Making a film is hard enough and costly but then there’s the marketing. You need to pay for people to talk about your film. Pay for pre-screenings and the commercials so that your film gets more visibility. Then there’s the social media promotions and the other cost inducing marketing campaigns that the marketers come up with. All in all, the costs piles up. But it is a needed part for Hollywood films to find a way to break even and get people to watch their movie. So it is kind of amazing when you actually come across films that broke the box office without having to spend too much on advertising. It basically means they did something viral and amazing that they were able to get away with not having to sell their film too much.
Let us try to understand the magic that these films are able to create and maybe we can try to create something similar for our marketing campaigns.
Paranormal Activity, 2008
The focus throughout has been to sell “Paranormal Activity” as an experience for the viewers and not just a movie. “Traditionally, when you cut TV spots or a trailer, you show the scariest parts of the movie, you build suspense, and then you actually have visuals from the movie to support it.”
The strategy seems to have paid off impressively since the film grossed more than $500,000 on its first weekend, after being shown exclusively at midnight in 12 markets, including five sold-out screenings at Los Angeles’ ArcLight theater, prompting Paramount to expand “Paranormal” to a regular showtime schedule in 46 markets in 170 theaters. Talk about a winning experience in marketing.
The Blair Witch Project, 1999
This is the first movie marketed mainly by and through the internet and it was able to produce such a buzz. The Blair Witch Project used ‘creepy uncertainty’ to good use. A trailer would’ve taken away some of the terror and uncertainty, but a website filled with fake police reports and newsreel-style interviews was enough to sow the seeds of doubt. Suddenly, no one was quite sure whether this was a real life documentary or a fictitious film. Filmmakers handed out posters at the film’s screenings, asking people to come forward with any information about the ‘missing students’. The IMDB page listed the actors as ‘missing, presumed dead’ for the first year after release, and the production company hired actors to film clips as police officers and investigators involved in the case. Cheap to pull off, and terrifyingly convincing.
A film about robots and love has the digital world at its fingertips when looking for marketing ideas, and Ex-Machina did exactly that. The run-up to the film’s release, attendees at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas was approached by an attractive girl on Tinder (Alicia Vikander, the movie’s main actress) who actually asked them questions about love and being human, before revealing the stunt and breaking a few hearts. It was an easy marketing method that’s free to employ and very effective indeed.
The Interview, 2014
A series of events made this video production so popular but the end result may be somewhat of a negative turn. In June of 2014, 3 months after the film was announced and 6 months before it would finally be released, The Guardian reported that the film was making a stir in the North Korean government. KCNA, the state news agency in North Korea, said that the country would hit back with ‘stern and merciless’ retaliation if the film was released, calling it the ‘most blatant act of terrorism and war’ with all the level-headed calm we’ve come to expect from the country. North Korean politicians publicly lambasted the film, and the KCNA asked President Obama if the film could be pulled. The film’s release was delayed for 2 months and Sony ended up making post-production changes to the film’s content.
But then a bunch of internet hackers got into Sony’s computer networks and leaked emails and documents, asking for them to not release ‘the movie of terrorism’. The hackers issued a stern warning that they would attack any film premieres while an organization dedicated to the human rights of North Koreans promised to release copies of The Interview by delivering them via balloon drops to North Korea.
The worldwide movie release was eventually canceled but everyone was talking about it, and the film was released quietly on Netflix in January 2015. By that point, illegal copies of the movie had been played across laptop screens the whole world over. We’re not entirely sure who won this battle, but the marketing was quite impressive.
So yeah, most of the tricks and schemes involve in the marketing for these films are pretty awesome and some are even accidental. There is one that made you believe that there are actually missing people during the filming of the film. And there is one that almost broke hearts because, in the end, she was a robot who was only promoting a film. Some had a negative impact of course, but it was mostly able to acquire the visibility it needed to make it a hit.
About Red Ripley
We are a video production team. We partner with top companies and brands. We craft powerful stories that move and influence viewers. We use promotion to bring it to their target audience. We have fun doing it.
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