November 17, 2009

How Paranormal Activity re-wrote the movie marketing rules

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How do you build anticipation around a horror movie made on a shoestring budget with next to no marketing budget?

In the cutthroat world of movie making, films live and die on back of their opening weekend gross at the box office, which means that any marketing activity that takes place pre-release is essential to whether it becomes a success.

In 1999, The Blair Witch Project (which we touched upon here) became a surprise hit on the back of an inventive marketing campaign using hand-held cameras, which blurred the lines between fiction and reality, duping the audience into believing they were watching real footage.

The makers of US hit Paranormal Activity have never pretended that their £60m hit is anything but fiction, but they have taken a cue from the Blair Witch Project playbook, and given the rules a highly effective social media twist.

Using a smattering of TV spots, in which crowd reaction shots from Hollywood test screenings are shown, and a US booking site called Eventful, the online buzz generated by the campaign has turned the indie horror film into the most profitable movie of the year

Once the initial underground excitement was propagated via the bare minimum of TV spots and online chatter, cinemagoers across the US could let the studio know they wanted to see the movie by pressing a ‘Demand’ button on the Eventful website.

Paramount stirred interest by announcing that if 1,000,000 people demanded to see the movie, it would screen in their area and get a wider release. The ‘Demand’ button has enabled the studio to quantify demand from a geographical buzz perspective.

Some have argued it was always the studio’s intention to give the movie a wide release, while others believe it was their real intention to test interest.

Either way, it’s pretty clever stuff, and a great example of how social media can be used as a marketing vehicle, as well as a market research tool.

Rubber Republic was invited to appear on Sky News today to discuss the reasons for the movie’s success. One of the questions that cropped in the short interview (but didn’t make the final cut) wondered if the Paranormal Activity campaign would spell the end of big marketing budgets in Hollywood.

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In short, we think not. Movies with massive budgets will continue to be promoted with big spending campaigns. Yet, Paranormal Activity does demonstrate that in order to market a movie today, whether you’re a small indie or a Hollywood blockbuster, it’s essential to create an experiential sell that will give the hardcore fans and the wider consumer base an immersive experience.

If you can engage a self-identified list of participants who are passionate about your movie, the event will have even more value for them.