When I was growing up, movie studios routinely distributed what were usually called "press books" to theater owners. Elaborate brochures, the press books contained the print ads that ran for movies. They also contained information about the national marketing and publicity plan, as well as suggestions for various goofy publicity stunts to promote a film locally.
I don't remember the details of many of the suggested stunts. I do remember that one independently distributed action film suggested that theater owners promote the theme song to radio. "Remember, you are buying ads on their stations," said the press book, apparently written by somebody who had no idea that sort of overt coercion might be an issue. Mostly, however, the wacky "exploitation" ideas never came to fruition.
If everything in those long-ago press books had indeed happened, it would have been like the current campaign for "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues." Seemingly for months, Will Farrell has been showing up in character as Ron Burgundy worldwide: anchoring Bismarck, N.D., local news; doing play-by-play for Canadian curling; at Boston's Emerson College; at an Australian news show. There has been a book release, as well as an exhibit at Washington, D.C.'s usually more sober-minded Newseum.
I almost always avoid the column that asks why radio can't be more like various other entities from the technology or entertainment world. It's too frequently written elsewhere. It's not always an apples-to-Apple comparison, trying to create the same excitement about something that is free and plentiful. Besides, the now underwhelming iTunes Radio launch spares us all from having to be like Apple for a while.
But a month ago, I was still a little wistful about the creativity of the "Anchorman 2" launch. How, I wondered, could radio evoke the same level of initial excitement—especially for a product available every day, not every nine years? Then, about a week or so ago, the tenor of the tweets and Facebook postings about "Anchorman 2" began to change. Today, before the opening, at least, I am now seeing more posts about how the relentless publicity must mean that the movie will be lame.
There are two radio personalities—Howard Stern and Ryan Seacrest—who regularly reach some Burgundy-like level of ubiquity. But the most positive parallel to the "Anchorman 2" setup is WHTZ (Z100) New York's Jingle Ball. Major station concerts are often kicked off now with another artist event to announce the lineup. In addition, Z100 has long added a second concert adjacent to Jingle Ball with a lineup that other stations would be happy to have for their main concert. AC sister WLTW (Lite FM) tweets on Z100's behalf, offering parents the opportunity to be a hero to their kids by winning VIP passes.
The strategy for Jingle Ball and KIIS Los Angeles' Wango Tango has become a national game plan for Clear Channel, both as the inspiration for the iHeart Radio Festival and with the recent repackaging of various local shows as a national tour. The upside isn't quite the same. Unlike "Anchorman 2," a limited number of people can enjoy the show in person. And even for Jingle Ball tickets, the number of passive listeners who will be converted into active contest players is limited. But it’s a heavily anticipated event that radio has well exploited.
As for the air of desperation that some are now detectingaround the "Anchorman 2" publicity blitz, that best parallel would probably be broadcast radio's PR campaign on behalf of broadcast radio. It sometimes consists of reciting the same overall reach numbers that we've heard for a decade, without any acknowledgement of the TSL issues that are hidden. It usually includes disparaging the competition—especially each month when Pandora releases its numbers. Say what you will about "Anchorman 2," but its campaign does not hinge on disputing the box-office numbers for "Frozen."
As a believer in radio's ongoing influence and ability toprovide a shared experience, I would like to see that demonstrated in positive, attention-getting ways. R&B radio used to be particularly expert in this regard, whether it was WGPR Detroit's Mojo urging motorists to honk their horns at the same time, or the small-market station that demonstrated listeners' spending power by asking them to make all their purchases in silver dollars. The ability to publicize itself in creative and entertaining ways is still in radio's skill set, and needs to be deployed.