Bad Moms jump at Sky Zone

 

I can’t wait to see this movie.

Because it’s going to be funny? Yes.

And because it’s Sky Zone‘s theatrical debut.

The first Bad Moms was a hit. The sequel opens in theaters this week. The original bad moms are joined by by their own mothers, played by Cheryl Hines, Christine Baranski and Susan Sarandon.

You can catch a peek of the characters’ visit to Sky Zone at 1:33 and 1:57 in the trailer above.

Check out the film at a theater near you this month. I’d be curious to hear what you think of the movie and the Sky Zone scene.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested, here are a couple article sharing insights about the comedy.

Forbes – Interview with Bad Moms film producer Suzanne Todd

LA Times – “How ‘Bad Moms’ went from sleeper hit to female-driven franchise

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.)

 

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.

Mark it up, price it down

Sale standeeMark it up and price it down.

That retail practice is alive and well. Thriving actually, according to an article in today’s Wall Street Journal (The Dirty Secret of Black Friday ‘Discounts’) that’s a great read for anyone planning to do some shopping Thanksgiving weekend.

It’s an interesting article about common retail pricing strategies, including how most deals are actually “a carefully engineered illusion.”

It also goes a long way in explaining why the Banana Republic near my house has a “Save 30%” or “Save 40% today!” standee by the front door seemingly every weekend.

This data really jumped out at me:

“The number of deals offered by 31 major department store and apparel retailers increased 63% between 2009 to 2012, and the average discount jumped to 36% from 25%, according to Savings.com, a website that tracks online coupons.

Over the same period, the gross margins of the same retailers—the difference between what they paid for goods and the price at which they sold them—were flat at 27.9%, according to FactSet. The holidays barely made a dent, with margins dipping to 27.8% in the fourth quarter of 2012 from 28% in the third quarter of that year.”

Not to take all the fun out of holiday shopping, but the article highlights the relevance of trying to determine true bargains (e.g., loss leader discounts) from illusory deals.

Shoppers are already wary of paying full retail prices. After reading this article, you may find yourself even more so.

Speaking of retail practices and holiday shopping, I’d like to share a book recommendation: Paco Underhill’s Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping.  It’s one of my favorites. If you or someone on your gift list enjoys marketing and/or business books, it’s a well-written and interesting look at shopping that’s based on his research as a retail consultant.

Do you have any favorite marketing books to recommend? It’d be great to hear. Please share in the comments or via the contact form. (Or just send it to me as a holiday gift. Haha, just kidding).

Halloween. It’s back…

It’s mid-September but Halloween is front of mind at Universal Studios Hollywood because this Friday is opening night of Halloween Horror Nights 2013.

Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) is our annual nighttime event featuring entertainment geared toward horror-lovers and Halloween aficionados. We say the event is for ages 13 plus; it’s definitely not for children or the faint of heart.

For many of us at Universal Studios Hollywood the event has become a year-round endeavor. This is especially true for the core group of people leading the entertainment plans as well as for my team working on social media.

Facebook and Twitter have become amazing platforms for keeping fans engaged throughout the year — which means we have momentum heading into the start of the broad advertising campaign in September.

Universal Studios Hollywood held HHN in the late 1990’s but put the event on hiatus from 2001 – 2005. (Universal Orlando had it running throughout those years). My involvement in the event began with its return to Hollywood in ’06.

The timing of the ’06 return — coupled with the fact that digital has consistently been a primary communications vehicle since then — makes the history of HHN social media programs something of a mirror reflection of the history of mainstream U.S. social media.

Following is a summary of Universal Studios Hollywood’s HHN social media evolution.

2006, the re-launch year

MySpace was king.

As you may recall, Facebook was only opened to the general public in late Sept 2006. Up until that point it was restricted to students and select others. Its user base wasn’t yet large enough to be relevant to HHN marketing.

YouTube was more mainstream, having opened to the public in 2005. We dabbled with YouTube in Fall 2006, but MySpace was much more popular at the time and that’s where we paid the most attention.

The event was themed around a fictional character named The Director — a twisted, violent, blacklisted filmmaker who was out for revenge on the Universal Studios backlot. We created a MySpace page for the character, filled with videos, photos and other content that set up his back story and told of his appetite for blood.

The page was very 2006. Luckily, it was 2006. The page was a hit.

2007 – 2008

YouTube became the focal point of HHN social media engagement, while MySpace faded out.

2009

While we continued (and still continue) to create videos for YouTube, 2009 marked the start of official HHN Facebook and Twitter accounts.

From the get-go we gave Twitter and Facebook their own voices and perspectives. Twitter is used to provide more of an “inside baseball” view of the event (which has been executed well largely thanks to the passion and commitment of the event’s creative director) while Facebook provides more general event news and related entertainment (e.g., via the posting of original horror-related images/memes).

On a personal level, the launch of these social programs led to what should probably be the only time my name is ever mentioned on Bloody-Disgusting.com

2010 – 2012

This period was marked by steady growth of the event’s Facebook and Twitter audiences, experimenting with YouTube video advertising, and the addition of social commenting on the Halloween Horror Nights website.

HHN Instagram launched in 2012.

2013

New for this year is the start of HHN’s Instagram videos (the capability was launched in June).

Onwards

Wow, a lot has happened in seven years. Who knows what’s in store over the coming years… for sure there’ll be ever more ways to share the HHN scares.

I must end with a very well deserved thank you to my teammates/co-workers who’ve contributed so much effort and creativity to all the above-mentioned programs.

(Disclosure and disclaimer:  As noted in my bio and is obvious from the post, I’m an employee of Universal Studios Hollywood and am personally involved with the programs discussed above. All comments reflect publicly available information. Opinions reflected on this blog are personal and do not represent the opinions of the company).