Why Do Most Movie Websites Suck?

As Marketing Emphasis Shifts to Facebook, Studios Lose a Valuable Branding Opportunity

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Chris Thilk
Chris Thilk
So many times this summer, as I'm writing one of my movie marketing campaign reviews, I've visited a film's official website and come away with a single thought:

"That's it?"

If you also make a habit of visiting movie websites to check out what has been put there to help promote a film, you've likely had a similar reaction. I keep noticing big gaps between what I know has been created and what is available on official movies sites, which are (in theory) supposed to be a movie's central hub of information. Often missing are bios on the stars, other versions of the trailer (especially after you've seen them on TV), photo galleries and more.

But then I click over to the movie's Facebook page and find a lot of this information there. Material such as exhaustive overviews of an actor's career might not be available, but an extensive photo gallery, all the trailers and TV spots, along with some extended clips and more, are all in various tabs off the Facebook page.

(The website for "The Other Guys" really riled me because they made the great move of casting Michael Keaton and then didn't give any cast filmographies, which would have shown just how seriously he owned '80s comedies and then '90s dramas. That very much felt like a personal affront to me.)

I get that movie marketers are simply following the trends. A recent study reported here last month showed that major brands were seeing traffic to their websites drop as the number of people following them on social networks rose. So to some extent it makes sense that attention would be paid to Facebook to the detriment of the official website.

There are ways, though, to achieve the engagement that is being sought on Facebook without completely abandoning or giving short shrift to the website that the studio itself owns and maintains complete control over.

For one, commit to the conversation. There's often no response from studios on the Facebook page to fans' declarations of excitement to see a movie or how much they like the new trailer. If a profile is meant to up the engagement and connection to the movie, then facilitate that.

Next, adopt the hub-and-spoke model of online publishing. The official website -- a presence the studio can customize the look and feel of and otherwise completely own -- becomes the repository of everything, with updates being pushed out to the social outposts. Build social sharing into each component of the official website, so that those who are visiting it can also share what they like with their networks. This likely means dropping Flash and adopting publishing tools that allow each bit of content to have its own link, but that needed to happen anyway. This model also allows marketers to easily add on whatever the next network to capture the public's attention, because they can just add it as a distribution point.

Finally, put tactics in place that are sustainable. I've noticed movie Facebook pages using the same tactic as other consumer goods and making some material only available to those who "Like" that page. That's to reward such behavior, which generates an update from that user to his or her network, theoretically increasing the exposures/impressions that can be counted. (There are 17 problems with this idea, but let's not get into that now.) But there's long-term value in driving people back to an official website, where they can get a more well-rounded picture of the movie and be exposed to its overall branding more completely.

Facebook, Twitter or whatever network a particular audience is or will be using are fantastic points for distributing content and engaging in conversations with that audience. There are advantages, though, to making sure that while those networks are part of an online presence, efforts there aren't detrimental to tactics that are more strategic and have bigger, long-term benefits.

All of this overlooks, of course, the point that movie marketing is by and large run as sprints -- short-term ad campaigns -- and not as bigger-picture branding marathons. There's a strong case to be made that studios need to rein in their movie-by-movie focus and instead start looking at ways to create a single central online hub where they can promote all their movies, turning the audience for one into the audience for any number of movies down the road. By doing so, studios no longer divide the audience's attention or count on them stumbling across, seemingly by accident, each individual product.

That's sustainable marketing.

Chris Thilk writes and publishes MovieMarketingMadness.com and is a supervisor at PR and marketing agency Voce Communications.
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