Engaging Fans in the Digital Era: An Interview with Mike Monello
Our Chief Creative Officer and co-founder, Mike Monello, shared his insights on a number of topics with the Web of Intrigue podcast. He discusses the origins of Campfire, the power of engaging fan communities, and some of the structural challenges many agencies face while trying to produce innovative work.
6 September 2012
Shots magazine sat down with Campfire and profiled the agency’s culture of storytelling.
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Remember 1999? As millennium bug fears ran riot and the world prepared for the mother of all hangovers to usher in the new century, there was an indy movie phenomenon terrifying audiences and, at that point, becoming America’s most profitable movie ever The Blair Witch Project. A large part of the film’s success was fuelled by the online activity that built on the myth and developed the fanbase before the final version was even cut – rewriting the rules on movie marketing.
More than a decade later, lessons learnt on Blair Witch are still being used by two of its makers – Mike Monello and Gregg Hale – at NYC-based marketing agency Campfire. “One of the reasons The Blair Witch Project worked was due to the fact we weren’t a large corporation pumping out a horror movie because there was a market for horror,” recalls Monello, Campfire partner and chief creative officer. “We were fans and part of the culture and community, and we understood what was driving it. We knew there was an undercurrent of people tired of the ironic, jokey horror films. They wanted something that took itself seriously and The Blair Witch Project was a reaction to that. So
“I think for Campfire, one of the key philosophies is making something that we believe will work in the absence of media – that there’s a reason people want to experience this.”
Tales around the campfire.
With participatory storytelling at the heart of Campfire’s culture, today the small, multidisciplinary team weaves its cross-media campaigns through multiple channels, blurring the lines between marketing, entertainment and advertising and shaking up old formulas. Monello and his collaborators’ route into the industry came after signing with Chelsea Pictures, and as the trickle of web projects coming through the door built into a steady stream, the collective saw the potential was there for those with the right ideas.
“We were being brought in earlier in the process,” continues Monello, “and were learning advertising while bringing in what we had learnt from social storytelling on the web through The Blair Witch Project. We saw that the ambitions inthe clients and creatives were greater than the structure would afford, and that, for me, meant there was an opportunity. So Campfire started out of frustration at seeing great ideas sometimes not even make it to clients and thinking that there was a better way.”
Fast forward to 2012 and Campfire’s portfolio includes projects for a diverse mix of brands such as Verizon, Audi, Snapple and Harley-Davidson. Other successes have come from the world of entertainment, with the agency masterminding launches for acclaimed HBO series True Blood and Game of Thrones among others. But whether it’s a brand or a TV show, what unifies Campfire’s methods is its audience-centred approach. “It involves an understanding of cultures and audiences that aren’t seen through the ideas of a media research team,” explains Campfire partner and president Jeremiah Rosen, “but seen through the eyes of people who care about entertainment and knowing what people like, and giving them content that has meaning in a way that they are used to receiving it. It’s not about web videos or Facebook pages, it’s about cohesive experiences that ladder up to something even greater.”
Putting it into cultural context
Rosen elaborates by expanding on the Harley- Davidson work: “They were trying to retain relevance with a market whose fathers’ rode Harleys – so we created content, wrapped it in cultural context, and put it in a place where this young audience were interested in receiving it.” Culminating in online experience The Ridebook, Campfire collaborated with the cultural contemporaries of its audience, such as Fader magazine and lifestyle site UrbanDaddy, and asked them to curate content for the site. A similar tack was used for the True Blood launch. They spent months crafting a prequel campaign that built a narrative around the show’s themes and targeted pre-existing fans, turning them into evangelists for the show, before launching a larger media campaign.
Campfire might have achieved a string ofsuccesses but there’s no resting on laurels, instead there are plans to expand the agency’s offering. As well as opening a social practice, where brands can harness Campfire’s expertise in social projects, Rosen is working on turning Campfire from a boutique shop to a full service digital agency. Soon to add to the list of the agency’s in-house capabilities will be web development, mobile app development, and standalone strategic capabilities – but despite its ambitions, Campfire won’t be getting too big for its boots. “We’re a small shop,” concludes Rosen, “and we put a lot of love and energy into everything we do, and I think that’s reflected in our clients’ appreciation
13 March 2012
Crowd-funding, crowd-sourcing and crowd-collaboration were hot topics at Futures of Entertainment 5, held at MIT on the 11-12th November. And as I sat in the audience, I wondered: who is in this generic ‘crowd’ they’re referring to?
Beyond the realm of buzzwords and academic discourse, there is no generic crowd. So it was extremely valuable to hear from practitioners who are engaging very specific audiences as part of the creative, production and distribution processes. Their experiences are highly relevant to marketers who want to create participatory programs, and what they’ve learned can help you engage your crowd more effectively.
