In the old days, films were promoted by stylishly drawn posters and a narrated trailer with crazy phrases like ‘You will be AMAZED! ASTOUNDED and ANGRY!’
Today, things are a little more advanced and production companies are a little more creative.
Over the past couple of months there has been much hype on Youtube and the website www.strangesoundsinthesky.com involving some home-videos which have been uploaded by users across the world supposedly sharing one thing in common: a really creepy and freaky noise being emitted from the sky.
Due to the whole 2012 Doomsday theory, people are pouring over this campaign determining that the bizarre noise (which sounds a lot like ‘thunder’ and has allegedly been heard in hundreds of different cities across the globe) is a sign of the Apocalypse. So what should we believe?
Are these weird noises actually the bells of the Four Horseman ringing out to warn us that our final days approach? Or is it, as conspiracy buffs have suggested, simply a clever marketing campaign involving planted ‘home videos’ and false news reports to create hype for some up-coming movie?
With rumours of a Cloverfield sequel and a Godzilla remake, not to mention all the disaster/end-of-the-world movies being launched off the back of the internet’s favourite crackpot theory, it’s almost entirely possible that these ‘strange sounds’ are merely the product of a few guys hiding in a bush and playing a huge prank on the universe.
Here we look at some of the crazy lengths Hollywood has gone to in order to promote their latest blockbusters and, if you have an eagle eye, you’ll realise that there’s guerilla advertising, viral campaigns and made up legends at almost every corner!
10. Weird Publicity Stunts
In January New Yorkers, who, quite frankly, have suffered enough in the world of Hollywood disaster flicks, were astounded to see people FLYING over the city. Though probably not the best prank to play after 9/11, it was actually revealed some time later that these were ‘people-shaped air crafts’ used to promote the super-hero movie Chronicle which was released later that month. Then there’s the whole ‘Harvey Dent’ and ‘Joker Wants You’ campaign’s for The Dark Knight which ran-alongside Barrack Obama’s campaign for President.
People thronged to New York supporting the fictional campaign just to see the Bat Signal projected into the sky whilst a lot of other less sane people just painted their faces and joined The Joker Army only to start hiding cell phones inside cakes. Somehow these stunts just get stranger; Inception was promoted via an online virtual game named Mind Crime which generated intrigue, Zombieland had a zombie flash mob and Pixar created realistic looking 1980’s toy commercials to boost the anticipation for Toy Story 3. It might seem subtle, too outrageous or even ridiculous, but when you look at the currency statistics you start to understand just how good these guys are at brainwashing us all. Hollywood: one billon dollars, The Rest of Us: nil.
After the mass hysteria over The Dark Knight’s release following the afore-mentioned Joker guerilla campaigns and, of course, the untimely loss of Heath Ledger, Christopher Nolan’s next Batman film was always going to be at serious risk of falling short of its predecessor. However, Nolan is savvy. Despite being extremely tight-lipped on the forthcoming plot and the uproar about the initial trailer for the movie being ‘rubbish’, Nolan is doing pretty well at stirring up excitement for the third and final instalment.
Slowly but surely Nolan has begun cleverly planting little teasers everywhere which are somewhat riskier than his Joker-Obama poster. First there were the pap-snaps of Anne Hathaway in her Catwoman suit which gave away her entire role. Then there were the rumours on message boards of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s mysterious character actually being The Riddler or Robin. Then there was the ‘accidental leak’ of the first five minutes of the movie in which we see Bane in action for the first time. Is it all an unfortunate coincidence, or is Nolan letting this stuff get out on purpose? Surely a director of his standard would be determined not to let his movie be ruined by piracy and check that there was no way possible pieces of the film were revealed? Or maybe he is just a genius.
8. The ‘Mythos’
Probably one of the more exciting advertising devices that films use these days is the creation of a back-story. I think it’s safe to say we all enjoy watching a narrative we already ‘know’, which is why we have so many damn remakes, novel adaptations and sequels. The only problem is, how does one create hype around a story that nobody is familiar with?
The Blair Witch Project is probably one of the first and best examples of a viral campaign where a back-story was created with the sole purpose of marketing the alleged ‘found footage’ within the movie itself. People were so convinced that the legend was true, it led to the movie becoming a huge cult phenomenon as well as making the menace in the woods all the more terrifying. Prior to Blair Witch’s 1999 release, a documentary, an official website and a book were made accessible in which the folklore of Elly Kedward and The Blair Witch was revealed. The public were presented with folk songs, historical accounts, interviews with locals who’d fled the nearby village, newspaper clippings, police reports, the found diaries of missing people and interviews with some crazy guy who murdered kids in the woods allegedly because an old woman told him to.
