Entertainment Marketers 2008

Entertainment Marketers 2008: Sue Kroll

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The battle of Thermopylae occurred in 480 B.C., and, as the joke goes in Hollywood, Warner Bros. Pictures' marketing plan for "300" took shape a month or two after that.

But, of course, it only seems like Sue Kroll's global plan for the swords-and-sandals epic began when Euripides was still in Huggies. It actually started in December 2005 -- nearly a year and half before the film's March 2007 opening -- but a perilous lifetime in Hollywood marketing.
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It was then that director Zack Snyder's production blog began offering regular entries. Geeks who frequented SuperheroHype.com and Ain't It Cool News were given special access long before mainstream press. Mr. Snyder attended the San Diego Comic-Con "nerd prom" with a presentation of exclusive scenes 10 months before "300" opened to show its hard-core audience of graphic novel fans that the studio would respect Frank Miller's iconic tale.

"That's a dangerous game to play with the fanboys unless you have the goods," Ms. Kroll says.

Positive word-of-mouth spread quickly online, and indeed, if "worldwide web" ever applied to a film's marketing, "300" was that film. For the launch, Ms. Kroll, president-worldwide marketing, and her team created 30 localized websites spanning more than 50 countries.

"This ensured that the film had a very wide online footprint and added to the perception that it was an event film," she said via an e-mail.

"Geek chic" applied to work done behind the scenes, too. Widgets -- those clever, portable chunks of code that deliver "live" content from a third party without your website having to update it -- are commonplace today. But at the time it began marketing "300," Warner was pioneering the technology that made viral video possible. Warner even created its own viral media player (with behind-the-scenes photos, a synopsis, downloads and video) so that fans and webmasters could post "300" content on their social-networking sites and blogs.

And post they did.

Reaching across corporate borders, Ms. Kroll forged a promotional partnership with News Corp.'s MySpace that would be worth its weight in Persian gold: A temporary redesign of the MySpace home page with "'300' skin" yielded 2.4 million plays of the trailer on the social-networking site. And when Warner went on to boost the number of photos MySpace members could post on their personal MySpace pages from a couple of dozen to -- what else? -- 300, it transitioned to a mainstream event, with more than 3 billion impressions delivered, Ms. Kroll says.

Yet, even with all the infrastructure, planning and strategy, Ms. Kroll was somewhat astonished at the film's $456 million gross.

"'300' is just one of these things that you can't plan for," Ms. Kroll says, even though she proved that, actually, you can.
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