How New Marketing Tools Help Moviemakers ‘Fish Where the Fish Are’ (Video)

TheGrill 2021: “The intersection of art and science is getting more and more seamless,” says one Hollywood marketing exec

If this panel discussion were a horror movie, it would not have the title: “The Marketing Algorithm That Ate Your Brain.”

In fact, during TheGrill’s “Monetizing Innovation: Science + Creativity in Marketing” panel, sponsored by the modern marketing company Known, top Hollywood marketing executives were quick to point out that increasingly sophisticated methods of gathering audience data can serve to empower both filmmakers and viewers, rather than killing the human factor.

“When it comes to art versus science, this is a hot topic for us,” said Elias Plishner, executive vice president of Worldwide Digital Marketing and Data Analytics for Sony Pictures Distribution, a unit of Sony Pictures Entertainment. “I always remind everybody that we are a creatively focused organization. The arts part of the equation … is first and foremost the most important part of what we do.”

Plishner added that algorithms are a tool, not a replacement, for human emotion. “The scientific portion of that equation is really not along the lines of a machine essentially making all of the decisions for us,” he said on the panel moderated by TheWrap’s Diane Haithman. “That’s not true … we’re not going to be replaced tomorrow with algorithms. Instead, the idea is how do we make the decisions that we make each and every day as robust as possible and how did the data driven tools, give us a kind of confidence in those decisions?”

To put it simply, Plishner said, the idea is not to push content down consumers’ throats, but to use computer-driven intelligence to match the product with the right audiences. “It’s just, fish where the fish are right?” he said with a laugh. “Every dollar is under the microscope because of so much uncertainty. We have to prove that every impression is going to make a difference…let’s train people how to fish.”

Kern Schireson, chairman and CEO of Known, agreed. “People are uniquely great when it comes to creating art, in building an emotional storyline that leads to an impact that matters to people,” he offered. “Computers don’t do that. You know we’ve all seen computer generated art, it’s not that compelling.”

What computers are good at, Schireson said, is finding connections and correlations that might debunk our own biases about which micro-audience is most likely to be attracted to any given film or TV show. “There has been an enormous evolution of our ability to understand what’s happening at the endpoint, at the atomic intersection of a single audience member … We have a lot more that we can do today to passively understand what kind of experience, a person is having with that content, what kind of thing they want to watch next.”

Stephen Bruno, who serves as chief marketing officer of MGM, has oversight over a number of recent projects built from legacy intellectual properties or well-known life figures. His recent projects include “Respect” starring Jennifer Hudson, the upcoming “Addams Family 2,” and the 25th film in the James Bond series “No Time To Die,” starring Daniel Craig.  

Bruno said that a marketer has an advantage when working with familiar IP, “but you’ve got to promise a new experience. You’ve got to promise that, especially in a theatrical setting, going to a theater, it’s going to feel new and different … so we do a ton of research. It can be really scary, but really fun. Nothing these days is guaranteed.”

Watch an excerpt from the panel above and the full conversation here.

For over a decade, TheWrap’s Grill event series has led the conversation on the convergence between entertainment, media and technology, bringing together newsmakers to debate the challenges and opportunities facing content in the digital age. Tailored to C-Suite and high-level attendees, TheGrill, presented by WrapPRO, delivers a unique series of curated discussions, industry panels and virtual networking activations that explore the ever-changing media landscape. View the full panel and all Grill content here: