Website Design and Paramount Pictures Anniversary

I’m a big fan of cinema, and often I’m apt to quote Orson Welles from The Third Man or mention that 1939 was the greatest year in film. In doing this, I have frequently been asked by people in the marketing industry, my industry, “How old are you? I wasn’t even born yet!” I often reply with the They Might Be Giants, quip and think about the Max Schumacher in the movie Network “I'm not sure she's capable of any real feelings. She's television generation. She learned life from Bugs Bunny.”

This July 12th, 2012 was the 100th anniversary of the release of Paramount Picture’s first feature-length film, Queen Elizabeth, starring Sarah Bernhardt.  This release is seen as the first movie to surpass novelty, and it led to the rise of the studio system in Hollywood. Clocking in at 44 minutes it was longer by far than most of the flicks being hawked at Nickelodeon’s across the country. The film was the disruptive technology of the time and it so dramatically changed spatial perceptions that it ushered in the rise of cubism and kicked off the beginnings of the ever present and predominant culture of advertising. Moving pictures was such a seriously disruptive technology that people fled from the theaters when the Lumiere Brothers, The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station came at them on the screen.

Paramount’s anniversary had me pontificating upon online marketing and the dramatic changes that have taken place since I built my first website in 2004.  The web has gone through dramatic changes and companies have struggled with the best course of action to take. Until recently, “experts” have been fickle (and expensive), and each had a particular philosophical approach to selling. (Usually tied to their particular expertise that’s been around less than a couple years)

Changes in Website Design

My first website is an example of visual considerations trumping all other concerns. At the time, I taught in an art college, and I built what I saw as a beautiful, highly visual and engaging website. Unfortunately, it was built entirely in the most current technology of the time, Adobe Flash. If you missed seeing my website, you’re not alone. No one could find it because it was unsearchable. Beautiful, yes but it was not much of a business tool because it could not be found on the web. 

Today, technology is finally catching up with the needs of marketing professionals, allowing us to get easily back to the important task of... marketing. Usability, Analytics, search engine optimization and visual content like illustrations, photos and video can finally work in a coordinated fashion to tell stories that market products and services. My first position was within a web agency that had a reputation for online marketing. I was quite surprised to see that the visual marketing pendulum had completely swung in the opposite direction.  On my very first assignment, I remember seeking the Creative Director on a project (It was made difficult because each of us had a cute title, like Awareness Guru or Integration Expert.) I was told that creative didn’t matter.  The rise of database-driven architecture and search engine friendly content was upon us. Keyword stuffing became more important than copywriting and database driven content could be as boring as dirt provided it was accessible and accurate.  I remember despondence when mentioning photography and being told, “We don’t do that. If the client wants us to search iStock, that’s an additional cost.” Up to that point, I had been a photographer most of my life.

In marketing, the new disruptive technology can be summed up in a single word, simplicity. Cloud-based; online services have given control back to the creatives. In a few short years, Squarespace has become the best website content management system for small business. Inbound Marketing has given us an easy to use the methodology for structuring permission-based marketing campaigns that include, social media, landing pages, e-newsletters and blogging platforms in a single place. Automated Marketing Systems like Hatchbuck allow for narrative based, opt-in email prospecting. SlideShare has made animated PowerPoint type presentations simple and more creative and shareable than ever. High definition video cameras cost 1/20th of what they did five years ago and Apple’s, iMovie combined with broadcast platforms like YouTube, Wistia and Vimeo has placed powerful filmmaking within the reach of everyone. It is no longer about the tools, it's about the ability to craft the message in an interesting way that accomplishes goals.

As Paramount Pictures celebrates its 100th anniversary and being the first studio to bring features to the masses it's important to remember that marketing much like the movies, has always been a storyteller’s medium.  The new disruptive technologies are empowering each of us to get past technology and start engaging with an audience and promoting value through interesting content.