Interview by Hal Siegel
The Beauty Inside was a worldwide social film, produced by Intel and Toshiba, that was a mash-up of a blockbuster-Hollywood produced film and social networking. It allowed everyone in the audience the chance to play the lead role and to interact with the lead character on Facebook over an eight and a half week period in July and August, 2012. It achieved over 70 million views, making it the 6th most watched advertisement of 2012. Billie Goldman produced The Beauty Inside and its predecessor, The Inside Experience.
1. The Beauty Inside has a very different tone than your first social film, The Inside Experience. Were multiple story ideas pitched? Overall, how did the development compare to a more traditional marketing campaign?
When Pereira & O'Dell, one of our ad agencies, first pitched the concept of social film with the thriller concept of The Inside Experience, we were scared. It was a daring story line for us, it didn't match the Intel "happy, happy" brand voice or Toshiba's quirky brand voice, and while we were excited to be scared, we also wanted to cover ourselves. So we asked Pereira & O'Dell to come back with some additional genre concepts before we decided to move forward.
The Beauty Inside was one of those additional six concepts Pereira & O'Dell presented. We fell in love with it but decided that The Inside Experience was the right film to do first and if we were able to do a second then we would go with the romance. You will note that the underlying theme is common though for both films of "it's what's inside that counts" which is of course the Intel Inside message.
The difference in development compared to traditional marketing was not all that different, I suppose, except maybe more complex in creating what I fondly call 'the spaghetti' which is how everything connects and relates behind the scenes.
2. The integration of the user generated videos was wonderfully conceived and executed — it was easy to forget that they were submitted by the audience. No easy task! What was the process of accepting and editing the user-generated submissions?
Oh, this was not easy but thank you for noticing how well it was done. It was a bumpy beginning. For episodic content we actually picked from the auditions and asked people to re-record exactly what we wanted them to say. For the Facebook timeline we took and used the auditions as is.
For the first episode we just reached out to a single person as the one identified to be incorporated but her performance recording the exact lines we wanted to say was not nearly as well acted as what she has provided for her audition and I was really unhappy. For the remaining episodes we chose three or more people for each identified spot and had them all record what we needed which allowed us more of a selection and to not be thrown if they didn't immediately respond which was a problem we had as well.
When everything is so real time and translations still needed to happen (we translated it into 8 different languages so if you were in France, based on your IP address and your language of choice you would have been served up the French experience vs the English experience you had here in the U.S.) it was a time crunch at every point and we couldn't afford to wait for anyone.
We were happy with the number of auditions overall but were disappointed that speaking in English was a bit of a barrier (intimidation factor I believe) for anyone outside of the U.S. and so our auditions from everywhere outside of the U.S. were less than we had hoped for. Instead we mostly got a lot of photo submissions from around the world which were incorporated into the episodic content as well as on the Facebook timeline.
3. It was also one of the more nuanced examples of brand integration I've seen in recent history. The Toshiba Ultrabook clearly played an important role, and yet it felt very natural to the story. Were there any discussions or back-and-forth in terms of how significant a role it should play? It seems like a difficult balancing act.
It is a difficult balancing act but really we wanted the product to be incorporated naturally/organically. This is where we see the rubber meet the road between creating branded content vs doing a simple sponsorship. For Intel the underlying theme of the story was "it's what's inside that counts" which was our goal and the goal for Toshiba was to have the Toshiba system treated like a character of the film itself, an essential piece of who Alex was and the only way to identify who he was that day.
We wanted a natural, organic integration that represented the role that technology plays in our lives, allowing us to be all that we can be. I believe the audience was very happy with the exchange of value they received as you can read in a lot of the comments that people recognized it was advertising, from Intel and Toshiba and they just wanted more. I also believe that our target audience is moving even further into a space where they are OK with brands being very transparent about what we are trying to accomplish as long as there is that value exchange. It is a boundary worth exploring more.
4. Let's talk about The Beauty Inside being presented as a social film. Considering that there are a number of elements to the project — in your view how and why is it "social"? Is there one overarching aspect to the experience, or is it more a combination of these many different elements?
It's all of the above, truly a combination of all the elements that make it a social film. It is social on many levels and we built the experience so the audience could layer their participation level depending on their interest and how engaged they wanted to be. We see social film as a mash up of a big blockbuster, Hollywood-class movie combined with social media which allowed The Beauty Inside to be social in that 1) the audience could audition to be in it 2) the audience could help choose which auditions would be featured 3) the audience could communicate directly with Alex, the lead character, on the Facebook timeline 4) and of course, the audience could share the content easily with friends.
