Facebook Is Struggling to Achieve Marquee Status With Movie Advertisers

Marketers are allocating spend across other networks

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Facebook fell out of favor with Hollywood more than a year ago, and a sampling of marketers for Academy Award-nominated movies suggests little has changed. Major paid pushes using the social giant were few and far between last year, per the studios contacted by Adweek. 12 Years a Slave, for instance, didn’t buy a single ad, a source close to its campaign said.

Facebook declined to comment.

“Facebook is like the old phone book—everyone’s in it, so you need a presence,” said Patrick Young, co-founder of Jetset Studios, a flicks-focused agency in Los Angeles. “But its ad units need to engage on an emotional level. If it was more visual, more young people would be on it, too.”

“It depends on the film,” added Stacia Pratt, a rep at Truth Entertainment, which helped promote the Oscar-nominated Dallas Buyers Club and other films. “Facebook has its own specific demographic like any other media outlet. It’s a great place to reach [Gen X] parents.”

Indeed, Facebook’s trouble with getting millennials—which make up a huge percentage of moviegoers—to come back is well documented. And speaking with L.A. marketers, it’s clear that the platform faces myriad other challenges. One creative called Facebook ads “the red-headed stepchild” of movie campaigns.

Some still see potential in marketing movies on Facebook. BlitzMetrics president Dennis Yu is bullish because its ads deliver high clickthrough rates. But even he admitted that, for movie clients, it’s “often a line item, a placeholder, where the spend is around $5,000.”

Yet, every studio by now knows about Facebook ads’ interest-level features, where drama, horror and comedy fans can be narrowly targeted. A huge disconnect, Yu said, lies in movie strategies that regularly lack a narrative designed for social media. “Studios have come to me with three or four posts for a two-month campaign,” he groused.

So while Twitter’s status as the de facto social companion to TV is widely regarded, Facebook has struggled to become the go-to hub for movies. (The false start dates back to Warner Bros.’ ill-fated attempt to sell Batman: The Dark Knight streams for $3 on Facebook in 2011.) Instead, a slew of other social channels have collectively emerged in the space, most notably Tumblr, which was the cornerstone for several 2013 releases such as Anchorman 2. Now movie marketers are allocating their spend across the social sphere trying to capture eyeballs—spend that could have ended up in Facebook’s coffers. That’s not the scenario CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Co. had in mind a few years ago, and Facebook’s current role in show biz seems like a big missed opportunity.

Perhaps its forthcoming auto-play video ads, which have been in beta for two months, will provide the social platform with a bigger chunk of Hollywood budgets. “I‘ll be all over it,” Jetset’s Young said, “telling my clients, ‘Go, go, go.’”

So there’s hope yet. We just have to see how the movie ends.

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.