The marketing maneuver, via Sony's newly acquired Grouper video-sharing site, is meant to be a template for future movie promotions and a way to tap into wildly popular web activities such as consumer-generated videos, file sharing and message boards.
"When we're figuring out our digital-marketing approach, we ask, 'What community can we activate in favor of our movie? How can we get them talking?'" said Dwight Caines, exec VP-worldwide digital-marketing strategy at the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group. "We try to generate an organic discussion."
Sony bought Grouper a few months ago for $65 million and plans to use it extensively to market its feature-film slate. The romantic comedy "The Holiday" will get a contest that mirrors its theme of shaking up one's life. Participants will be asked to submit a video telling why they deserve a change of scenery.
Discussions are already taking place with a marketing partner for the studio's much-anticipated "Spider-Man 3" release next summer about launching a contest for fans to create their own videos based on the hit franchise.
News Corp. has taken similar advantage of its acquisition of MySpace.com to market films from 20th Century Fox, though the social-networking site has become home to myriad movie, music and TV promotions from entertainment companies. Fox and MySpace are siblings, while Sony owns Grouper outright and can use its tech capabilities, including podcasting, to build promotional campaigns for its movies.
For "The Pursuit of Happyness," which launches Dec. 15, consumers are asked to submit a five-minute video featuring their "words to live by" and reasons they should win an internship at the National Football League, the Gap, Morgan Stanley, People magazine, The Hollywood Reporter, NBC, PlayStation and Yahoo.
Human-resources executives will help whittle the pool, and then consumers will pick their favorites. The top two contestants for each company will get interviews.
"The Ultimate Internship Contest" already is drawing heavy traffic, though executives wouldn't specify the numbers. It continues through Nov. 5.
Its theme ties into the movie, which is based on a true story. Chris Gardner, a struggling single dad, turned his life around after landing an internship as a stock broker. Studio executives said they based the marketing tactic on the relatable idea of having a once-in-a-lifetime chance at a dream job. They tied that into web behavior that's become second nature to many people.
Voting and commenting
In addition to being able to vote on video submissions, consumers also will be able to post comments on the sweepstakes and its participants, the movie and the broader concept of pursuing dreams. Sony launched an online ad campaign to tout "The Ultimate Internship Contest" focusing on college sites, MySpace.com and other heavily trafficked spots.
Studio executives say they'll measure the program's success by the numbers of submissions, chatter on message boards and blogs and, ultimately, qualified candidates for the participating companies.
Video-sharing sites, though incredibly popular, have spawned lawsuits from entertainment companies that allege copyright infringement for unlicensed use of property such as music and TV clips. Grouper, along with Bolt.com, recently was named in a lawsuit filed by Universal Music Group. Mr. Caines said that the "Happyness" contest specifies that participants cannot post anything on their videos that they don't own, such as popular music bits or entertainment clips.