Movie Marketers Can't Ride YouTube Views Like, Say, Volkswagen

'The Force' Did Well to Rack Up Plays for Car Maker, but Studios Need to Do Much More

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Chris Thilk
Chris Thilk

Movie marketers, take note: You are not major brand advertisers getting ready for a Super Bowl slot.

Volkswagen's "The Force" Super Bowl spot was available online well before the game last week, along with Super Bowl commercials for Chrysler, HomeAway, Pepsi Max, Go Daddy, and others. All those marketers wanted eyeballs, and they got them. The "Force" spot on VW's YouTube channel has racked up more than 26 million views on the web. Some 111 million people had a chance to see it on TV during the Super Bowl itself. Who cares about the audience overlap in some of these views? The spot achieved the kind of reach that most advertisers would commit felonies for.

And in auto advertising, like many other categories, branding on that huge scale can pay dividends when consumers get closer to making an actual purchase.

The Cute Darth Vader kid from the Volkswagen ad.
The Cute Darth Vader kid from the Volkswagen ad.
Now, I'm sure that the marketing teams on movies like "Kick-Ass" and "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" were heartened when they looked before opening day at the views their trailers had compiled on YouTube, not to mention those mentions on Twitter and Facebook. These movies seemed destined to be super-popular -- right up to the moment the first tracking numbers were released and it became clear that both were going to disappoint in actual sales.

These sorts of disconnects -- massive social-media popularity followed by disappointing sales, brand recall or other more substantive metrics -- have been all too common in movie marketing these past few years. That's largely because there's no clear way for people to act immediately on the interest an online trailer or clip just sparked in them. And the purchase funnel for weekend entertainment spins a lot faster than the funnel from a warm VW ad to visiting a dealership.

Right now the options available for people who want to stay up to date on a movie's progress are signing up for email updates from the film's official website, "liking" the movie's Facebook page or following its profile on Twitter.

None of these options are perfect for both interested parties: movie fans and movie studios. Teens are using email less and none of us are really looking for more. The current Facebook strategy typically asks consumers to signal all their Facebook friends that they "like" a movie they may only be curious about -- a bit of an over-ask for many people. And the updates that follow "liking" or following on Twitter can easily get lost in the feed.

But it's in Facebook and Twitter that most of the potential lies for studios to take the leap from asking for interest to asking that people signal their intent. That gap is bridged by a mix of constant engagement -- meaning studios would need to respond to comments, answer questions and otherwise move out of the "news distribution only" model -- and by making a new "ask" within those updates.

That "ask" needs to be one that doesn't just involve "liking" an update or whatever, but one that's more tied to actually getting that person in the theater door. This likely involves asking for permission to continue contacting them but in a way that's not just going to be yet another email or an update that's lost in the stream.

A movie with the real Darth Vader, of course, is going to sell tickets regardless.
A movie with the real Darth Vader, of course, is going to sell tickets regardless.
Let's go back to all those movie trailers' YouTube video views that ultimately went nowhere. Instead of -- or in addition to -- throwing the URL of the movie's Facebook page or the official website at the end of the trailer, include a text message sign-up number for people who are interested in getting occasional updates about the movie. Have that same number on those web pages. Then send messages to them every once in a while -- you don't want to become spam -- geared not toward showing them the new TV spot or where they can unlock some exclusive mobile wallpaper but instead how they can buy tickets RIGHT NOW! Making that kind of immediate "ask" could turn some percentage of the recipients into buyers instead of leaving them as casual fans who don't remember they were interested in a movie until they see the DVD on the checkout line endcap at Target .

Ultimately it doesn't matter how many times a trailer was watched on YouTube or how many "likes" a Facebook update has accumulated. Those are important metrics to gauge the effectiveness of the online campaign. But those tactics need to be part of a strategy that's aimed at getting people to buy tickets for that movie.

Connecting online and offline behaviors is a nut that many industries and individual companies are trying to crack. Based on audience demographics and other factors, some tactics will work and some won't. But movie marketers need to try more things that ask the audience to take immediate action in the real world, not just just low-barrier action on social networks, so the effort put into social-media marketing doesn't wind up with so many wasted clicks.

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