Marketing With Video

Marketing With Video

Byline: Beck Finley

Metrics, strategy, demographics. Marketing isn’t an exact science, but the research and testing that go into it is quickly approaching the scope of one. This research increasingly shows that audiences want a more personalized and interactive approach to marketing. They want one-of-a-kind experiences. They want to be wooed, informed, and thrilled. That’s where new technology for the video industry comes in to play.

Video production companies are going to great lengths to create a buzz for their clients’ products. From a take-home DVD promoting street-ready racecars to a mobile stereo 3D video ride demonstrating anti-lock, anti-roll brakes that’s traveling across the country in a trailer truck, marketing solutions are being pioneered in the studio and out on the road. Making it possible are new techniques and technology from such diverse sources as software companies (Adobe’s Premiere Pro and Encore DVD), hardware manufacturers (smaller, lighter projectors, streamlined rackmount systems), and new ways of using familiar tools (algorithms calculated on a Palm Pilot).

Reaching and capturing an audience depends on the union between the video and its installation. The DVD taken home from the trade show has to play clearly. The stereo 3D ride has to perform perfectly the first time as well as the four-hundredth time. A sleek, well-produced video will only thrill the audience if they can experience it for themselves, whether it’s shown on an oversized screen at an auto show or in the back of a trailer truck traversing the country. In these cases of creative marketing, content is not king alone: It is king only when paired with successful application.

Saleen doesn’t make cars for just anyone. Founded in 1983 by former racecar driver Steve Saleen (prounounced like the last syllables in “gasoline”), the Irvine, Calif.-based company manufactures limited edition, high-performance vehicles for enthusiasts. Saleen cars are custom built in a way that might make Henry Ford roll over in his grave if it weren’t for the company’s success in the niche market – having produced more than 8,000 Saleen Mustangs by it’s paradoxically titled “mass customization” system. Born from racing technology, the street-ready models are sleek, powerful, and prohibitively expensive.

Saleen’s newest car, the S7, won four different GT championships in 2001 and has broken records at the prestigious 24-Hour Le Mans race. It was also featured in the Jim Carrey movie Bruce Almighty. The street version of the car is a mid-engine, high performance supercar priced at $400,000. A dream to drive, but a potential nightmare to market. To design a package for the S7, Saleen turned to the Santa Monica-based broadcast design and live action production studio Belief. “We’ve worked with Belief in the past, and knew without a doubt their creative vision would get the attention and recognition the S7 deserves,” says Steve Saleen.

For the project, Belief took a twofold approach: a :30 spot to air nationally in select markets and a special-edition DVD, which includes a segment called “The Dream” that follows the car from idea to completion. The DVD will be given to Saleen enthusiasts and shown at auto shows, including Saleen’s booth at the L.A. Auto Show.

Gregory Stacy, producer at Belief, is a car enthusiast and has known Saleen for 10 years. Stacy’s background with cars made him a natural match for the project – if he didn’t produce video, he would be an automobile designer. The artistic impulse for the commercial and the DVD was to take advantage of the unusual way the car is built and the factory setting. For two days, the Belief crew shot with Panavision film cameras at the Saleen factory to highlight the process of building the car by hand. Key to the project’s narrative is the handbuilt way the car is made, however, this process would have slowed down the filming. To overcome that problem, multiple cars were shot in various phases of completion.

“One reason we chose for the commercial to show the car being built in various phases is not only because it’s a hand-built car or because Steve has this great-looking factory, but because he never had a car that was complete,” says Mike Goedecke, executive creative director and founder of Belief. “By the time you see the car at the turntable at the end, it was 2 a.m. That’s when the car was finished, and we could get it up on the pedestal. It was being delivered the next day.”

The lighting effects, lightning strikes, and fog were shot in-camera. To create a futuristic postindustrial look, a teal blue tint was added through the color timing in Rob Sciarratta’s telecine suite at Company 3, Santa Monica. The look of the commercial – heavily composited in After Effects – then inspired the look of the DVD.

