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Movie marketing goes viral

Posted on April 21st, 2012

Source: The Toronto Sun

When a corporation tries to sell you something, that’s advertising. When your friends and acquaintances try to sell you something on behalf of a corporation — without even realizing they’re doing it — that’s viral marketing.

And it’s a scary sort of genius.

Prometheus, the upcoming Ridley Scott sci-fi flick set in the same universe as the Alien movies, is doing everything right when it comes to generating interest in the film, in theatres this June.

From a faux 2023 TED talk with robotics visionary Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) to a steady drip-feed of information about the movie’s spacecraft, fans are going bonkers with each cleverly presented new nugget of information. The latest, released this week, served as an introduction to the “David 8” — the robotic character played by Michael Fassbender.

Viral movie marketing works because it comes from novel sources. Instead of being fed a message in the form of a commercial or trailer, we’re turned onto a new movie by word of mouth, or by getting glimpses of behind-the-scenes material, or even by mind-bending games. It’s all about engagement.

Here are a few unusual examples of viral movie marketing, and why they worked so well.

The “leak” (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo)

There’s been much speculation as to whether The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo‘s leaked theatrical trailer was anything of the sort. While seemingly shot on a handycam in a cinema and then uploaded to YouTube, experts say it had the hallmarks of a deliberate studio job intended to drum up interest.

Why it worked: Because audiences were seeing something they didn’t think they were allowed to see.

The scare (The Last Exorcism)

(Warning: Contains strong language)

The studio behind the 2010 fright flick The Last Exorcism plugged into then-popular cam-chat site Chatroulette with footage of a sexy-looking girl, who transformed into a freaky, possessed demon chick. After the girl screamed and lunged at the screen, the address for the film’s website popped up.

Why it worked: If you thought you were webcamming with a girl who was about to take her top off and instead she morphed into a screaming demon, chances are it would leave a VERY lasting impression. And you’d tell your friends.

The game (Inception)

When a studio really wants to get fans to invest in a movie, they’ll sometimes try an alternate reality game (ARG), as director Christopher Nolan did with Inception. Through an online game and app dubbed Mind Crime, players could solve puzzles to gain access to snippets.

Why it worked: It’s a studio’s dream — you’ve got people putting in effort with the payoff of being advertised to.

The failure (Serenity)

From training videos starring sexy Summer Glau to numerous fan preview screenings, Universal did everything right — on paper — to promote Joss Whedon’s big-screen continuation of his sci-fi series Firefly.

Why it worked: It didn’t. The movie did poorly at the box office, and then Universal bit the hand that fed it by demanding fans remove copyrighted Serenity material from websites and merch. Even in viral marketing, there’s no sure thing.




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