- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 5, 2010

It’s easy to like Buddy, Will Ferrell’s mischievous character at the heart of the 2003 film “Elf.”

It’s just as simple to “like” Buddy the Elf on Facebook. Just ask the more than 5 million social-media users who already have.

Buddy may be imaginary, but he and other fictional characters are very much alive and well on the Web’s social-media destination of choice. It’s one way film studios can extend a character’s brand, juice DVD sales and stoke awareness should the need for a sequel or reboot arise.

Nor is Buddy alone. Among the other popular movie characters with Facebook pages is Clark Griswold, the clueless patriarch played by Chevy Chase in the four “Vacation” movies.

Buddy’s page is overseen by Warner Bros., the studio holding the rights to the comedy, but the site works in conjunction with “Elf — The Musical” for cross-promotional purposes.

Crystal Chase, a marketing associate with “Elf — The Musical,” says linking up with Buddy’s Facebook page has meant an increase of 17,000 “fans” for the musical’s Facebook page over less than two months. Having an active Facebook page enables the musical’s backers to distribute discounts and other offers to potential show visitors.

“One of the everyday challenges when it comes to social networking is always giving fresh content to your fans,” she said. Her team makes sure visitors understand which Buddy the Elf site they’re on.

“We’ve been very sensitive to the fact that people love, love, love the movie,” she said. “We make sure they understand the musical and the movie are two entities.”

David Meerman Scott, author of “The New Rules of Marketing & PR,” said the Buddy Facebook page is a shrewd brand extension in an increasingly cluttered media world. Creating it isn’t as easy as slapping up an official page and letting the social-media currents take it from there.

Transparency is key, Mr. Scott said. Visitors should know immediately what the page is and who is behind it.

“It’s not a good idea to do something that feels like trickery,” he said.

Mr. Scott recalls an early example of a company using social media to promote a character. The 2007 Volkswagen MySpace campaign served up a site for Helga, a statuesque blonde seen in the automaker’s commercials.

“You can clearly tell this is not a real person. It’s clearly a character,” he said.

Mr. Scott said the best way for a media company to embrace the Buddy the Elf Facebook model is to go “all the way.”

“The more complete and the more well-thought-out and intricate the profile is, the more fun it becomes and more likely to take off,” he said. If biographical facts appear in the character’s films, they had better be recorded accurately on the Facebook page.

Other attempts at Facebook pages for iconic movie characters feel far less polished — and hardly official. Consider Ralphie from “A Christmas Story,” whose page has little information for fans to share. The Harry Potter Facebook page lacks the personal touches found on Buddy’s page and exists solely to promote a product, not extend a conversation.

Buddy the Elf’s page began as the creation of a fan who prefers anonymity. Last year, he received a notice from Facebook telling him the page was slated to be removed. So he reached out to Warner Bros. and asked whether the page could become “official.”

The company agreed and essentially let him oversee the content as he saw fit. When “Elf — The Musical” and the “Elf” Blu-ray became realities, he started working with the marketing divisions behind each to promote them on the site.

Jay Baer, Focus.com social-media marketing analyst, said the Buddy page is so effective in part because it offers a call to action for visitors.

One of the page’s promotions asks fans to request that Buddy host the “Saturday Night Live” Christmas special. Such campaigns have worked, too; consider the successful Facebook effort launched last year to get Betty White to host an episode of “SNL.”

Marketers can track Facebook page results in a number of ways, including tallying the number of “Friends” and “Likes” a page amasses to constructing e-commerce sections on the page that enable DVD sales to be monitored.

The page’s other benefits can be harder to quantify, but remain no less substantial.

“Social-media marketing in general really is about the long time. … It’s to seep awareness out there,” Mr. Baer said. What company website wouldn’t crave more than 5 millions fans, he asks.

Mr. Baer does caution that some Facebook pages, such as the one for Buddy, sometimes let extraneous content linger on the page.

“They allow their fans to post to the ‘wall,’ which is fine. … [T]here are some things on there that are not appropriate,” he says, alluding to some mildly risque fan photographs that briefly adorned the page.

Studios eager to build Facebook pages around iconic characters should understand it’s not a short-term fix, said Brian Solis, author of “Engage” and principal with the new media- and business-strategy consulting firm FutureWorks.

Traditional marketing involves a “start, stop process,” Mr. Solis said. “Social networks require a continuous approach. You have to have the tenacity to keep them thriving. … Otherwise, you start to evoke a backlash. You take away from the value you’re trying to bring to life.”

Ms. Chase said people can leave any comment they wish on the Buddy the Elf pages without fear of deletion. That means the occasional visitor will harp about the show, the character or another aspect tied to Buddy.

That process can be helpful to the musical’s overall business model. If a Facebook user comments about a problem securing tickets, for example, Ms. Chase’s crew can look into fixing it.

“That’s the beauty of Facebook. If you’re very concerned about what the general public feels about your product, you will know,” she says.



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