By Aubrey Day | 04-28-2012 10:30AM
The battle of the summer blockbusters might have a way to go yet, but in terms of viral marketing, we think there's already a winner, and its name is Prometheus.
It's not as though Ridley Scott's sci-fi sort-of-prequel wasn't already highly anticipated but the folks behind the film's viral marketing have been making sure we stay on alien alert. First with the impressive TED 2023 clip featuring Guy Pearce's Peter Weyland and now with this creepy piece of corporate robospeak. The "Happy Birthday David" video starring Michael Fasbender is equal parts chilly and chilling (watch it above).
"I can blend into your workforce effortlessly." says the pasty-faced android in a way that's probably meant to sound reassuring but just comes across as a very real threat.
But as we've still got nearly a month and a half to wait for the film, here's half a dozen or so other viral movie campaigns that made an impact…
The Blair Witch Project
The daddy of them all, Blair Witch came out in those very grey days BYTF (Before YouTube and Facebook). And before 'found footage' was a genre/cliche in its own right. By building a website, circulating message board rumors that the film's events were real, and then sitting back and letting the internet go crazy, the filmmakers created a phenomenon and a template still being aped today.
Memento & Fight Club
Two early viral campaigns worth a shout out. Memento's back-to-front narrative was supported by otnemen.com (see what they did there?), a Flash-powered site designed by Christopher Nolan's brother (and the author of the original Memento short story) Jonathan Nolan. It offered police reports, news cuttings and other clues to the mystery at the heart of the film. While Fight Club director David Fincher created a bunch of fake public service announcements featuring the film's stars. A smart idea that tied into the film's anarchic mischief. Unfortunately, the studio didn't think too much of them as marketing devices -- though they live on thanks to YouTube…
Snakes on a Plane
At the time, Snakes was seen as a bit of a failure at the box office -- but only because the fanboy frenzy online had made everyone think the film was going to do Batman-type numbers. Truth is, it made a very tidy $60 million -- double its budget. Not bad, for an old B-movie script that had been gathering dust for years (Initially, it was called "Venom"). A wry rewrite and a name change helped -- but not half as much as opening up the production blog to an online audience who worked themselves into a tsunami of fan-made trailers, posters, poems, taglines and tongue-in-cheek promotions that all paved the way for that $60 million.
Roland Emmerich's none-less-subtle blockbuster made nearly a quarter of a billion dollars, helped no end by utilizing nearly every viral trick in the book, including a fake website -- The Institiute for Human Continuity -- which basically suggested that the end of the world was indeed nigh. So effective was the campaign that people were writing to NASA in a panic beseeching then to do something to allay the threat.
The Dark Knight & Inception
As Memento showed, Christopher Nolan was no stranger to viral campaigns. The Dark Knight set the blockbuster benchmark, with its fake website for Harvey Dent's campaign, and "I Believe In Harvey Dent" political posters that slowly changed into an image of the Joker. Plus the WhySoSerious.com site that teased out more Joker imagery and the film's first teaser trailer. Unsurprisingly, Inception went in for more head games including a teaser trailer that was pretty much just a spinning top, plus interviews with "real scientists" about dreams and the online game Mind Crime (which, if completed, led to instructions that revealed the film's poster).
Many criticize the massive production budgets and giant marketing spends employed by Hollywood, claiming that if less money was spent, films wouldn't need to aim quite so "lowest common denominator" to make their money back. It's fair to say these critics weren't talking about Paranormal Activity -- a film that cost a mere $15,000 to make and utilized social media to help gross some $64 million at the box office (that's about a 4300 percent return…). Getting early viewers to "Tweet Their Screams" (write 140-character reviews) helped build buzz, as did offering communities the ability to "demand" the film be screened in their town. As word got out and momentum around the film built, the studio cunningly suggested that if they received 1 million "demands" they'd release the film nationally. Within weeks, the No.1 film in the country was a no-star, lo-fi horror movie made for less than the cost of a new car...