Search 2012: Clever Strategy or Marketing Fail

Posted on Monday, October 26th, 2009 by Print This Post Print This Post

Categories - Featured, Mobile, SEO

To prove that The Search Agents have some sort of scary mind meld, I’m going to talk about the same marketing fail Frank Lee blogged on recently.  While driving home a few weeks ago, I also noticed a huge sign attached to a building that said simply “We Were Warned. Search: 2012.” I thought, “Okay, I’ll do that when I get home.” Unlike Frank, I forgot.

I passed that sign for at least a week before I finally remembered to search for it when I got home. In Google, the result was the official site for the movie “2012”. My first thought was, “Clever.”  My second thought was, “Maybe.” Then, because I overthink things, I came up with several ways this campaign could be a marketing fail from both an organic search standpoint and a consumer targeting standpoint.

Targeting Consumers in the Wrong Place

I passed the sign in my car, while driving up the freeway. If texting while driving is illegal, I’m sure web browsing is, too. In order for this ad to be effective, consumers have to remember it long after they’ve passed it (or choose to break the law).  Each consumer gets multiple impressions because they pass it every day, but how many ever completed a search? The last thing most people want to do after fighting traffic is fire up the computer and search for an ad they saw on a billboard. (Unless, they’re crazy search marketers like the fine folks at TSA.)

Using Flash while Targeting Mobile Browsing

Most movie websites are built in Flash, which is fine if you’re targeting TV or movie-watching consumers who browse from their computers. Not so much if you’re targeting people in their cars because mobile phone browsers can’t display Flash. As Frank Lee points out, the iPhone displays a graphic 2012 banner, so at least the user would see the movie logo. The Blackberry displays a black screen with Sony’s navigation, and then shows the 2012 logo after scrolling way down, if the user bothers to go that far.

Not Optimizing for All Engines

I conducted my search in Google, which placed the official movie site in the #1 spot. Then I checked Yahoo and Bing. Oops. The movie site places third in Yahoo.

2012 results yahoo

It also places third in Bing, but with a different URL, thereby splitting the value should users choose to link to it, but that’s another matter entirely.

2012 results bing

The original ad was a little vague as to which site consumers are supposed to wind up at, which could lead people who use an alternate browser to visit the wrong site. That’s great for the owner of Survive2012.com, but not so good for Sony.

Perhaps Sony realized their folly, because the sign changed to “Who Will Survive? Search: 2012” a week later.  That’s a bigger clue to the site you’re supposed to reach, but it still leaves room for error. The sign now displays the same image you see on the website and the movie title. No room for error there, but no search command, either.

Using the Search Tagline in the Trailer

The trailer also ends with the instructions to “Search: 2012”. If people see that trailer in a movie theater, what are the odds that they’ll remember those instructions after watching a two-hour movie?

Fortunately for Sony, far more people will see the trailer on TV. If those viewers see the instructions, they may get right off the couch to perform the search that instant. Unfortunately, they still might use an alternate browser and wind up at the wrong site.

I’m all for businesses integrating the internet into their advertising campaigns, but they need to be careful not to lose consumers by asking them to search rather than giving them a URL. There’s no guarantee that they’ll wind up at your site. Or, that they’ll click-through to your site even if you land in the #1 spot organically. Personally, I’d still prefer that studios put the URL in the ads and trailers. Even if someone does perform a search for the movie, seeing the advertised URL on the computer screen might be enough to trigger them to click the right site.

As a side note for anyone concerned that the world will end on December 21, 2012: I visited the Mayan ruins of Tikal last December and learned from an actual Mayan that the calendar’s end date marks the beginning of a new age, not an apocalypse. So unless you also fear the dawning of the Age of Aquarius (dang, hippies), there’s no reason to fear the Winter Solstice, 2012.

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5 Responses to “Search 2012: Clever Strategy or Marketing Fail”

  1. Frank says:

    Man, those signs are everywhere and every time I see one I think the same thing – do they really rank for 2012? I guess the answer is ‘somewhat’.

  2. Craig says:

    I wonder what kind of traffic spike Survive2012.com has received since the campaign started.

  3. Barbara says:

    Sony as an entertainment company is falling into two traditional marketing pitfalls that don’t necessarily translate well to the digital age: campaign marketing and ego marketing. Campaign marketing is where they buy all the pieces of the marketing mix and can’t necessarily decifer which pieces work. For instance, McDonald’s buys billboards and when I see those yummy fries in 30 foot glory on my way to the office it is ineffective marketing. However, when lunchtime rolls around and I remember the sign and rush to the drive through, marketing works. All of the studios ALWAYS buy outdoor advertising: bus shelters, bus sides, billboards, but they can’t measure ROI. So why buy them? Ego. And that is myopic marketing. The marketing team literally buys the travel routes of the film makers and studio heads so they see the advertising every day, each way, home and to the studio. The logic is that if they are seeing the ads, then the whole world must be seeing my ad and isn’t this film going to be huge. But the fact is, the marketing folks are only buying select routes in select cities (usually NY and LA) so they ‘appear’ to have a larger marketing push behind the film.

    So is the campaign clever or just same old, same old, with a slightly new twist in terms of the call to action?

  4. 2012 is reminiscent of yesteryear ’80s shlock-tastic blockbusters — total popcorn entertainment with ridiculous dialogue and impossible situations and special effects that will boggle the brain for a good two-plus hours.

  5. Lionel says:

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