facebook top 25 list highlights the #1 check-in spot within each of 25 countries (i.e., one spot per select country); it is not a list of the 25 top check-in spots overall.

Facebook should have been more careful in how it presented the information. Vague wording leads to vague understanding.

Facebook has received some bad press for cluttered layouts and confusing privacy instructions. The wording of the Year In Review article (and the check-in lists therein) doesn’t help counter perceptions about poorly disseminated information. This is especially poignant in the digital world, where there’s a premium on having a relentless focus on an easy user experience.

At the same time, journalists should have caught the nuance. It should be pretty obvious that the U.S. is not home to just one of the world’s top 25 check-in locations, given its population, the amount of tourism and the Facebook usage rate. It is equally unlikely that Blue Lagoon in Reykjavík, Iceland, could have a check-in count large enough to rank amongst the world’s highest (the entire population of Iceland is 320,000).

Getting back to Universal Studios Hollywood, its relative place on the U.S. list is easy to discern. For “Top U.S. Check-Ins” Facebook provided a straight-forward #1 through #10 ranking.

No fancy graphics but no confusion.

(Please note that all comments made in this post and in this blog overall reflect personal opinions and not the opinions of Comcast, NBCUniversal or Universal Studios Hollywood).