The ‘Creating with the Crowd’ panel was particularly enlightening. Timo Vuorensola worked with his fans to source ideas, secure production assistance, and fund his latest film project, Iron Sky. Timo explained that within his community, there are different types of participants who are willing to engage in different ways. People who give money to his projects are treated in a different way to his collaborative community, and his Facebook community.
This makes a lot of sense, and follows the skimmer, dipper, diver model that we apply at Campfire. We design a rewarding experience at every level of engagement, while creating paths to lead participants into a deeper engagement, and providing tools to share their involvement and bring in new participants.
7 December 2011
Editor’s Note: The Yahoo! Advertising blog recently asked several agency leaders one question: “How are you integrating social media into your creative?” Here is the response from Jeremiah Rosen, President of Campfire.
It’s not how it’s used, it’s what it adds to the conversation
Social media gives marketers the thrill of immediacy. It’s a real-time opportunity to explore relationships with the audiences circling our brands. For an industry that traditionally spends three months crafting 30 seconds of broadcast content, this improv-type atmosphere can be extremely liberating.
The energy created by this immediacy is what ends up making social such a powerful performance medium. We’re not broadcasting brand performance: We’re linking a series of meaningful interactions that bring the brand closer to its fans and that bring fans closer to each other. Social gives us the platform to identify and understand what our audience likes about us, and in return we find new and interesting ways to keep bringing it to them.
Social also provides us with the opportunity to create conversational value — to build equity outside of the brand’s owned and paid media channels. When we talk about “value,” it’s not an isolated metric. It can’t be confined to the number of views, followers and likes measured against how much it cost us to present that message. Instead, we measure the impact of our conversations by how they spread. That’s the true measure of engagement.
Let’s take Campfire’s client, Snapple, for example. Snapple drives brand growth via social conversations in its owned and earned channels. By using social media to instigate and extend the conversation, Snapple is maximizing its more significant investments in cause marketing, movie tie-ins and TV integrations on an ongoing basis. We’re extending its media shelf life so that the impact can be felt and measured for a longer period of time.
Immediacy. Energy. Impact. This all ladders up to something more valuable: helping marketers make better decisions on how to allocate their resources. By looking beyond what social media is and understanding instead the opportunities it presents, you can look forward to a much richer brand experience — and a much better story to tell.
28 November 2011
Campfire and Mike Monello are profiled in Mediapost’s exploration of “how innovative digital shops are transforming the way stories are told.”
Get a group of advertising executives talking about multiplatform storytelling, and the conversation will inevitably wend its way around to Audi’s Art of the Heist, the 2005 campaign that fired the starting gun for marketers staging alternate reality games (ARGs). One of the cocreators of that campaign (along with more traditional advertising agency McKinney) was Campfire, an ad agency cum production house founded by three independent film producers — two of whom helped create the 1999 movie The Blair Witch Project. So invested in the art of storytelling is Campfire that its founders chose a name that evokes the simplest, most elemental form of it.
The Art of the Heist was a real-life adventure in which 500,000 consumers assisted in a 90-day international manhunt for the thieves who boosted an Audi A3 from a Manhattan showroom. Billboards, print ads and TV commercials asked the public for help recovering the vehicle; Audi’s Web site sent them to a site for a fictional investigation firm run by a sexy woman and her geeky partner, which lead them to a suspicious character attending that year’s E3 show, and on and on down the rabbit hole. Not only did the effort win a slew of Cannes Lions, Clios and MIXX awards, it spawned a million imitations from creative directors suddenly obsessed with audience engagement on a mass scale. Since then, Campfire has done multiplatform immersive campaigns (ARGs and otherwise) for HBO, Verizon and the Discovery Channel.
Cofounder Mike Monello says that telling a story through interactive media — one that people might want to get involved with for weeks at a time — means supplementing a storyteller’s sense of drama with a puppetmaster’s cunning.
“When you’re thinking about telling a story across multiple channels, you’re thinking a little less like a storyteller and a little more like an architect, in that you’re going to architect an experience using all these tools and it’s not really complete until all these people are in it,” he says.
24 October 2011
Mike Monello, Campfire’s Chief Creative Officer, looks at the power of narrative across channels in this recent piece featured in MediaPost’s OMMA Magazine.
In 1998 I joined four friends in Orlando, Fl., to produce what started out as a traditional independent film project and ended up as The Blair Witch Project. Bringing to life the legend of the Blair Witch across various media - film, Web site, tv special, book, comic-book series and pc games - was the most unusual and incredible storytelling experience of my life.
There was a perpetual adrenaline rush in telling the story online in real time to an expanding audience. Even in those early days of online community, before Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, we developed a deeply meaningful connection with fans clamoring to see the movie months before it was complete. We drove fan behaviors that were far more valuable from a business perspective than clicking a “Share” button: ultimately, fans called local theater managers and demanded Blair Witch, pushing us from the tiny art-house release we had planned into a mainstream summer hit on 2,500 screens. The experience of making and marketing The Blair Witch Project opened my eyes to the power and possibilities of storytelling in a hyperconnected world.
