I’ve never really been a fan of movie studios – or any other brand – trying to be clever by posting to social media as a character from the movie or other ad campaign. There was a whole, wide-ranging debate over a decade or more ago when various brands were publishing blogs as advertising mascots or other characters, with practitioners weighing in on the pros and cons of this particular tactic. Some felt it was fine, a natural extension of other marketing tactics. Others felt that blogging was meant to provide transparency and accountability and publishing under any false persona was a betrayal of the new level of trust the audience was putting in blogs.
You have to remember that blogs were, at that point, seen not so much as a antidote to the problems of the mainstream media but a supplement to it, one that added the insights and expertise of individuals who were shut out of that media by the gatekeepers guarding access to the means of publication. Anyone could start a blog and respond to a story from The New York Times with either additional information or their own perspective on the news.
“Character blogging,” then, was seen by some as deceitful. You were supposed to be able to trust the person or entity on the other end of the blog and that transaction couldn’t happen if the actual author was unknown. This debate extended even into something that should have been relatively passe like ghostwriting an executive’s posts. It was very different, though, from a few instances where a company deliberately created a blog that was meant to look like it was coming from a fan or customer but which was actually published by the marketing department. There was no debate about that.
I fell somewhere in the middle of the “character blogging” debate. The idea that a blog should be trustworthy was one I agreed with but I didn’t want to dismiss something out of hand, preferring instead to judge it on its actual merits and its contribution to the conversation. My primary issue was when a blog was published that tried to adopt an in-world voice, written as if it was coming from a character who was describing, for example, the events leading up to what’s shown in a movie. Mostly I felt these efforts were just poorly executed, a result of the requirement dictated by a compliance department somewhere that it include disclosure that it was coming from Studio X and oh hey, here’s a link to buy a ticket for a movie.
Thankfully those efforts have fallen by the wayside to a great extent in the last several years. Instead, on a couple different occasions, studios have begun playing with the voice of their online marketing more than trying to appear as if they exist within the movie’s physical world. Two examples jump out at me that offer what I think are fun approaches so social publishing.
First, though, a definition. When I say “voice” I’m talking about a persona. A tone. An attitude.
Last Flag Flying
I noticed when I was reviewing the campaign for Richard Linklater’s military-based drama about friendship that the Twitter account in particular took a very casual attitude. It wasn’t written in a very “marketing” like tone but was more commenting on the GIFs and other media or links it was sharing like someone you know would as they shared something interesting with you.
There was clearly a decision within Amazon Studios to make this account sound a bit different from the usual sort of “Here is a trailer you should watch buy tickets now” updates usually seen on movie profiles. In fact, it kind of sounded like the updates were coming from an old buddy you maybe hadn’t seen in a few years but were reconnecting with, finding you still shared the same back-and-forth while busting each other’s chops.
The Death of Stalin
The Twitter account for Armando Iannucci’s political satire set in 1950s Soviet Russia took the approach of sounding like it was written as propaganda from 1950s Soviet Russia. Again, instead of dry “Here’s a thing, do a thing” copy, it’s written from the point of view of a central committee-like entity. So it’s full of calls to action extolling the love leaders have for their people, which they can continue to earn by buying tickets. Positive reviews are shared with comments about how the citizenry should “follow in the glorious example” of those praising the movie.
That toes right up to the line of being in character but never crosses it. Instead it comes off as being just a fun wink at the kind of material that was common at the time of the movie’s story, where everything was wonderful and anything unpleasant was fake news drummed up by anti-fascist traitors. (beat) Yeah. (beat) That tone is in-line with the U.S. teaser trailer, presented in the form of a mock newsreel showing the outpouring of affection people had for the movie as they streamed into the streets to express their devotion.
I call out these two examples because I think they do a good job of combining both the ability to adjust the voice of the consumer message while doing so in a way that’s still brand-appropriate. There are a number of other examples, particularly around young adult-focused movies, where the voice is trying to appeal to the Instagram Stories crowd but comes off as forced and unnatural. Getting voice right without slipping into self-own is tough for any brand but particularly so for movies and other forms of entertainment that are sold based on their creativity.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.