Viral Movie Market Tools Used to Reel You In

How did you enjoy last night’s Oscar Award ceremony? I, for one, enjoyed it immensely. Vain homilies from actors about the greatness of great acting. Platitudes about Martin Scorcese and the “magic of filmmaking.” The thrill and excitement of  “Tree of Life” as a best movie of 2011. All of this provided the perfect ambient noise for a Sunday nap. Thank you, Academy. Of course, I didn’t watch the Oscars but I’m sure that what I described is what really took place since that’s what takes place every year. And did you actually watch “Tree of Life” all the way through without slipping into a coma? This was a movie about life? Please take me with you, tree stump of death.

If you want something more exciting than a staid and stuffy Oscar affair, look to other things. Paint drying. Bees. Bears swatting bees. Online movie marketing campaigns. Oh, I randomly like that last randomly thrown out one. Let’s run with it.

Some of the most successful movie marketing campaigns in recent memory have used the Internet and social media almost exclusively to fuel audience interest, or more precisely, audience engagement, in their movies. In this day and age, audiences expect more from their movies in terms of entertainment and titillation outside of actually watching the movies themselves – more participation, more teasers and updates, more extras like bonus videos and games, and more involved websites.


One of the most successful website hype machines ever for a movie was the one for “The Blair Witch Project.” The site boasted “found footage” from the movie, and included some informational lore and legend of the infamous witch that supposedly haunted Burkitsville, Maryland. As well, the Blair Witch marketing team boosted the belief in the footage’s “found” nature by spreading rumors about it among various online message boards. How effective was the online marketing campaign? En route to its 140 million dollar domestic box office results, many people still questioned whether the movie was real or staged. To put it another way, this campaign was entirely more convincing than the campaign for “Tree of Life” to be considered as a good movie, and not a sleeping aid.

Other successful websites that marketed movies? The one for “The Dark Knight” that looked like a district attorney campaign website for Harvey Dent (Two-Face), wherein “I believe in Harvey Dent” campaign posters morphed into a stark image of Heath Ledger’s Joker character with the phrase “See you in December.” This teaser helped set the Internet into an anticipatory frenzy for the release of “The Dark Knight” and Ledger’s star turn as the iconic Batman villain.


Although fans probably needed little help to get excited about the prospects of joining Buzz and Woody for another “Toy Story” sequel, two YouTube videos starring a cuddly plush purple bear that smelled like strawberries named “Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear” certainly didn’t hurt. Both are presented as vintage commercials – one of which was ripped from an old Japanese VHS tape and features composed but excited Japanese children, one of which exclaims “kawaii!” Yes, very much so. And don’t forget the “Groovin’ with Ken” and “Ken’s Dating Tips” YouTube videos released at the same time. With the help of the YouTube video campaign, “Toy Story 3” went on to gross 415 million dollars domestically.

Other Examples

In addition to videos released online of interviews with “dream experts,” the online marketing of “Inception” included the playable “Mind Crime” game. With details of the movie being kept under tight wraps by its director, Christopher Nolan, the “Inception” marketing campaign aimed to keep eager fans engaged even while they were not particularly in the know. The same can be said of “Cloverfield’s” marketing campaign, which used misdirection to keep media and prospective audience members guessing by constantly “renaming” the movie and including strange websites for each new title. Internet users were caught up speculating about what “Cloverfield” and it’s monster could actually be – ultimately, fans were disappointed when the movie was released and the whole thing was revealed to be a giant turd.

Lastly, let’s not forget the Internet phenomenon that was “Snakes on a Plane.” The ridiculous name alone set the Internet world ablaze, and because it was so ripe for parody it spawned poems, songs, videos and discussion everywhere about a movie that had not even been released. Wanting to meet the anticipation and buzz built up by the movie, the movie studios re-shot new scenes that featured nudity and snake gore for fans. They even added a line of dialogue to the movie that had showed up in a fake audio clip which many fans had heard and clamored for – “I want these motherf*cking snakes off the motherf*cking plane.” The movie marketing pièce de résistance though, was a website where you could enter a person’s brief details and have a prerecorded Samuel L Jackson call them up and yell something angrily at them. Well, what did you expect from Samuel L Jackson – a lullabye? After all of the buzz, however, “Snakes on a Plane” only garnered 61 million dollars at the box office, and fans who did shell out dough for a ticket may have exclaimed, “I want my motherf*cking money back.”

So what are some of the most effective techniques you’ve seen used in a viral marketing campaign?

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