Fast-forward thirteen years. Hyperconnectivity has given scale and visibility to consumer behaviors that were previously overshadowed by mass communications. We’ve witnessed the emergence and spread of social networks and memes, the democratization of news, the rise of the online influencer, mobile technology, cloud computing and the “Creative Technologist.”
But, hyperconnectivity isn’t just about technology, media channels and networks. At heart, it’s about the power of word-of-mouth and new applications for the oldest of oral traditions - storytelling. In the heyday of the 30-second spot, advertisers used stories to educate and convert a captive, attentive consumer. Today, hyperconnectivity has led to fragmentation. Audiences are conditioned to receive information whenever and wherever they want it, across multiple screens, in 140 characters, in countless newsfeeds editorialized by their friends.
26 September 2011 • 8 notes
Mike Monello, Campfire’s Chief Creative Officer, challenges brands to offer bigger thinking in their branding efforts in this recent piece featured on AdAge.
In advertising we toss the word “brand” around quite frequently. But have you noticed we usually default to the noun form of the word?
This may not appear to be a big deal, but let’s take a moment to walk through the implications: This is a word that used to mean searing a mark into the hide of our property. It’s now been reduced to a set of graphic standards and a tagline. The force of action has been replaced with a static identity.
The noun form of “brand” isn’t enough to really move people — it just doesn’t bring the brand to life in a way that inspires customer action.
Why does this matter? Mainly because not every brand has a differentiated story or the advantage of an HBO, with unique programming and great, shareable stories to tell. Sometimes you’re just a consumer-packaged-goods company. And while dog-food makers and soda bottlers can mix the formula a bit and offer new innovations, the only truly differentiating element for these companies is the customer’s experience with the product. Given this reality, the noun form of “brand” isn’t enough to really move people — it just doesn’t bring the brand to life in a way that inspires customer action.
To meet this challenge, ad execs would make up a marketing story and call it “branding.” “Brand fiction” is a superb technique for creating emotional, shareable connections to an unemotional product like laundry soap. But it can become problematic when it’s only a marketing message. Today’s networked consumer has amplification, credibility and influence. And when they complain about a disconnect between what a brand is saying and what they are doing, it impacts effectiveness. If a brand story really is just fiction, consumers will more than likely uncover it en masse and penalize you for it… .
4 August 2011 • 1 note
At Campfire, we believe branding is more than just establishing a look and a message — it’s about inspiring positive consumer experiences that bring a brand to life through the words and behaviors of its customers. As such, when we design a marketing campaign to launch a product or to change consumer perception about a brand, we carefully consider how to leverage broadcast and other mass advertising tactics to complement the overall campaign.
Many advertisers will define the role of television or print as the branding portion of the campaign. These mediums reach the largest segments of an audience to establish the name, the message, the look and the identity of a product or company. All very important things. The trouble is, it’s not branding in the truest sense.
19 July 2011
ReTweets. Likes. +1s. We talk about these things as the currency of meaningful social engagement. But seriously, can’t we recognize a one-night stand when we see one anymore?
If we insist that the holy grail of social marketing is to create meaningful relationships, why is it we insist on reducing these relationships to the most tawdry and meaningless metrics? We used to call Likes, “Hand-Raisers.” These were the folks who said, “Sure, communicate with me.” But we never concluded they were advocates and never assumed them to have brand affinity. They were just interested parties. They were leads.
So going back to my original metaphor, a Like or a ReTweet is simply someone saying, “Buy me a drink, sailor?” It’s not a relationship. It’s a hookup.
The reason I belabor this is because too often we forget that the real relationship and engagement happens after the Like. It’s the dance of finding out stuff about each other. It’s the long conversations and special surprises and unforgettable times together. It’s knowing the other party cares about who I am and what I feel. It’s a feeling of safety and trust. The Like is just the tip of that iceberg.
When your strategy is to “get Likes,” without thinking what to do with those Likes after you get them, you’re essentially building a little black book of folks who you can hit up later for some hot sales. And just like with dating, you’re going to get rejected more often than not. Most people have more self-respect than that. They’re looking for brand love. While most brands just want to…
…well, you get the picture.
In all seriousness, though, if you’re initiating a social program you need to think about the entire process, not just the Likes. Likes are meaningless without the hard work of relationship building, and until we understand this and embrace it, we’re going to continue to be disappointed in our social life. And there’s nothing sadder than love lost.
23 June 2011 • 1 note
There’s a bigger problem than finding a tool for measuring social branding efforts or determining the influence of key players within a community. It’s the fact that you need to find 20 tools.
Okay, an exaggeration perhaps. But there’s a point to make here. Because while most of the industry is feverishly searching for the holy grail of social effectiveness and influence measurement, they’re missing the fact that a single source of data or using a single analysis tool is not nearly enough.
25 May 2011