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Snapchat Scares Up Advertising Business with ‘Ouija’

Move by Universal is a clever way to reach young moviegoers

Universal Pictures became the first company to distribute an advertisement on Snapchat, using the social-media app to promote “Ouija” over the weekend.

A 20-second trailer for the upcoming horror film based on Hasbro Studio’s boardgame appeared in the “Recent Updates” section of users’ accounts on the app, with a sponsored icon. The ad disappears after it’s viewed or within 24 hours. It’s unclear how much Universal paid for the plug.

As with any update, users choose whether to view the video or photos, but many of those who did took to Twitter to talk about the video — some approving what they saw, while others were irritated by the promo that suddenly appeared on their accounts.

Snapchat, however, has said sponsored ads were coming to its 100 million users.

“We need to make money,” Snapchat put it simply in a company blog post. “Advertising allows us to support our service while delivering neat content to Snapchatters. It’s going to feel a little weird at first, but we’re taking the plunge.”

With “Ouija,” it wanted “to see if we can deliver an experience that’s fun and informative, the way ads used to be, before they got creepy and targeted,” it said.

“Ouija,” co-produced by Hasbro Studios, Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Prods. and Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes,” is out in theaters Oct. 24.

The move by Universal to use Snapchat is a clever way to reach out to the teen and tween audience the film is targeting with its PG-13 scares, as Hasbro looks to launch another film franchise, after “Transformers” and “G.I. Joe.”

A majority of Snapchat’s users are female and in their teens or early 20s, according to BI Intelligence. Among 18-year-olds, it’s used more than voice calls to frequently communicate with friends and family members.

Other studios also have jumped at the chance to be the first to experiment with social media platforms in order to get their ads in front of young audiences. Late last year, Lionsgate was first to buy an autoplay video ad on Facebook to promote “Divergent.”

Universal also took its marketing campaign for “Ouija” to YouTube, producing a stunt with Thinkmodo, in which a medium frightens unsuspecting visitors sending them running from the room.

In addition, earlier this month Universal worked with YouTube multichannel network Fullscreen on a stunt in which Kian Lawley — a member of YouTube supergroup O2L — mysteriously went incommunicado after playing with a Ouija board. Other members of the group alerted fans to his disappearance on social media, and on Oct. 5, “found footage” video produced by Fullscreen was posted to Lawley’s YouTube channel. Then on Oct. 10 it was revealed that he was alive and well in a haunted house in Chicago and that the whole thing was a promo for the movie.

“It absolutely met our expectations, and it was the right execution creatively” to reach the movie’s target 12-24 female audience, said Doug Neil, Universal’s EVP of digital marketing, about the Fullscreen promo.

Overall, the “Ouija” promo with Fullscreen generated more than 5.6 million video views, 17.3 million hashtag impressions and 510,000 social engagements.

(Todd Spangler contributed to this report).

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