5. In terms of the audience reception and interactions, were there any specific behaviors or themes that you noticed?
The story of Alex is one that was incredibly relatable for our target audience (18-34 year olds) that are on a journey of self-discovery themselves so they related with the feeling of waking up in a different body every day. It's amazing to see what happens when an audience "hangs out" together and by the end of the 8.5 weeks you can see from all the posts that it became a community of supportive people, sharing secrets and feelings that they normally wouldn't share in such a public forum. Much like our first social film, people didn't want the experience to end and they felt a real connection with the lead characters.
6. Since it was distributed episodically via Facebook, were there any concerns about viewers potentially missing some of the content? If so, were there any ways in which you mitigated this?
Our first social film, The Inside Experience, was 11 days long versus The Beauty Inside which ran for 6 weeks (plus 2.5 weeks for the auditions before the episodes launched). The first was fast and furious, exciting but it didn't make it easy for the audience to, mid-stream, catch up and get engaged. We also didn't make it easy for them to know when the next episode would be as the release of the episodic content often relied on how much social interaction we achieved. We also did a lot of the character development and even character introductions on the social side which meant that if you just watched episode to episode you would have had a hard time following along.
For our second social film we wanted to make sure we made this easier for the audience so instead created a layered effect so the audience could participate at whatever level they wanted and to move at a slow, leisurely (and predictable with weekly releases) pace so anyone at any point could easily catch up and engage. The layered effect meant that someone could just watch the episodes which they could see on Facebook or on YouTube (we linked the episodes together on YouTube so they would start automatically), and share the content, or they could add a layer by auditioning, and they could add another layer by talking with Alex on the Facebook timeline all without requiring that the audience participate in all aspects/layers.
We used every strategy for reminders from our media buys having a calendaring/reminder component to the Facebook events to ensure people would remember to come back. What we found is that while some people complained about how short the episodes were, in the same breath they would say they couldn't wait until next week. Now that the campaign is complete, our media buy long since exhausted, we still are seeing a lot of people watching the content and what we see is people gobbling up most if not all 47 minutes of all 6 episodes in one sitting versus snacking on the episodes — which is great to see and really speaks to how good the film is itself even without the social component.
7. Given all the points of interaction, how did you measure engagement?
We took goals on the number of video views, number of Facebook fans, number of interactions on Facebook, number of Twitter Followers, number of retweets and number of press articles. Besides the interaction numbers I don't think this is any different than how we would have measured a non-interactive web series.
8. Did you consider creating a Facebook App for the film or no? And how did the usual privacy concerns around the Facebook experience factor into this?
We actually did have a Facebook App which was how the audience auditioned but that was the extent of the app. I find that requiring consumers to sign up for an app is a barrier to engagement and therefore not attractive. Intel and Toshiba also have very strict guidelines on the information we gather and use from consumers. We need to be very transparent about the use of consumer information, going as far as putting together an internal privacy/security plan that detailed how the data will be used, justifying what we collected and how long we would keep the data. We also aligned with the Facebook requirements in that you had to be 13 years old to participate, which is the age Facebook requires for you to have a Facebook account.
9. The Beauty Inside had over 70 million views in total. That certainly seems like a success — but what metrics were you using to define the success of the project?
We only had our first social film, The Inside Experience to compare ourselves to and use as a measuring stick for our second social film. Our first social film had achieved 50M views (15M US and Canada, 35M China), 53K Facebook Fans with 7M interactions, 4K Twitter followers and 163 original articles. So these were our goals for the second social film. In the end The Beauty Inside achieved 70M views, 94K Facebook Fans with 14M interactions, 8K Twitter Followers and 298 original articles. But the fact is that, even with all these new metrics, measuring a brand campaign is never easy.
10. In terms of the overall budget, how did this compare to a more traditional marketing or brand campaign? And can we expect to see any further social films from Intel/Toshiba?
I consider it relatively cheap compared to a traditional marketing/brand campaign based on the success we saw. We would consider doing the activity again if we can find the right story that naturally integrates the product as a character in the film and can organically demonstrate the role technology plays in our daily lives.
Hal Siegel is a partner at Murmur, a hybrid studio/technology company that pioneers new forms of immersive, cinematic experiences.