Bond CEO Explains What Goes Into Creating the ‘Fertile Ground’ for a Viral Marketing Campaign

·8 min read

Seth Althoff, CEO of the entertainment marketing agency Bond, is no stranger to clients saying, “So we want this to go viral.”

“We just smile and say, ‘Hey, we do too,'” Althoff told TheWrap for this week’s Office With a View.

Of course, there’s no easy way to get something to go viral, he explained, but Bond has had its share of marketing campaigns that caught fire, including print ads, AV and digital campaigns for films like “Dune,” “The Matrix Resurrections,” “Army of the Dead,” “The Batman” and “House of Gucci,” to name just a few. The key is doing the homework and aligning what a group of fans will most latch onto.

“Just thinking ‘What if?’ Well, no one’s ever done that? Well, what if we did? That’s a lot of the conversation that I think makes us jump out of bed in the morning,” Althoff said. “There’s no real answer of how do you go viral, but it’s really preparation meets exploration, and then the execution around whatever our studio friends choose to go with. Just doing it to the very highest degree, and if you do all of those things and we do them at the right time, you then have that opportunity, that fertile ground that sets the table for the magic to happen and the lightning actually strikes.”

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Bond, which formed in 2012 and last year won the Clio Entertainment Award for Agency of the Year, is trying to define what the marketing agency of the future looks like in an age when studio marketing departments are increasingly tight-lipped with their IP and the vision of franchises.

Althoff discussed how Bond prioritizes and integrates what its clients need, how to make ad campaigns truly stand out from the pack, and what the future of marketing will look like.

This conversation has been edited for style and length.

What is the role of a creative ad agency when studios have increasing amount of control over the direction and overall vision of their properties?
The world is a noisy place, so it’s helping our clients to cut through that noise. There’s never been more good content. But finding it is not always easy. So where we come in, we’re telling the stories that are going to stand out from a marketing standpoint, that help the stories and these larger properties really shine. It’s equal parts trying to focus the audience or the consumer on what it is in front of them, but it’s also satisfying some pretty novel marketing needs as the world evolves, as technology evolves, as Hollywood evolves.

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How are you defining what the marketing agency of the future looks like?
Finding that really natural integration of those inflection points between offerings. It’s as much art as it is science, you know? We’re dealing with creative people. So it was about finding the right people, but it was also about creating the right process where all the offerings are equal. We’re not a dominant shop. You can’t look at us and say, “Well, they only do print well, or they only do AV well, or they’re only digital.” Each of our teams is really toe to toe with one another in terms of competency and overall relational currency. We have a lot of great clients. They know that we do a lot of great work across the agency, so they’re more trusting to lean into us when they need help across disciplines.

What have been your biggest challenges?
There’s more good content than ever, but really gaining the audience trust, keeping the consumer focus on your platform and your property. That’s been the big juggling act: Are you going to market on your platform — like Hulu, Netflix, HBO Max — and say, “Hey, everybody come here, you’ll be happy once you get here?” Or are you going to go property by property? Are you gonna say, “Hey, you got to see this next Marvel thing or DC thing?” The future is, the answer is both. People need to know that there’s compelling content that they want to watch, but they also need to know where to find it.

Bond’s modern West Hollywood-based offices showcases the many big-name projects they’ve worked on. (Courtesy of Bond)
Bond’s modern West Hollywood-based offices showcases the many big-name projects they’ve worked on. (Courtesy of Bond)

Where do you fit in with what the studios are doing within their marketing departments?
We’re fans first and foremost. So it’s exciting to just get our hands on all the materials that they have, and sometimes that’s dailies, sometimes it’s gallery photography, unit photography, special shoot photography, sometimes it’s 3D models, and sometimes it’s just a description, and we work from that and create our own 3D models or do our own matte painting of environments and really start to live in this world that is obviously a vision of the filmmaker and of the clients that are representing the properties themselves.

We’re just digging into all of this and trying to see what parts and pieces do we have. What is the tone of the property or of the film? What are we dealing with in terms of talent, and what are they doing in popular culture that might be able to tie back into this? What’s the filmmaker been doing? What’s their sensibility? How active are they on these emerging platforms? So we’re doing a pretty deep dive, and I’d say that’s a primary part of the future for all of entertainment marketing, strategy and insights. So we’re digging into the contextual pieces of what makes this film or series or this property really sing.

But having that data, having that insight, being able to formulate overall strategy, being able to shift to be agile and real time, I mean, things happen all the time. You’d have a big premiere, and how do you seize that momentum and keep pushing? You also never know what’s going to happen in terms of talent out there in the public eye or filmmakers and the press. And like you all, we’re watching the headlines, and we’re helping our clients to pivot and be really agile with the real life that’s happening all around us as we as we market these properties.

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How much is the aspect of marketing to a small, niche audience becoming more important compared to reaching the widest possible audience?
The answer always is you want to do both, right? We love being able to go really micro and sometimes even work directly with people that have some connection to the franchises or have some sort of reputation online. We have people within our community that actually are some of those people. We had a couple of people that were actually creating Dungeons and Dragons games and levels. We’ve done board games for clients. I mean, if you can imagine a way to engage, we’re trying to live there.

We’re trying to really have a presence but also an authentic connection to it. So going wide is kind of table stakes. But our ability to zoom in and have meaningful connections with audiences, I think that’s really the future. Because if your attention is constantly being pulled in every direction, you’re just gonna go to where there’s value.

We see a lot of movie posters and clichés in marketing where things start to look exactly the same. What are some of the trends or pet peeves you’ve noticed over the last few years that you’ve now tried to counteract?
The things that we try to stay away from are just the things of the moment. We’re trying to innovate and not imitate, and that’s a very difficult assignment. Because so much good work has been done over the years. And sure, they’re standing on the shoulders of people that have done it so well before, but across the industry, I don’t see anybody who is out there just actively knocking off competing artwork or genre artwork from before.

It may seem familiar, because there are things that do find trends. Haunting vocals for instance on a trailer with like the rickety song that you’ve heard before or that you were a fan of 10 years ago and that’s now the remixed version for the trailer. Those things are handpicked and poured over in terms of the clients and the composer and often the original artist, so even when that doesn’t hit the mark for a member of the audience, still, it’s loved. There’s not really any part of our industry where people are just kind of throwing it out there and mailing it in. There’s usually a good reason why something is similar to something else.

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