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Ad firm unit studies impact of social media on movie biz

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At a time many local advertising agencies are struggling, one firm is growing with an unusual new division aimed at measuring the effects of social media on movies and actors.

Bradley and Montgomery late last summer launched Fizziology as a stand-alone enterprise, and have already inked six-month and year-long contracts with a handful of major motion picture studios and reached profitability, said Ben Carlson, the agency’s chief strategy officer.

Bradley and Montgomery as a whole is experiencing double-digit percentage growth this year, Carlson said, but Fizziology is growing much faster. Already, six of Bradley and Montgomery’s 30 employees work on the Fizziology endeavor, and the firm is planning to hire more employees.

“The client pool right now for Fizziology is pretty shallow,” said Carlson, who declined to divulge clients’ names for competitive reasons. “But it’s turned out to be very lucrative, and we’re hoping to expand it.”

Ben Carlson Carlson

Bradley and Montgomery has done work for Sony, VH1, MTV and Microsoft, and Carlson said company officials used those contacts to get an audience with major motion-picture studios, talent agencies and Hollywood marketers last summer.

Fizziology was set up to be independent to avoid conflicts with the ad firm’s clients and to maintain an independent outlook. Founded in 1999, Bradley and Montgomery was the ninth-largest local ad agency last year, according to IBJ’s 2010 Book of Lists.

Carlson said his firm hopes soon to expand Fizziology’s offerings to television, video games, music and other entertainment enterprises.

“These guys are helping get a read on something very few people know anything about, and that’s pretty exciting,” said Jeff Sparks, president and CEO of locally based Heartland Truly Moving Pictures, which runs the annual Heartland Film Festival. “Word-of-mouth marketing has always been exceedingly important to the movie industry, and social marketing is the new word-of-mouth. A service that can monitor the impact of social media will be very important to the industry.”

Carlson describes Fizziology as a “research service delivered through an online dashboard.” A sample offering can be seen at www.Fizziolo.gy, but to get the full gamut of research, a paid subscription is necessary.

Carlson hatched the idea last summer, and Bradley and Montgomery’s five-person web-development team created a program that allowed a web crawler to slink through the Internet counting every social media reference to any movie starting three weeks before it is set to hit the screen.

Fizziology shows subscribers three columns: volume, the number of times the movie is mentioned; mood, which shows if the majority of the mentions are positive, negative, neutral or mixed; and the ‘eff’ score, which is Bradley and Montgomery’s proprietary system of measuring social media buzz in a single data point.

“We take volume, mood and placement—if the mention was on Twitter, Facebook or a blog—and combine those through a mathematical formula to create the eff score,” Carlson explained.

Part of the key to Fizziology’s success, he said, is using real people to tabulate the eff score. After counting all the mentions, the Fizziology program pulls a statistically relevant sample size for analysis. Fizziology provides a detailed write-up on every movie, telling why it’s getting positive, negative or neutral response through social media, including comments on particular scenes, actors and other elements of the production.

“It takes a real person analyzing the data to ferret out things like sarcasm and snark,” Carlson said. “For instance, there’s multiple meanings to the word ‘sick,’ and a computer can’t determine the difference.”

With the movie industry increasingly seeing the importance of social media, Mike Yonts thinks Bradley and Montgomery’s offering is coming at the right time.

“The traditional role of the movie reviewer is dramatically changing,” said Yonts, president of locally based production house Mike Yonts Films. “The big movie reviewers just don’t have the impact and influence they used to. More people are getting the information from blogs, Facebook and Twitter. It’s pretty easy to see the value in something like this.”

Fizziology has already expanded to include a Talent Tracker, which tabulates and rates the effect of social media on the images of Hollywood actors.

“That’s being used by studios for things like casting,” Carlson said.

The site is updated weekly and can be customized in numerous ways. For instance, it can look at only horror movies, or male actors ages 45 to 54.

The idea for the Fizziology moniker, Carlson said, came because it’s “the study of what’s bubbling in modern, popular culture.” Earlier this year, Fizziology was nominated for a Webby Award for Best Guide/Rating/Review Web Site. A Webby is considered among the highest national honors for a website.

Though movie studios have tried to gauge the impact of social media on their own projects, Heartland’s Sparks said he hasn’t heard of another initiative like Bradley and Montgomery’s.

“One of the things that makes this really valuable is that it’s an independent source doing the research,” Sparks said. “And over time, if you can compare one movie to another, it could really affect things like box-office projections, marketing and the production of movie previews.”

Carlson said Fizziology also is affecting the way studios are re-releasing movies on DVD and Blu-Ray, by emphasizing the positive things coming through social media in promotional material.

“What we’re doing is listening to the biggest, fastest-moving focus group,” Carlson said. “And the best part—they don’t even know we’re listening. So they’re being honest. We’re not trying to influence the conversation or market to the audience. That’s the real power of this.”•

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