"Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" is being promoted on YouTube… (Alan Markfield/Twentieth…)
For decades, movie stars have used the talk-show circuit to drum up awareness of an upcoming film.
Now, film studios are drafting a new group of celebrities to aid in the promotional pitch: YouTubers.
Twentieth Century Fox commissioned the filmmakers behind the popular FreddieW channel on YouTube — Freddie Wong and Brandon Laatsch — to create a promotion for "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," a supernatural thriller in which the 16th president tackles slavery and battles the undead.
The creative duo crafted an original video, "8-Bitham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," that blends the film's premise with the look of a classic, side-scrolling video game. The clip has gotten nearly 1 million views and earned 27,000 likes on YouTube, helping to raise awareness for the film, which opened Friday.
Fox's YouTube promotion wasn't the first. Several Hollywood studios have been using YouTube "stars" as part of their marketing strategies in a bid to reach millennials — roughly ages 12 to 34 — who are less likely to watch live television, making them an elusive target for marketers seeking to build awareness for a new movie.
"If you were to talk to anyone who is under 25, these people on YouTube — the Jenna Marbles, FreddieWs — they are this generation's Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, David Letterman," said Ira Rubenstein, Fox's executive vice president of domestic theatrical marketing.
Paramount Pictures sought out a member of YouTube's billion-view club, the Annoying Orange, to create a Web video tied to the release of the DreamWorks Animation film "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted." Relativity Media also sought out Dane Boedigheimer's comic citrus to tout "Mirror Mirror," its film retelling of the Snow White story.
"The 'Madagascar 3' Annoying Orange video on YouTube —- which has received over 1.3 million views to date — reflects a key component of our online strategy: leveraging built-in audiences that align with our own fan base to extend engagement with the film in a way that doesn't feel like a traditional ad," said Jason Alex, Head of Digital Marketing, DreamWorks Animation.
"Studios are all trying to drive opening weekend — and opening weekend generally is driven by the millennial audience," said Alex Angeledes of Collective Digital Studio, the media division of the firm that represents such talent as the Annoying Orange and FreddieW. "They're having to focus on where they can find the most impact, where they can connect with this millennial audience — and these digital influencers ... are becoming increasingly valuable."
In the YouTube video inspired by "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," Laatsch said he and co-creator Wong are fans of director Timur Bekmambetov's films and were looking for a way to create an original story inspired by the film — but not a literal retelling.
They settled on a video that borrows from the old-fashioned arcade game aesthetic. The result, "8-Bitham Lincoln," is broken into game-like "levels," which depict a villainous, vampiric John Wilkes Booth kidnapping Mary Lincoln. Lincoln hacks through waves of vampires with his silver-tipped ax and ultimately confronts Booth in the infamous Ford's Theatre (where the real-life Booth fatally shot him) to rescue his wife.
Rubenstein said Fox has had success before in incorporating YouTube celebrities in its promotions. It identified a group of influential YouTubers to watch footage of last summer'ssci-fihit"Rise of the Planet of the Apes"and blog about the event — helping bring attention to the studio's trailers and other online footage. With"Chronicle,"a sci-fi thriller in which high school friends gain superpowers, Fox worked with two other YouTube notables, DeStorm and MysteryGuitarMan, to create a humorous original video in which they imagined that they had telekinetic powers.
Marketing expert Peter Sealey said studios can no longer rely solely on ad buys in major newspapers or television networks.
"The Internet is getting so much eyeball time, and so little a percentage of ad dollars. It is the greatest discrepancy in media today," Sealey said. "What's going to happen is the movie guys will be the first to break that."