What Hollywood gets wrong about Facebook marketing

Some Hollywood executives are questioning the value of Facebook ads and fan pages, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The report says film execs “confide privately they are considering cutting their spending on Facebook ads,” though everyone on the record said the social network was still one of a number of important channels to drive awareness about upcoming films. The article suggests that studios, like companies in other industries, are skeptical of the returns on paying for Likes, especially as News Feed changes limit the organic reach of page posts.

But with the way most studios approach Facebook ads, it’s no wonder why they would think the cost is too high and the results aren’t there. That doesn’t mean Facebook is an ineffective channel; it means Hollywood isn’t using it in the best way for its business. Movie marketers are emphasizing Likes at the wrong point in the funnel, and they’re not using the right ad formats for their goals.

Facebook’s head of entertainment measurement Fred Leach told the LA Times that 99 percent of all films released in the past year advertised on the social network. Yet, when was the last time you saw a sponsored movie trailer in your desktop or mobile News Feed? Most people would say “never” because studios typically run ads in the Facebook sidebar — the unit with the lowest clickthrough rates and highest costs per click. Few studios, if any, are taking advantage of the more prominent placement directly in the feed. Not only are users more likely to click and engage with these ads, the branding is more significant even at an impression level. For Hollywood, which likes to wrap buses and buildings with promotional material and take over web homepages, it’s a surprise the News Feed isn’t regularly swamped with movie marketing.

Instead, studios often run marketplace ads with a small image, body copy and a Like button. First of all, it’s odd to ask users to Like a movie before they’ve seen it. Similar to many advertisers in other industries, studios are leading with Like campaigns when awareness and content marketing make more sense. For studios’ other online advertising, trailer views are typically the most important KPI, but often on Facebook they inexplicably run Like ads rather than video ads.

Take this “Dark Shadows” ad from spring 2012. Although the call to action says “watch the trailer,” no trailer is included in the ad, nor was it featured on a landing page. It’s unclear how Warner Bros. evaluated the success of this campaign, but the company continues to use marketplace ads, including for its upcoming release of “Gangster Squad.” When “Gangster Squad” ads first began appearing on Facebook in fall 2012, the trailer wasn’t available on the movie’s page, though the page does feature the trailer and other clips now.

On the other hand, Focus Features’ “For A Good Time Call” used the page post video ad format and took advantage of age-based targeting to show users the red band trailer in summer 2012. This includes an option to Like the page, but trailer views were logically the focus of the campaign in the month before the film’s release, which is when this ad appeared.

Other times, studios buy premium homepage and logout ads, working directly with Facebook in order to get an expanded ad unit and reach a set number of people within a demographic on a given day. The cost of those ads, however, is comparable to full takeovers on other websites, and advertisers feel they aren’t getting the same value. Premium advertisers also typically pay a lump sum for a limited time, rather than running more strategic campaigns that optimize creative and audience segments to reduce costs over time.

We recommend studios use Facebook to promote movie trailers and other content, such as video clips, posters, stills and quotes before a film’s box office debut. Page post ads in the desktop and mobile News Feed are good ways to seed this content, which will continue to spread organically if users find it compelling. Studios could integrate Open Graph into the film’s website so visitors can share that they’ve watched the trailer or that they’re planning to see the movie. Or they could encourage users to click “want to see it” on Rotten Tomatoes, which will then be shared back with the user’s friends on Facebook. This activity can be promoted with custom Sponsored Stories.

While the movie is in theaters, studios should be running Like campaigns and Sponsored Stories. This is the point when users will be most likely to Like the movie’s page — thus reducing costs per click — and the point when friend recommendations will have the most impact in encouraging other users to see the film.

Movies could also better leverage the silver screen itself. Currently, most trailers include a mention of the film’s Facebook page, but few movies include any call to action after the actual film. As the credits start to roll, theatergoers turn on their phones. Movies could prompt viewers to see extended scenes or outtakes by Liking the Facebook page. They could offer a free download from the soundtrack, a sweepstakes to win the Blu-ray, or simply encourage people to discuss their thoughts on the film. All of this would lead to the type of digital word of mouth that would get more of a Facebook user’s friends in the theater and have more of an impact than the traditional sidebar ads Hollywood has so far favored.