It used to be that Hollywood could sell a movie with a simple trailer, a movie poster, and some billboards. Those days are gone.
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As DVRs continue to undermine television commercials, people spend more time online, and young people become more jaded toward traditional advertising media, studios needed to find another way to grab the attention of the movie going public.
Overwhelmingly, their solution to the problem has gone something like this: reach fans online or in the real world and present them with something that causes them to question it’s validity.
The Blair Witch Project, on its shoe-string budget, was one of the first to employ such tactics. Since then, studios seem to raise the stakes each year, creating bigger and more involved stunts. This year, the ad agency for the movie Chronicle constructed a set of motorised gliders that made it appear as if three people were flying over New York.
Campaigns need to be outrageous enough to make people stop and stare (and send it to their friends via Facebook), but can’t be so over-the-top that it’s obvious it’s an ad.
At the end of January, hundreds of New Yorkers were fooled into believing that three people were flying over their city's most beloved landmarks.In fact, what they were seeing were people-shaped air crafts flying around the city to promote the movie Chronicle.
Thinkmodo, the agency who created the stunt, was inspired by the three main characters in the film whom all have the ability to fly.
While only a small number of people saw the actual stunt, videos quickly started circling the web and the film was first at the box office its opening weekend.
'What do you want? Brains. When do you want them? Now.' The cry could be heard as a crowd of the undead walked the streets during Comic Con 2009.
While not out of the ordinary these days, especially with the success of 'The Walking Dead', zombie walks were unique when Sony sponsored this one to promote their comedy Zombieland.
What started as a stunt at ComicCon, spread across the country, as Sony offered free advanced screenings of the movie in select cities. There was no cost for the screening, but viewers were asked to dress in their zombie best and participate in the zombie walk up to the theatre.
In the summer of 2006, people around the country starting receiving phone calls telling them to go see Snakes on a Plane. The calls were from the star of the film, Samuel L. Jackson. Even weirder, he knew all sorts of details about people's lives.
In truth, Jackson was not calling people (that would have cost the studio a bundle!). The messages were pre-recorded and could be personalised on the movie's website with a person's name, their profession, their interests, some personal trait, and a preferred mode of transportation. It also asked the sender's relationship to the person so Jackson could say something like 'grab your (homegirl, ex-husband, life partner, copilot) Mallory and go see Snakes on a Plane.'
Unfortunately, the site is no longer active.
In early 2011, a three videos of a UFO hovering over Temple Mount in Jerusalem started spreading around YouTube. While believers were quick to defend the videos, many sceptics started to doubt their validity.
The videos were most likely a part of the Battle: Los Angeles marketing campaign, although it was never confirmed by the studio. The effort also included this YouTube clip of a flying object hovering above the I-110 in Los Angeles.
In addition to the viral videos, Sony (the studio behind the film) created a website documenting invasion sites and the history of alien encounters around the world. Consumers were also invited to report any extraterrestrial threats you come across by at reportthreats.com.
As an animated movie, Toy Story 3 would have usually been targeted toward kids. Instead, Pixar set their sights on a group they named 'Andyites,' 20-somethings that were young children when the original Toy Story was released.
To get the attention of this mostly college-aged group, the studio started their campaign with a series of viral videos. Each video appeared to be commercial from the 1980s that featured one of the toys in the movie. The commercials were so realistic -- they even include the static lines that a VHS recording might have -- that many doubted they were part of the campaign.
In addition to the videos, Pixar also posted a series of fliers on college campuses advertising job openings at Pizza Planet. When students called the number on the flier, they were invited to a special 'cliffhanger' version of the movie.
The Simpsons had been on television for close to 20 years when the animated family starred in its first movie in 2007. With such a loyal fan following, the marketing team wouldn't have needed to do much to get people to the theatre, but they didn't sit back and rest.
Instead they launched a fully integrated campaign that included the ability to create your own Simpson's style avatar, a contest to star in an episode, and having the opportunity to host a premiere of the movie in your hometown (provided your hometown was named Springfield), as well as the traditional media.
The highlight of the campaign, however, was when 7-Elevens around the country were transformed into Kwik-E-Mart's, the convenience store prominently featured in the TV show. Stores were given makeovers externally to look like the shop, and were also stocked with the all Simpsons' favourite snacks, like Buzz Cola, Squishees, and pink-frosted doughnuts.
The first of three Christopher Nolan films on the list, it seems that intriguing marketing matters to this director.
Inception is a complicated movie to explain, so rather than confusing viewers with the plot in a trailer, Nolan decided to keep most of the film under wraps. Instead his marketing team created the online game 'Mind Crime' and produced a series of 'real' interviews with dream scientists.
The team also launched a series of confusing promotions: a QR code that linked to an online manual for a device that creates the dream space; a manual filled with bizarre images and text sent to Wired magazine; and the online publication of posters, ads, and weird websites related to the film.
And just when fans' curiosity was peaked, they released a graphic novel that served as a prequel to the film called Inception: The Cobol Job.
J.J. Abrams is another movie maker who likes a little mystery in his movie plots, and in his marketing. And in 2008, he created a campaign so confusing that people weren't even sure what the title of his movie was.
The movie was named and renamed Colossus, Slusho, and The Untitled J.J. Abrams Project before the title Cloverfield was finally revealed. And with each of those titles came a weird website, like www.slusho.jp, the bizarre 'official' site for a the fictional drink that is linked to events in the film.
As Abrams groupies ran around the web trying to decode clues in these websites, 'news reports' of an oil rig being attacked by a strange creature were released on YouTube. Trying to figure our what the creature might be from these videos kept fans occupied until the movie's release.
The original Tron, released in 1982, was a cult classic, but failed capture the imagination of a wider audience. So for the reboot, Disney planned a campaign that was sure to grab attention.
The studio created a site called Flynn Lives where visitors were challenged to a kind of scavenger hunt in 25 cities worldwide, including New York City, Paris, Sydney and Los Angeles.
They were directed to locations where men and women wearing 'Flynn Lives' T-shirts gave the first to arrive a cell phone and a number to dial. That number directed fans to a secret location where they received a package that contained clues pointing to another website called Pit Cell. Ultimately, the hunt led fans to IMAX theatres where they could view an exclusive trailer.
Disney used a similar scavenger hunt promotion at Comic Con, but instead of revealing a trailer at the end of the game, they invited people to a recreation of Flynn's Arcade complete with a real lightcycle.
Before Facebook, YouTube, or even MySpace existed The Blair Witch Project wrote the book on viral movie marketing.
The filmmakers and Artisan Entertainment supported the 1999 movie by releasing a trailer that made it seem like a documentary. They built a website that backed that claim, and then began posting rumours on online forums and message boards.
Before Blair Witch, no one had ever seen anything like this and many bought the whole story that the movie was real, actual 'found footage.'
The buzz created around this movie led to its amazing success: it grossed $248 million worldwide, which is huge in comparison to the measly $22,000 it took to make it.
The final instalment of Nolan's Batman trilogy will be released in July of this year and after the success of The Dark Knight marketing campaign, it is likely that Nolan and his team will cook up something equally creative this time around.
So far, the only clues are several 'CIA' documents that were leaked through the Twitter account @thefirerises.The first is a bulletin relating to Dr. Leonid Pavel; the second is a transcript that discusses the disappearance of Dr. Pavel; and the third is a memo that links Dr. Pavel with something called 'Operation Early Bird.'
As we get closer to July, be on the lookout for more clues. If it's anything like the last campaign, it's just about to get going!
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