Scott Pilgrim, the new comic-booked inspired Michael Cera film out this summer, has been experimenting with Facebook. The Universal Studios film about an emo guy who has to defeat seven of his love interest’s evil exes has been hotly anticipated. And the films director, Edgar Wright, decided to translate excitement for the film’s release into a fan-building strategy on Facebook.

He essentially turned the latest trailer release into a Groupon bid, requiring 100,000 to like the film’s Facebook page before they could see the new video.

Did the bid reach its tipping point? Yes. Did the strategy grow Scott Pilgrim’s fan base on Facebook? Yes. Was it a good move? That’s less clear.

Last week, Wright sent out the following tweet:

Once Scott Pilgrim’s Facebook page got 100,000 likes, Wright released the trailer. It’s all pretty straightforward.

But there were a few competing motivations at work in this effort. For brands looking to do similar things, there are a few things to consider when offering a prize for receiving a set numbers of fans or likes or retweets.

The first being a proper assessment of your fan base. In this case, 100,000 people were willing to like Scott Pilgrim. If Wright hadn’t achieved his required number of fans, it would have been embarrassing at the least. Box office suicide at the worst. If 100,000 people weren’t willing to press a button to see the trailer, what are the chances they’d be willing to fork over $12+ to see the film?

And aside from the film’s popularity, there’s also the freerider problem. The 100,000 people who liked the page aren’t the only ones who got to see the trailer. Everyone on the internet can view it now. So what’s the motivation for Facebook users to open themselves up to Universal marketing spam on Facebook? 

People who are interested in Universal’s latest film trailer may not be an audience interested in anything else the studio has to say. Granted, looking at the film’s Facebook profile, Scott Pilgrim fans seem to be a pretty enthusiastic bunch. Maybe they won’t mind other Universal messages (or maybe they’ll quickly delete the like from their profiles).

But there’s also an incentive problem with Wright’s request. Those who liked the page did not immediately receive a prize or get to view the trailer. They simply became a number that was one step closer to achieving the film’s marketing goal. And they had sit back and wait with everyone else in the world for the trailer to get released.

One commenter, Patrick Bonsu was bothered:

“It’s annoying that we’re being treated like a statistic. Some of us are loyal fans to scott pilgrim AND edgar.”
Something like that could easily morph into a disgruntled fanbase. For the most part, people on the movie’s Facebook page were excited to be there. The biggest issue was the delayed response time when the page tipped past 100,000 fans and the trailer still hadn’t appeared.

But the greater world may not be so kind. Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon took issue with the strategy. She calls it blackmail and goes on to write:

“Community-driven social media initiatives are effective — and
interesting — because they’re generated by real people using a
uniquely direct medium to state their desires. That’s not the same as a
filmmaker — or his studio — saying, “Beg for it, bitches.” Really,
Pilgrim people? You’re not going to release a new trailer until we
become your fan or retweet or do whatever your publicity department’s
job is supposed to be? Until we drag in enough of our friends to meet
your quota? That’s like a pyramid scheme of buzz, and it’s not exactly

The company managed to get plenty of users to admit their affection for the film before its premiere in August. But one Scott Pilgrim fan makes an interesting, if flawed point:

Louis Plamondon There
was this big internet countdown for the release of the X-Files: I Want
To Believe trailer two years ago. But when the clock finally went down
to zero, nothing happened. Fans punished the studio by simply not going
to see the film. I wish the makers of this film that the trailer will
be released on the very second that this group hits 100K!
I’d imagine that the release of Dark Knight on that weekend in 2008 might have had more to do with the X-Files poor box office showing than a botched trailer release. But it’s still something worth noting.
Treating Facebook like Groupon could be problematic. Especially if the
pay off isn’t there. Social media is an excellent place to
develop relationships with fans and potential customers. But abusing
that exchange can quickly go bad.

Luckily, the Scott Pilgrim trailer performed well with its target audience. And after all this talk, here’s a peak at the trailer, which is pretty great:

Images: Facebook/Scott Pilgrim vs. The World