This creepy story was made out to be an old tale which was linked to recurring incidents right up until the 21st century. The three missing students tied into the myth perfectly, depicting a realistic manhunt where local townspeople who’d last seen the trio were questioned thus fuelling a sense of mystery towards their disappearances. They would have gotten away with it too… several years later the whole thing was revealed to just be a work of fiction and that the ‘students’ were actually actors who were alive and well and seeking other work via IMDb. The Fourth Kind’s rash claims of true alien abduction was also foiled by this little detail when the unhinged psychiatrist shown in ‘real footage’ from the movie was also listed up there. Effective, but only until the movie hits the big-time.
7. The Fictional Evil Corporation
What better way to promote your movie than by making up a company who apparently sells real life things to the kind of people who will probably come and see it? You’d think Resident Evil and The Terminator would have picked up on the perks of pretending Skynet and Umbrella Corp were real: probably by selling imaginary evil face cream or something, but other people have much better ideas.
Ridley Scott is pursuing the method of engineering pure unadulterated hype towards his much anticipated Alien prequel, Prometheus. Scott has not only been driving film journalists crazy with his vague interviews and verbal ban on his actors’ revealing plot details. Instead, he has been taunting us with teaser trailers and viral videos featuring the Weyland-Yutani corporation. In February, a short appeared on the internet featuring Guy Pearce in his role of Peter Weyland, the head of Weyland Industries, demonstrating his God-complex by discussing how they have created the latest in human technology (androids, of course) and thus alluding to the Greek myth of Prometheus.
Just to refresh your memory, we first heard mention of the Weyland-Yutani corporation briefly in Alien as the company that supplied the Nostromo ship which was savagely destroyed by an extraterrestrial. As the sequels progressed, more and more was revealed about Weyland-Yutani as a ruthless money-making machine which had its fingers in many pies and cared very little for its employee’s safety.
So I guess you can see where this is going. What have we learned about androids? In the Alien universe, they’re not very good at keeping weird space creatures away from their friends. This is probably why, replacing the Ash role-type, we have Michael Fassbender playing the David 8 model android in a separate viral ad where he wakes up inside a plastic bag. Wow, who wouldn’t want to see how that unfolds?!
It seems they’re taking a few ideas from J.J Abrams 2008 Cloverfield campaign – which is the sole reason these ‘sky noises’ arouse suspicion. Abrams is no stranger to careful strategic viral ads and last time the focus fell on the fictional mining corporation of Tagruato. This ‘company’ also own the rights to Slusho!: beverages which were promoted prior to the release of Cloverfield. It was only when we saw the movie we realised that Rob’s party is actually thrown to celebrate his new job in Japan, working for Tagruato. Funnily enough, Tagruato also specialise in deep sea oil drilling… the kind that wakes up evil monsters from the depths of the ocean floor, maybe? Throw in some false sonar images and some allusions to Cthulhu and you’ve got yourself an evil corporation which dominates the landscape of the movie and everyday life as one big ball of badness.
It’s safe to say that the average block-buster now has at least two to three versions of its own trailer. Each time, additional plot details are unveiled making the ‘ooh’s and ahh’s increase with every viewing.
‘Ooh, I didn’t see that the last time!’ they all gasped as the Sex And The City 2 trailer showed Sarah Jessica Parker wearing something even more ridiculous whilst each woman seemed to look older as the ads progressed. The whole point is to TEASE. Yet now the movie execs have gone all pre-emptive on us. The Avengers is probably one of the most anticipated movies of the summer and who’d have thought its been several years in the making because they had to do a movie for every character in it first. In the beginning, they gave us Hulk, then Iron Man, then Hulk again… now we almost have a full house thanks to last years’ Thor and Captain America. Avengers assemble!
What’s the secret?
Putting those sneaky pieces of extra footage at the end of these movies for eagle-eyed nerds to know which Avenger is going rise next and thus complete the alignment! The first Iron Man credits showed us Nick Fury making his proposal to Tony Stark and the rest simply followed with people digging up the belongings of various superheroes left, right and centre. Does this method work? It sure as hell does.
5. Freaking people out on the Internet
Horror films are particularly good at reeling people in via jump and scare trailers so throwing a few shockers out on the internet to scare the audience before the reels even reach the cutting room should be a piece of cake. The basic idea is a watered down version of the ‘mythos’ method. Paranormal Activity, The Unborn, The Last Exorcism and Insidious all planted blogs and twitters which, prior to the films’ releases, just looked like some teenage girl getting all hormonal and attention-seeking by posting how she keeps walking round her house at night killing chickens and stealing babies etc.
