Stay classy, branded entertainment: the marketing lessons from Anchorman 2

Jonny Rose explains what Anchorman 2 can teach the film industry about content marketing
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Anchorman 2 provides content marketing masterclass.
Anchorman 2 provides content marketing masterclass. Photograph: Allstar/PARAMOUNT PICTURES/Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar
Anchorman 2 provides content marketing masterclass. Photograph: Allstar/PARAMOUNT PICTURES/Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar
Jonny Rose

Last modified on Thu 6 Feb 2014 07.19 EST

When news of a Ron Burgundy revival was announced on Conan in early 2013, for many comedy fans it was the best thing they would hear all year.

No one can doubt the cultural impact of the original Anchorman – a 2004 sleeper hit which profiled the wacky adventures of an all-male 70s TV news team who were as culturally-insensitive and boorish as they were endearingly ridiculous.

For a certain age-group, many a night at university was spent quoting Ron Burgundy's greatest clangers ("Discovered by the Germans in 1904, they named it San Diego, which of course in German means 'a whale's vagina'") and reminding each other about the film's fictional cologne "Sex Panther" which "60% of the time, it works every time".

To be sure, excitement for Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues…, was already at fever-pitch well before the film's marketing machine started in earnest, but nevertheless – four months before the film's December release – fans were bombarded with the most content-rich marketing campaign in movie history.

Promotion for films is remarkably standard fare – a couple of trailers and a sustained campaign of media appearances by the stars on television chat shows and choice editorials.

Online, distributors and film studios can afford to be more creative, but not much more: a branded website with a Facebook page and other attendant social profiles with periodic updates are the norm.

Yet, Anchorman 2, in classic Burgundy brashness, was not content merely to do the 'norm' but went all out to exceed the conventional standard of branded entertainment for movies.

To be sure, all the old marketing faithfuls were there: Anchorman 2 had an official film Tumblr – which served as both a useful way for the brand team to serve original content and curate fan content. Social publishing was also present and correct; Anchorman 2 came replete with a Facebook Page (3,486,691 'likes' and counting – although don't count on Facebook being effective for content for much longer) and various character Twitter accounts.

Yet extra efforts were made to extend the storytelling narrative of another Anchorman film by getting Ron Burgundy (and his on screen cohorts) to move beyond perfunctory branded sites to start occupying other channels and platforms – both on and offline.

First came the numerous on-air, in-character appearances – Ron Burgundy appeared on various local news stations, opined on the Australian elections and sold cars in a cross-promotional campaign that lead to a 40% increase in Dodge sales.

In classic content marketing style, these appearances weren't 'interruptive', but rather a natural extension of the Anchorman story: people don't like blatant advertising, so simply having Will Ferrell going out there as Ron and saying, "There's a new Anchorman movie coming out – it's going to be really funny please go and watch it" won't work. Instead, the Anchorman 2 team created entertaining content based around the character, designed to both make us laugh and indirectly remind us that there is in fact a movie coming out.

This goes back to the classic content marketing maxim of not talking about the product (no mention of price, features and benefits – like a regular ad) but rather creating engaging experiences that sensitize people who will ultimately make a purchase. And that's the great thing about content marketing – each piece of content should be independently valuable, as well as when it is recognized as part of a larger product-centric whole.

Another impressive factor about Anchorman 2 was its commitment to creating new content – and not just slicing and dicing movie footage into new content formats. A good example of this was the mobile app 'Scotch and Toss' – which didn't just harvest lines from the movie but required the actors to come in record new material.

Perhaps most interesting about Anchorman 2's marketing was when they chose to show all this premium content. Most movie reward fans with content after they purchase the DVD or stream – usually through secret brand portals, extra footage or Easter eggs. By contrast, Anchorman 2 gave all of its content – which in many ways was as high-quality as the movie itself – upfront.

Moreover, Anchorman 2's content marketing remains entertaining and searchable long after the movie is no longer showing at cinemas. Unlike short-termist marketing campaigns that stimulate engagement spikes and then trail off – all Ron Burgundy has to do is turn up in a new situation, that is appropriate for a 'celebrated' news anchor, and the brand storytelling continues.

Jonny Rose is product evangelist at idio.

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