(Originally published in IndieWire.com)

by Erik Lokkesmoe

If traditional movie marketing and advertising are becoming a car alarm in a mall parking lot — everyone hears the noise but no one pays any attention – what’s the solution? In the “most cluttered marketplace in history,” as best-selling author and entrepreneur Seth Godin declared, unconventional (read: grassroots) marketing has the power and the potential to reach

distracted audiences more efficiently and effectively than TV, radio, and billboard ads.

That’s been the hope, at least.

We’ve architected grassroots marketing campaigns for more than 100 movies, but a question hovers over each one: “how do we know that our work sold tickets?” Everyone assumes advance screenings and outreach, social and publicity works, but no one can say for sure. All we know is that we led the horse to water; we just can’t prove we made it drink.

Without that proof the future of our type of marketing – grassroots, unconventional, specialty, high-touch – will become “decimal dust” in a studio or indie marketing budget. And rightly so: why pay for something that cannot be measured and monetized?

When we started on movie campaigns eight years ago we thought by 2015 the mystery of audience data would be solved. Real-time analytics, social tracking and digital ticketing got us closer: we could tell who bought tickets when and where and how many. That’s great. But if we cannot answer what led the consumer to purchase tickets and why, then grassroots marketing is nothing more than an understudy to the lead role of traditional marketing.

So here’s a question that indie filmmakers should ask: Is grassroots marketing worth the investment? Is it really selling tickets?

Or is it just “window-dressing,” an “insurance policy,” a “checked-box” and a “cheaper way of marketing” – all comments we’ve heard over the years? Or could it be the future of marketing and publicity, getting consumers to become participants by turning awareness into action into attendance?

We believe it’s the latter – but there’s only one way to prove it:  hold agencies and consultants accountable by requiring all of us to show that what we sold tickets. Millions have been spent on grassroots marketing over the years and millions have been made to generate impressions and clip views, Facebook likes and tweets and detailed Excel reports delivered to busy executives and indie producers. But no one can say with total certainty that it worked.

The democratization of Hollywood is only increasing the clutter of content and the splintering of audiences. Conventional tactics make content popular, but unconventional tactics make content personal. Advertising and publicity are not enough anymore. For all our sakes, we need unconventional marketing and publicity to work – but it is doomed if we cannot prove that it sells tickets.

Next time you consider doing a grassroots or specialty marketing campaign – especially in the “faith and family” market – ask agencies and consultants this fair question: how will you prove that you sold tickets? Delivering 200-page reports of screenshots and publicity hits and Facebook likes is not enough anymore; it’s time to deliver ticket sales reports. That will only help to make everyone – audiences, studios, marketers, exhibitors and filmmakers – more successful. And that is one box that we all want to check.

Erik Lokkesmoe