Over the coming weeks, the blogs are updated with freakier stuff so that after the movie hits the big screen, all is revealed as being some daft ploy to make people think the phenomena is real.
Additionally, producers like to creep us out even more with weird photoshop jobs. Before the release of The Unborn, people were guided to a site called My Twin Haunts Me featuring photos of a girl standing in front of her home. The site invites you to ‘spot’ the supernatural image in the picture. When you’re sat squinting in silence at the screen after about five minutes, a big horrible loud screaming advertisement featuring a demon child pops up and scares the living crap out of you. In the event you have not suffered a cardiac arrest, your first thought will almost definitely be: ‘Wow, that was awesome. I have to see this movie!’
Well, maybe. Neat huh?
4. Unfortunate Incidents and Freak Phenomena
Sometimes films create their own hype by the stories that escape from the production studios. Strops and tantrums (Terminator Salvation, anyone?), former child-stars stripping off for raunchy sex scenes, people being sacked and directors walking out on the entire project all serve as amazing press fodder. Unfortunately there are some unexpected incidents that can occur which generate so much publicity that the film becomes notorious based on legend alone. The Dark Knight was on a steady advertising campaign until the tragic death of its star Heath Ledger, which then propelled the movie to insane levels of must-see anticipation. Ledger even won a post-humous Oscar.
Though a little crass to say, it seems the death of an actor almost creates an enigma around their ‘final role’, thus making a film much more notable than it may have been had they survived. Even more bizarrely, it tends to start rumours about the validity of reports. The tales from the set of The Exorcist are probably more infamous than the movie itself, after stories of haunted sound stages and deaths onset emerged, suggesting that there was a curse upon all those in the production team. Likewise, Poltergeist is always discussed due to the premature death of child actress Heather O’Rourke, whilst the only reason people even bothered seeing the 2005 remake of House of Wax is only because the initial wax-house set mysteriously burned down just like it does in the film.
Talk about making the most of a bad situation. It’s probably all just terrible coincidence but nonetheless tragedy tends to have investors rubbing their greedy palms together and salivating at the box office.
A tactic which is not generally deployed by the film-makers themselves is unintentional marketing on Youtube. Sure, production companies buy their shares to get short trailers playing at the beginning of weird cat videos but what they cannot control is people making their own trailers. Amateur directors and film fans are excellent at tricking people into thinking that a new movie is on its way. It’s kind of like the more advanced version of a Rick Roll… which is kind of like the internet version of giving somebody an empty box for their birthday. Take a look at Silent Hill. The 2006 film was average at best and it seemed that there probably wouldn’t be a sequel. Six years later, some guy makes a trailer for ‘Silent Hill 2’ on Youtube by piecing together sound bytes from the original game, shots from the original movie and a mash up of scenes from other horrors. Suddenly there’s an announcement for an official Silent Hill sequel using the plot this guy put in his trailer. Virtual high five!
As for aspiring film directors, they’re no strangers to making ‘fake trailers’ too. Director Kevin Tancheroen recently signed a contract with Warner Bros after they spotted his spoof trailer for Mortal Kombat: Rebirth on Youtube, promising for a live-action TV series using Tancheroen’s ideas, story and visuals. Similarly, Eli Roth has signed on to direct the feature length version of the ‘fake movie’ Clown and Samueli Torssonen has now completed a full version of Iron Sky, a trailer depicting a fictional movie about Nazis returning from the moon.
See. You don’t have to be rich to die trying.
Never underestimate the power of nerds. Nerds do the job that lazy journalists and film critics should be doing but don’t have to. By general statistics, you can estimate that up to 30 or 40% of the people who will watch your movie will be nerds. This is because nerds know their stuff. They are the ones who will find the obscure trailers and directors’ footnotes online and then spread the word via message boards that a new awesome movie is coming. Nerds have a keen eye for viral marketing due to the amount of time spent on the internet, which is kind of ironic when you figure out that the cool kids are the last to know. Over time nerds also make uncool stuff kind of cool. Which brings us to…
1. Negative Press
Any press is good press, right?
When a movie is critically acclaimed it will probably, by rules of the universe, do really well. Yet when a movie is so mind numbingly awful, it gets ignored. However, on rare occasion, the entire appeal of the movie lies in just how godawful it actually is. As mentioned before, some movies reach cult status over the years due to nerds spreading the word. Labyrinth was actually a complete and utter fail upon its 1986 release, yet years later it has been deemed as being this super amazing movie where David Bowie’s crotch receives too much airtime. Likewise, some movies go down in history for being crap. Par example, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. Wiseau, despite making the worst, most badly written and terribly acted movie of all time, is rolling in the dough because a bunch of people criticised his movie on the internet. THAT is true reverse-psychology selling power.