Why Searching for ‘It’ Online Is Like Looking for Pennywise in a Sewer

“It” has a search problem: Sometimes “It” pops up and sometimes it doesn’t

“It” focuses on Pennywise the Clown, one of the most famous figures in horror. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to find online.

When Stephen King and his publisher gave the novel “It” its simple, scary name in 1986, search results on Google, Twitter and Instagram weren’t a concern. But they are important to the marketing of the new “It” film premiering next week. “It” is such a frequently used word that it disappears into the internet, like Pennywise into his sewer.

“What you want to do with a brand, you want to own a word.  You can’t do that with the word ‘It,'” Richard Janes, a brand expert and founder of Fanology, told TheWrap.

“Social engagement for the movie is definitely lower because of the title,” said Gary Lee, a digital marketing expert who has worked for Disney and founded Lakers Nation. “It’s not because people aren’t talking about it. It’s just impossible to track because of the word.”

But social engagement isn’t everything. An individual with knowledge of New Line’s marketing on the project told TheWrap that there hasn’t been a problem, because any issues have been offset by widespread awareness of King’s novel and the 1990 ABC TV adaptation.

 

Other factors also work in the film’s favor, says Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. Box office tracking for the film suggests a very strong $60 million-plus opening weekend.

“Although the source material’s existing fan base drives up pre-release awareness, to be trending ahead of a sequel at this stage is impressive. Enthusiasm from the trailers plus a box office drought that’s left moviegoers starved for a big-buzz film are positioning the Stephen King adaptation as a must-see movie for more than just devoted fans,” Robbins told TheWrap. “If reviews and word of mouth hit the sweet spot, ‘It’ could have a very special run.”

Search results for “It” seem dependent on factors like geography, users’ preexisiting search patterns, and mysterious algorithms. When I searched for “It” on Twitter Friday, the first thing that appeared was Bill Gates’ Twitter profile. On Instagram, the official Instagram page for the movie showed up in 12th place. One coworker who searched on Twitter got a bunch of sports pages. A friend in Boston got nothing related to the movie on Twitter, but a hashtag for the film appeared on Instagram. A friend in San Francisco found nothing related to the movie.

The film’s actual Twitter handle is @ITMovieOfficial.

“Twitter always has a big problem when we use a generic term, and the title ‘It’ is a generic term, almlnd we’re in an age where keywords are so important in how people find stuff,” said Janes. “When you have a title like ‘It,’ you are in an unfortunate situation in that you get a bunch of other conversation with that keyword. … They are having to rely on the history of the past TV adaptation, which was an enormous success.”

The situation is better on Google. For most users we interviewed, searching “It” yielded plenty of information relating to the film or previous versions of the story.

Of course, there’s still an abbreviation problem: When “It” arrived 30 years ago, few people used what is today a common abbreviation for “information technology.”

“IT software, IT program…” said Lee, trailing off.

A.J. Lewis, chief creative officer at Fanology Social, says the new film could have changed its name.

“It wouldn’t have to be ‘Pennywise the Clown,'” he said. “Another thing I would suggest would be ‘IT’ with a subtitle like ‘IT: Pennywise Returns,’ or ‘Pennywise: an ITeration.”

We’ll find out next week if New Line got “It” right.