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If you sign on to this week, you’ll see something new on the home page – the first of five short films that will debut on the site at the rate of one a week under the name “Amazon Theater.”

The first one, entitled “Portrait” and directed by Jordan Scott, features Minnie Driver in a tale that is sort of “Big” meets “Twilight Zone” meets “The Ugly Duckling.” The company describes it as being thematically similar to other films in the series in that they all deal with “karmic balance” and how certain individuals learn life lessons.

While Amazon says that the films aren’t meant to be advertising, there are a plethora of product placements, and the products – ranging from cell phones to cosmetics - used in the film are all listed on the site with hot links so that customers can easily buy them. And, in an interesting twist, the products are even listed in the film’s credits – so that the phone that plays a character’s phone is given as much attention as the actress who plays a specific character. Remarkably, Amazon didn’t solicit or accept any placement fees (known elsewhere as slotting allowances) for the products shown, but simply asked manufacturers if they would mind if their products were featured. (Nobody minded.) Amazon seemed to feel that if it sold more of these products because of the films, then that would be enough of a reward.

Amazon has not divulged the budgets for each of the films.
KC's View:
This clearly is a next step after BMW successfully produced a series of films directed by some acclaimed directors and showed them on its website as a way of generating buzz about its cars. And it works, certainly as an attention getter – “Portrait” is a neat little movie will get people talking.

And that’s really the point, and what Amazon is up to. “Buzz” is a critical part of the Amazon success, because the willingness to try new things and experiment with new forms of advertising and content is a hallmark of Jeff Bezos’ company.

It is a lesson that more retailers ought to learn. The effort taken to change things up, to throw consumers a curve, to delight them with the unexpected – that’s what missing from too many supermarkets (not to mention other retail formats). It is critical, if they want to succeed, that food retailers find ways to throw a curve to their consumers…because it’ll be that curve that will set them apart from tough competition.

Of course, it isn’t a one-time effort. It is an ongoing project, and will be filled with frustration and triumph. But it’s better than sitting away waiting to be taken over or put out of business.