“The Dream” segment on the DVD comprises PAL video sources accumulated over the years during the building of the Saleen cars and at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France. It’s primarily a video clip piece, but Belief also integrated film clips from the commercial into the segment.

The DVD, scheduled to be released by the holidays, is a limited run – around 1,000 units – which will be given to potential S7 buyers and owners at dealerships. It will also be shown around the country at auto shows, in particular, at the L.A. Auto Show, possibly in conjunction with the booth sponsored by Ford. “The DVD is going to be used for PR and marketing purposes for Steve,” says Stacy. “It’s comprehensive. It talks about the S7 car and gives the history of Steve Saleen and the background on the S7 setting records at Le Mans. It’s really a DVD for Saleen enthusiasts.”

The DVD has been in production at Belief for six months, undergoing additions and changes. It’s the first DVD authored at the company. “We have the capabilities here at Belief of doing DVDs,” says Goedecke. “We’ve done a lot of DVD design in the past for movies, but we would do all of the design of the animation and menu pages and we would send it to the studio that hired us and they would have it authored on the outside. But on the Saleen DVD, we designed all aspects of it, including the writing of it, the content, all the way through the authoring.”

Belief is a long-time beta tester for Adobe products. At the time the Saleen project was brought to the table, Belief was testing the new Adobe After Effects 6.0, Premiere Pro, and Encore DVD, and the Saleen project gave them a perfect opportunity to test drive some of the new tracking and paint features in Premiere as well as the new, accessible workflow of Encore DVD.

“We worked closely with Adobe,” says Goedecke. “The DVD highlights the motion tracking and painting functions in a practical manner because the design we did utilizes the new features of Adobe software. The type tracking with the vehicle rotating was all done with the new Type Tool and motion tracking. We also had to do a lot of painting because when we shot the car there were various reflections based off the location so we had to paint them out with Adobe’s new paint tool. Working with a metallic surface creates a lot of gradients, and the software worked beautifully in painting those out. The new tracking, especially, worked really well.”

Of course, the software wasn’t without its problems. “With the beta version of Premiere Pro there were a few problems with the audio, and the codec, with compression, but Adobe worked very closely with us to take care of them,” says Stacy. “With beta software, it’s inherent you’ll have a few problems.” Adobe has since corrected these problems on the software released to the public.

In a different, and perhaps more unusual, way to market a product, Lightspeed Design Group, decided to take the show on the road. Literally. The Bellevue, Wash.-based design firm specializing in both film and video production and laser display production, designed and executed a 3D stereoscopic experience to promote Frankfurt-based Continental Teves’ Electronic Stability Control (ESC) system, a high-end anti-lock, anti-roll intellgent braking system.

In conjunction with H.B. Stubbs (Warren, Mich.), a full service marketing and event services company, Lightspeed outfitted a 37-ton, 85ft. truck with a state-of-the-art 3D motion simulator with projectors, screen, and theater seats to show a 3D video, “Safely There,” which simulates a near-miss traffic accident. The trailer exhibit is on a nine-month tour across the United States, stopping at fairs and other attractions. Admission is free.

Since Continental wanted to market ESC as a safety system designed to help drivers avoid crashes before they occur, Continental wanted to give potential customers an experience that would immerse them in a dramatic driving situation and create buzz for the product. They also wanted to motivate people to purchase the feature when buying a new car. But first they had to consider the demographic – women aged 30 to 45.

“[Continental] realized that this isn’t 18-year-old boys wanting to sit in a simulator and be thrown around,” says producer Jeff Rische from Lightsound. “This was a different kind of more sophisticated crowd. So while they wanted to use 3D, they also wanted to be careful not to go over the top as far as creating a simulator experience. So we as a company had to be very conscious of who our audience was in creating an attraction that would get the message across without throwing people around to the point where they get sick. We had to find that balance between creating a really immersive experience and recognizing who our audience is.”

