The Best Viral Marketing Campaigns From The Film Industry

Movie Marketing

What sells modern cinema to the masses? The quality of the film, or the quality of the marketing? This is a question that could apply to many industries, and to answer it, we must explore the concept of viral marketing.

Has the relationship between social media, film and viral marketing led the industry to stray away from an art form and more into the depths of commerce? Let’s take a look…

What is viral marketing?

A viral marketing campaign is a promotion that is widely and rapidly circulated. The best examples of viral marketing are the ones consumers deem worthy of sharing to their friends and family.

Viral marketing

Viruses cannot spread without the assistance of the host. The same can be said about viral marketing; a campaign can only go viral by users enjoying and sharing its content.

Watercooler Media: The Best Viral Marketing Campaigns

Prior to YouTube’s arrival in 2005, movie trailers were largely an exclusive part of the cinematic experience. Such inclusivity was evident in 1998 when The Phantom Menace’s trailer aired in cinemas across the world.

Many Star Wars fans bought tickets and left the screening immediately after the preview, not even bothering to stay for the film they’d paid for. This level of watercooler media – something you’re pressured into seeing so as not to miss out on talking about it afterwards – has since transcended into a new platform.

The parallels between The Phantom Menace trailer and that of The Force Awakens – which marked Star Wars’ more recent resurgence, breaking the record for most views in 24 hours (30.65 million) – demonstrates how traditional word of mouth marketing is no longer a match for the powers of social media.

Paranormal Activity Film Distribution

Thanks to social media’s targeting, filmmakers no longer struggle to project their films to the right markets. In fact, some actually rely on it to determine their audiences in the first place.

Paranormal Activity had been knocking around various independent festivals before it was picked up by Paramount, whose initial apprehension about the film’s unusual premise led them to challenge Facebook users to vote to have it played at their local cinema.

This gave users a direct role in the distribution process, as well as the feeling of being in control, drumming up their loyalty to, and anticipation for, the film. The once-little-known flick went on to be extremely successful, so much so that it has since produced five sequels and spin-offs.

Cloverfield’s Viral Marketing Campaign

To paraphrase another cult movie, “with great power, comes great competition”, and the increased consumer expectations that stem from social media now mean that one trailer is not enough. However, a plethora of trailers leads to complaints that too much is ‘given away’.

This was not the case with Cloverfield, which was shrouded in mystery months prior to its release. Cloverfield’s marketing marvellously tapped into the technological age, gradually revealing its target market with its reliance on tech-savvy individuals to engage.

The campaign started with an enigmatic trailer and an image of the decapitated head of the Statue of Liberty circulating various online forums, followed by various MySpace pages for what later turned out to be each character in the movie.

A Google search of the release date and director (the trailer’s only information) led to a website that ‘leaked’ photos and offered a Myspace widget that played the opening five minutes of the film. Whoever’s page registered the most views won a competition, thus furthering the word-of-mouth and user-generated buzz about the film.

Toy Story 3 Film Promotion

Toy Story 3 was arguably the most anticipated movie of 2010, but this didn’t stop Disney echoing the aforementioned attention to detail with its marketing.

While most of Toy Story 3’s offline marketing was targeted at kids, Disney knew that nostalgia would attract millennials – who would have been children when the previous two movies were released – and invited students with a valid college ID to exclusive, cliff-hanger screenings via Facebook.

Disney also enhanced the narrative and audience connection to the film by once again blurring the line between reality and fiction, posting various seemingly authentic, back-dated YouTube adverts for Lotso Huggin’ Bear, who later turned out to be a new character to the franchise, not a retro 80s kids toy.

Zoolander 2 Marketing Campaign

Social stats are considered the closest thing to guaranteeing healthy box office figures in an otherwise unpredictable industry. Sophie Turner, for example, recently revealed that she won a particular role ahead of “a far better actress” simply because of her superior social following (around 9 million).

Another example would be the planned marketing stunt involving Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson to determine whether there was enough interest in a sequel to Zoolander. The pair “gatecrashed” Paris Fashion Week, with the former “stealing” Vine superstar Jerome Jarre’s phone to perform the iconic ‘blue steel’ pose that became so synonymous with the first film.

The incident caused hysteria among fans, therefore rubberstamping the sequel, despite the original making hundreds of millions less than its competitors back in 2001.

A good film is when the price of the dinner, the theatre admission and the babysitter were worth it.” – Alfred Hitchock.

With the advancements in television, streaming sites, and the alarming rise of piracy taking away these costs, what is maintaining the popularity of cinema? Well, it is no coincidence that millennials, the most frequent social networkers, account for the majority of box office sales.

Marketers now have to test their creative limits, entering new and unexplored avenues in order to create unique, viral campaigns. A one-way narrative is no longer an option, instead, the aim is to start conversations with their audiences, challenging them to experience and fully immerse themselves in a film.

This article began with a quote portraying the synergy between social media & film, and that is also how it will end. We’ll leave you to decide which words were taken out: ‘social media’ or ‘film’?

“Like all art forms, ______ is a media as powerful as weapons of mass destruction; the only difference is that war destroys and _______ inspires.”
Nicolas Winding Refn

Oliver Wilkinson
Marketing Exec
Knapton Wright Ltd.