Gordon Paddison’s Hollywood Adventure

LOS ANGELES After wrapping a role as Father Kyle on Days of Our Lives, Gordon Paddison moved from New York to Hollywood to produce and wound up at New Line Cinema.

He convinced the studio a computer would save money on marketing-material distribution and, in 1994, almost single-handedly launched the first movie studio interactive department, using a secondhand SPARCstation.

Now evp, integrated marketing, Paddison, 52, can claim one of the earliest movie Web sites, for The Mask in 1994, and one of the most influential, for The Lord of the Rings.

Q: What do you consider your most important creative achievement?
A: It’s sort of arrogant to say anything, but I’d have to say “engagement.” On Lord of the Rings, we were the first studio to properly embrace broad swaths of, not groups or audiences, but affinity group members. We were able to embrace both malcontents and potential filmgoers and turn both groups into evangelists for the product at a time when studios were still suing people or taking Web sites away from them. It was based on a concept of open engagement. I remember going to Comic-Con for many years and hearing the most derogatory things said about our audience. Everything was negative about our most profitable and dedicated consumers. And that’s really what Internet marketing started out as: It was feeding the unwashed.

Has that definition changed?
Yes, now it’s turned into something much broader. When we did The Notebook, it opened to $9.5 million, and it ended up grossing over $80 million because of women. In our 13th week we found that women were spending 10 to 15 minutes on the Web site, watching these clips. Even now I click on YouTube and see tons of elaborate compilations around the romantic moments of the film that people created.

People assume interactive marketing is measurable, but is that entirely true?
On Wedding Crashers we had “Crash This Trailer.” You could actually put yourself in the trailer. We had hundreds of thousands of people do it and millions view it. And, at the time, I could not get a research company—I went to five—to study and show the level of engagement of putting yourself inside a piece of content: What does that add on a CPM level, on a time-spent-in-engagement level? How do you value putting $20,000 into an application that has 600,000 people make it and 8 million people view it? How, and at what valuation, is their proclivity connected to your brand? Nobody could touch it. They said, “That’s an interesting question.” But can you do something with it? “Uh, I dunno.” That’s a problem we have with every new form of engagement. I have not seen a compelling engagement valuation, where an agency (or brand) has quantified a program so that the elements are apples to apples and a positive determination can be made on effectiveness across channels.

How have interactive budgets changed?
Budgets have increased from 3 percent to as much as 20 percent of the overall budget. Sometimes cable or online makes more sense. For example, horror is dead, so it makes no sense to do a two-page spread in the Los Angeles Times for Hostel: Part II.

What’s the next big thing?
Mobile, mobile, mobile. Here’s the thing: Mobile is challenging because it was created first as a monetization mechanism. How do you market when there is automatic revenue? The evolution of Internet advertising has been a non-fee-based platform—the transmission is free. In mobile, it’s not free and people are not necessarily habituated to paying. (Unlike Europeans, for whom the Internet wasn’t free, so they migrated to mobile first.) So finding a way to market and co-exist in a more licensing-centric environment is a great challenge.

How do you get past a creative block?
Hang out with the wife and the dog. My sister-in-law is a nurse and deals with people who die. So if you have a creative block, thank God that’s your problem.

What has influenced you most creatively?
Business books. I read them constantly. I’m reading Blue Ocean Strategy [by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne] right now. It’s about creating new markets. The insight and the level and depth of analysis that’s in a business book take me out of myself and get me percolating. And the other thing that gets me creatively charged is the shower. When I get in the shower, I only wish I had magic markers in the stall with me.

What’s your pet peeve?
Pricing pisses me off. Every year the rates go up. Instead of concentrating on what they can extract from you, why don’t they concentrate on what value they can bring to you in terms of actual benefits analysis? They sure don’t service their client with information like, “If you optimized like this, you’d only need 80 percent of your spend, and if you put that 20 percent into a search overlay tied to this campaign, we think you’ll get 40 percent more effectiveness.” You’d be taken out and shot for saying that. It’s not about value to the account, but raking in the change.

How would others describe you?
Cost-conscious, terrier-like, inquisitive.

What are three words to describe yourself?
I’m tempted to say, “I’m still here.” How about tenacious, engaged, passionate? I’m a physicist’s son. That explains everything.

I hear you’re not a fan of Internet “seeding.”
I find organic seeding through a relationship and dialogue with journalists and bloggers is genuine and appropriate. However, I have found “paid” seeding very unproductive because of the per-messaging charge. No matter how you slice it, it ends up being $1.17 or 98 cents a post, and using 5,000 agents on a campaign. They connect with the product and share with friends, 5,000 at $1.50 each, and that’s mediocre, not as targeted as it should be. And we have to get 43 prep documents to their team and do additional marketing to the teams. We have to send collateral on the campaign. We have to hold screenings in eight markets. In the end, you’ve spent $60,000 to $80,000 on seeding and, honestly, you get back crap.