Lightspeed’s Bob Mueller scripted a realistic narrative that includes both live action and computer graphics. Lightspeed chose Karen Stanton to direct the film and renowned specialty cinematographer Max Penner of Paradise FX as DP. Penner used Sony CineAlta digital cameras, along with his own proprietary 3D high-definition ParaCam camera technology.

During the shoot, Lightspeed aligned two cameras parallel to each other. This way, the cameras capture images without distorting them, unlike when shooters toe in the cameras to converge the focus points on an object. The key to Lightspeed’s success is in “Z Space,” the distance between the perceived object and the viewer’s eyes. Lightspeed calculates the Z-Space position with a mathematical model, so that if a director wants an object to be 12in. in front of the viewer’s eyes, Lightspeed can design the shot so that the object appears exactly 12in. away. The process accounts for where the viewer is sitting in the theater; important for viewing a movie in a tight space, such as a truck trailer. Lightspeed filmmakers work with a storyboard for each shot and a Palm Pilot into which they input variables to produce the camera settings.

Rische credits the advancements in digital video for making 2D and 3D comparable from a production standpoint. “You’re not out shooting film anymore,” he says. “You’re shooting digitally, which means that with just a little more equipment on site, you can produce in stereo 3D. So from a cost competitive standpoint it was an easy decision for them to go up to stereo 3D.”

After the shoot, the camera settings are recorded and then imported to a digitally recreated sound stage, where the stereo settings are applied to digital images that will be inserted in the live frame. This way, digital props, special effects, logos, and text can be inserted into a 3D film. Lightspeed uses 3ds Max on a variety of PCs for postproduction. The CG, compositing, and final renders were all done at Lightspeed’s studio in Washington.

“It’s an exciting project for us,” says Rische. “We’re at the forefront of development on these technologies ourselves, so it’s always encouraging to see a client who is excited about 3D and is excited about using digital video. The content was excellent. It was fun doing a live-action and computer graphics mix.”

Finally, the video was ready to go into the truck. Choosing equipment for the installation was difficult. It all had to fit in small space and be able to withstand being on the road for nine months. H.B. Stubbs and Lightsound went with a custom rackmount system designed by Lightspeed and Display Devices, Arvada, Colo., for two NEC LT240 DLP video projectors. The mount allows the projectors to be suspended from the ceiling of the trailer when in use and then taken down easily for transport. Lightspeed’s proprietary digital media playback software, DepthQ 3D Digital Cinema Technology was used on Lightspeed’s DepthQ Stereoscopic HD Media Server to play back the video. Lightspeed’s software combines realtime 3D nVidia graphics with Windows streaming technology. Algorithms customize the streaming video to the dimensions of the theater. The video is projected onto a polarized 3D screen, from Stewart Filmscreen, Torrance, Calif.

“Advancements in the digital video realm have made all of this possible,” says Rische. “Equipment has gotten smaller. The projectors we use are a little bigger than a toaster now. Equipment has gotten better. Better resolution, better colors, better blacks. All-around just better product. And has continued to come down in cost. So it suddenly starts making it very possible to do something in a mobile environment where you’re limited on space. That was one of the biggest considerations obviously. Because when you stick this into a trailer, you have low ceiling clearances. You don’t have room for giant bulky projectors. And it needs to be extremely reliable.”

So far there has been no downtime or any problems with any of the equipment. By the time the tour ends, it’s estimated that the video will have made 2.5 million impressions.

“As this stuff becomes more reliable, it becomes easier for people to start considering using digital video for a mobile application,” says Rische.

Can a DVD and auto show presentation sell more $400,000 cars? Will a ride in a 3D simulator prompt the public to order the ESC option for its new cars? Only time and consumer reports can answer these questions. But compared to an interactive DVD or a mobile exhibit, the average :60 broadcast spot is mundane and lifeless. As consumers become more accustomed to being courted with high-tech promotions, experiences with video will become more in demand. Luckily, it seems like video production companies and installations experts are ready.

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