Beyond the Trailer: Movie Marketing at Its Finest

As you may know from elsewhere on this site, movies are a passion for me. And while Netflix has changed the way I consume TV and movies, I still love getting to the theatre as often as possible. One of the reasons for this is advertising; specifically, the trailers before the movie. But trailers are a century old, sayeth Wikipedia, and nowadays movies are trying to find new ways to get an edge. As a result, every once in a while, something fresh comes along.

Here are four of my favourite movie marketing strokes of genius.

The name's Zero, Coke Zero.

To promote Skyfall and Coke Zero, marketers came up with a clever idea: have unsuspecting train station people experience the 007 life by creating a high-speed action scene, complete with planned obstacles and challenging interruptions. Fortunately nobody took advantage of any license to kill. 

The resulting two-minute video is fun, exciting, and has been watched more than 10 million times. Not a bad return on a video that couldn’t have cost Coke much to make (although it would take a lot to break the bank for the world’s third most valuable brand). And the ad does two things well: it makes you want to see the Bond movie (it’s fun, it’s exciting, and it’s got a sweet theme song!), and it makes Coke Zero drinkers seem active, quick, even agile (except maybe that guy biting it on those spilled oranges).

Ron Burgundy’s world tour

I remember cry-laughing in the theatres at the first Anchorman, so hearing that the gang was getting back together for the sequel was exciting, if a little unnerving. (Nothing like a bad sequel to sour you on a whole franchise, am I right Johnny Depp?)

To promote Anchorman 2, Will Ferrell donned the famous moustache and went around the world in character as Ron Burgundy. He hit local TV news broadcasts and wrote an autobiography. He shilled for Dodge and showed up on the cover of Dog Fancy. He even broadcast curling live from my hometown.

While the movie went on to gross over 350% of its budget, the campaign did more than just help create a winner at the Box Office. Dodge Durango sales jumped 59%. Curling TV ratings got a big boost. The over-thirty-minute North Dakota news broadcast even has almost 1.3 million views on YouTube! In short, associating your brand with Ron Burgundy was a win-win, and for those of us who appreciate his comedy, well, add a third win on to that.

Prometheus’ dispatches from the future

Contrary to Anchorman, I’ve never been a big fan of the Alien franchise. (I like to be able to sleep with the lights off, thanks very much.) But Prometheus, billed as a prequel to the quadrilogy, played on its somewhat mysterious relations to the existing franchise in some interesting ways.

By building a whole website for Weyland Industries, a company at the centre of the Prometheus story, fans got a lot of content to sift through to try and piece together just how the story might tie in. (You can still explore today.) A major part of that is this mock TED Talk from the year 2023, with actor Guy Pearce playing Sir Peter Weyland. TED Talks are beloved for the way they can make high-minded ideas accessible; it’s a great fit, then, to use a TED Talk to introducing a complex science fiction universe.

Unfortunately, it seems the movie wasn’t strong enough to sustain the hype. After a $50 million opening weekend, Prometheus succumbed to a tough summer movie schedule to “limp” (relatively speaking) to a $126.5 million domestic box office haul. (Don’t worry, they grossed over $400 million worldwide, but on a budget of $130 million, you hope for better on your home turf.) But making great movies that audiences want to see again and tell their friends about is very different than wetting the audiences’ collective appetites before the fact, and in that sense, Prometheus’ was a creative success.

Once dead, social media gives Blue Like Jazz its kickstart

Some movies don’t just need promotional help once they’re made, they need help just to get made. And the movie most responsible for the modern era of crowdfunding is Blue Like Jazz. Based Donald Miller’s “non-religious thoughts on Christian spirituality,” the movie had been stuck in development hell for years. In the interim, Miller had even published a book (A Million Miles in a Thousand Years) about writing the BLJ screenplay. Then in the fall of 2010, despite having a script, a director, a cast, and a crew, funding fell through and the project was dead.

Or so they thought. After reading Miller’s announcement on his blog, two fans of the film set up a Kickstarter campaign for the film. After all, thousands had already read a whole book about the struggle to turn a book of essays into a cohesive script; maybe they’d be interested in helping get the movie made. They set a target of $125,000.

Through a grassroots social media campaign, in 30 days the campaign had brought in $346,000 (Kickstarter’s second-biggest-ever project at the time, and yes, I was a donor) and to make a long story short, the movie got made.

Since then, a number of major motion pictures have been crowdfunded—including the Veronica Mars movie that raised $5.7 million and releases this weekend—and the movement has even had its own backlash. And maybe that happens even if “Save Blue Like Jazz” had failed, we may never know. But we do know that BLJ did it first and, if you ask me, without an A-list star pushing it along or a beloved TV property to crib from, BLJ did it best.

So what’s your favourite movie marketing idea? I thought of a few others along the way—The Simpsons Movie turning 7-Elevens into Kwik-E-Marts, The Blair Witch Project sending out all-too-real looking missing persons and police reports—but what tops your list?

Philip WiebeComment