What about street teams?
I understand brand managers trying to reach consumers by spending marketing dollars to win over people who are supposed to win over other people. However, considering my margins, let’s talk about accountability: I have never heard a street team company come back with any true brand insights. I do see tidy reporting full of accolades that mostly have no value. Additionally, with half of the street marketers, you get this irritating suggestion that you have to spend $60,000 to $100,000 to “incentivize” the street teams by sending them swag, etc.

How is the talent pool these days?
Another pet peeve is finding talent. I’m going to hire you as a junior media planner; within four months you’re going to be offered a senior media planner position by our competitors. If you’re savvy and you want to do this, as a young person, the turnover rate at the agency is stunning. You can find bodies, but to find somebody who’s good… Last time we looked for people we went to the Midwest and waited for the weather to turn cold: Go after them now! And let’s talk about kids today. Every intern is already a vice president in their minds. “Work ethic? Huh? I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.”

How many films have you marketed?
About 200. I have a lot of good genre experience, from geek love to trying to crack the female code, which is particularly challenging.

New Line’s next big release, The Golden Compass, opens Dec. 7. What are some of your advance programs?
It came out of the challenge of exposing potential customers to this idea of soul lives outside the body in the form of an animal companion. We made these 20-question Myers-Briggs-like personality tests that permit users to psychologically profile themselves; our system then matches their profile to the qualities of specific animals. So if you’re cunning and aggressive, you might be matched with a leopard or lion. You accept your animal or send your “daemon” [spirit animal] to friends for comments. You can make it a desktop icon, use it in cell phone graphics or as a virtual icon in blogs. Two hundred thousand people have taken the test and incorporated their spirit animal into some communication, yielding 5 million views of the avatars.

How far in advance do you typically begin marketing a release?
On Lord of the Rings, I started two-and-a-half years in advance of the film. And we never pretended, “This is the official movie Web site. You come to us because we know everything.” No, we don’t know anything. There have been Web sites dedicated to Tolkien for years; they knew every derivation of every word in his lexicon. The only thing we were knowledgeable about is that Peter Jackson had a personal vision. He always said this is not the definitive version of Lord of the Rings; this is Peter Jackson’s personal opinion and his statement of love for the source material. And because of that we could provide an insight into his process. And because of the way we engaged with the community, we were welcomed with open arms.

Is behavioral targeting of movie audiences hindered by studios not transacting ticket sales?
We are really careful about this. We have experimented with it. I segment and tag where my opt-ins come from. A company like Amazon sells a physical product and they can follow it through affinities. Unlike Fandango, we don’t control the transaction. We don’t have the direct consumer relationship. We don’t have the purchase history to mine transactions. We don’t own it with the right to mine it. Right now, the percentage of moviegoers who buy tickets online is in the single digits. I am more concerned about making sure that anything we do is responsible marketing.

But you’ve experimented with interactive ticketing?
We did a project for Rush Hour 2, an interactive ticket box. A commercial ran on all the cable stations, and we had it so anybody with a Web-enabled television or device could purchase tickets directly through the interface. It was like early iTV, and we won an interactive award for it. Aaron Sugarman [now svp of interactive at New Line] and I did that when he was at Agency.com. When I pitched him, I had no money. But he agreed to help. I talked [New Line sibling] AOL into doing a test of it for AOL TV, and they got so pissed off because we did a press release about it and it worked on all iTV platforms. They went, “It only has to work with us.” Well, we got a huge response on Microsoft TV boxes. They had something like 1.5 million units in the marketplace; AOL had around 8,000.

Did the berating phone calls Samuel L. Jackson recorded for Snakes on a Plane work?
Work? We had to stop it at 4.5 million phone calls! It got too expensive for me, costing over $100,000. I know that’s not expensive, but for my budget it’s expensive. He’d say your name and occupation. He’d say something like, “I see you there with your nappy hair and baggy pants, there in Seattle, driving that rice-burning car. Get your butt off that couch and get out of that obnoxious apartment you’re living in, get your butt in the theater to see Snakes on a Plane.” We got a call from a sheriff somewhere in California saying a woman complained that some black man was calling her up and harassing her and she was scared. And people said the Internet didn’t convert [to sales]. I’d say the Internet was the only thing that converted!

What’s the last thing you did for fun?
I’m building a greenhouse for my heirloom tomatoes. Clearing the ground and brush—that makes me smile. You sit at home on the weekends, walk down the hillside, sit in the shade, have a glass of wine and eat great, fresh vegetables.