This time last year, no one knew who Ted was. Because the teddy bear’s self-titled movie was the first feature from the twisted mind of Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, there was anticipation for it among hardcore fans of his TV shows. That base was something, but it would never have been enough to launch and sustain the stoner buddy comedy about a boy named John (Mark Wahlberg) and his best friend, a talking teddy bear (voiced by MacFarlane).
That’s where Russell Scott and Patrick Young come in. They’re longtime friends (since childhood--not unlike John and Ted) who are CEO and president, respectively, of the Los Angeles social media marketing agency Jetset Studios. They had built a reputation as digital storytellers by doing online campaigns building out characters from many of the movies by Judd Apatow, including The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up. They also worked on The Hangover and Tropic Thunder. In other words, these dudes know dudes.
So they were a natural fit for Ted. And they knew to grab that base and grow beyond it quickly. Which is exactly what they did, establishing Ted’s Facebook presence and increasing his likes to more than 7 million. Their posts yielded 50,000 to 175,000 likes each, an extraordinarily high level of interaction. It all required getting into Ted’s head and expressing his voice, but it also took a lot of iterating early on--responding to what was working and not working, and tweaking from there. Here, according to Scott, is how they spoke for MacFarlane at the level of the movie and built the film’s audience.
Early on, the studio’s idea was to piggyback on the Take This Lollipop meme that was big last spring. It’s not necessarily a bad notion but Scott and Young knew that Ted could be bigger, and they didn’t want to be limited by someone else’s voice. “Ted wasn’t branded yet,” explains Scott."Take this Lollipop was a stunt. You’d get one big boom, people would pass it on but they’d never go back. But this was a slow steady build of an actual community of Ted fans."
The then-brand-new Facebook Timeline was key. The movie was among the first to utilize the new feature and they took advantage of its ability to let you go back in time. “We started with Ted being born on Christmas."
A cute teddy bear is naturally appealing; you just have to having him doing the right things. "As soon as we started posting as him, instead of about him, it really took off." Soon enough Ted became his own meme.
Using the Timeline allowed them to add value for fans who had seen the movie--a richer history that could supplement that story. "Once you see the movie and go back and read the Timeline it has more meaning, it’s even funnier," says Scott, who maintains that the key to a strong multiplatform campaign is being able to tell a story that is parallel to the film but can dovetail of off it, "diverge from the film but stay in its voice." That also meant finding the right balance of the puerile bro-tone that MacFarlane’s movie would demand but keeping women in on the joke. "We made an effort to not turn off women. Our job is to make people laugh at themselves through Ted."
Not everything went off without a hitch. There was a Michael Jackson joke that made the studio nervous, recalls Scott. "It was about spending the night at Neverland, getting high and getting angry at Emmanuel Lewis."
The studio wanted Jetset to use only images from the film. “The initial idea was to make New Yorker-style captions to go along with stills from the film.” Again, too limiting. Plus, the guys learned early on that posts that were just text, without pictures, didn’t get any traction. "If it was just a post with no image, it had very few likes. We realized that people needed to see the bear," says Scott. "It went from yeah, aw, cool to people agreeing, and then the comments took off and suddenly it was a party."
Jetset made its own Ted images. By photoshopping experiences, it was as if Ted were snapping photos with his iPhone and sharing them with his "friends" every single day. "My concept the whole time was everything on the Facebook page was something that could have been happening during the movie, even in another room while Mark Wahlberg was the focus of the film"--almost a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead model.
"They wanted messaging about the release," Scott says of Universal. "But we couldn’t do something felt like shilling, even for our own movie." So they came up with a way to do those messages--in a whole different style: They had a white background and used the official title treatment. And they always made a joke about it. "It’s frustrating to see so often how other movies handle it, the blown opportunity. They make the mistake of trying to be the voice of the studio, like, Hey, there’s a new trailer out now, check it out." Ted would never say anything like that. So when the DVD was coming out, he had this to say as he stood beside a Blu-ray: "In the immortal words of Eddie Money and Ronnie Spector…Take me home tonight!" Essential to a marketing message was to keep it at the level of the humor in the movie.
"When you see the movie Ted is so fun you wish you had one. And you do," says Scott. "He’s your friend on Facebook. Mostly it was, What’s TED DOING now? Everyone knows it’s a movie but it’s not a piece of marketing to them, it’s, What’s Ted doing today?" They also picked broad cultural events for Ted to comment on, things that everyone would be talking about, such as the Olympics, Christmas, and the Fourth of July (who can resist a teddy bear in a little Uncle Sam suit?). When the presidential election was heating up, Ted posted his list of the hottest first ladies of all time. After the election, he was cheered that his gay dealer can find a boyfriend, get married, and go to Colorado where he can smoke as much as he wants. Win, win, win!
"We started to analyze which posts people liked most." First and foremost: things to do with pot. "OK, but how do you keep telling the same joke over and over and not lose people? I was trying to make Ted the ultimate armchair philosopher. Ted is on the couch observing life, getting existential. I am a slacker," Scott says by way of explaining his and Patrick’s bona fides. They’re former members of a rock band who, while not potheads, they say, know the lifestyle well. "Believe me when I tell you that this is not a long walk. I actually don’t smoke pot, but I have so many friends who have spent many a lost weekend."
There are actually movies that have built up huge followings, on Facebook and on Twitter, and then abandoned them. Scott thinks that’s insane. Universal agreed and kept Jetset on after the movie came out and for the months until the DVD was released in December. Of course, all things must end sometime, and when the DVD came out, the status updates ceased.
"We did more after the opening of this movie than we’ve ever done before," Scott attests. "Normal engagement [on a movie] for us would start three or four months from release. We’d strategize, figure out how best to get into the hearts and minds of the audience, and then build a presence online and then move on and let them carry it on, but we held theatrical for a month then we seamlessly transitioned to home video." They also did PR for the movie. "They had us write articles--interviews pieces for magazines like Playboy and Penthouse--that’s all us. We did a GQ interview and they asked how he stays in shape. I wrote, 'I do a lot of walking from the couch to the refrigerator.'" Wait, that wasn’t really Ted?