Is It Just Me... Or Do Viral Marketing Campaigns Suck?

If a film's good enough it should sell itself

In 1920 Charles Ponzi gave his not-so-good name to a nefarious scam that involved conning investors into recruiting their friends with the promise of trickle-down riches that never materialised.

Illegal, not to mention immoral, it was the first example of viral marketing – the STD of advertising – and ever since the advent of the internet Hollywood has been following Ponzi’s queasy lead.

The first issue here is not one of principle, but of practice: most viral campaigns are lazy, frustrating and banal.

Cloverfield fact-ferrets were rewarded with a Crazy Frog-style roaring ringtone and adverts for a soft drink called Slusho – that’s right folks, product placement for something that doesn’t even exist.

It’s all part of a “meta-story”, explained director Matt Reeves – a euphemism for “a big old load of bollocks”.

After an eons-long online binary countdown, the Tron Legacy viral campaign climaxed with the – cue Comic Book Guy voice – Worst. Premiere. Ever.

Having applied for Willy Wonka-style golden tickets, fans queued for hours at the London Imax to be rewarded with a ropey two-minute promo and a free t-shirt.

Frankly, the phrase “you really shouldn’t have” doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Making geeks excited about something is like shooting tubby fish in a skinny barrel, but except for the – extremely rare – Blair Witch Project, most viral marketing just doesn’t work.

The “digital dailies” for animated adventure Delgo (no? Us neither) didn’t exactly set the box office alight – the film netted an astonishingly shit $511,920 from 2,000 cinemas (a dozen viewers per screening).

Meanwhile the world and its dad flocked to The Dark Knight not because of the fake websites and facile scavenger hunts, but because it was a rock- solid 70-year-old franchise fronted by a peerless director featuring an embarrassment of A-listers all wrapped up in shimmering CG brilliance.

“At the end of the day, this movie stands on its own, to be a movie,” says Cloverfield’s Reeves. Or, to put it more succinctly, good films sell themselves.

Viral marketers want to bottle word of mouth like so many cans of Slusho, but it leaves a bitter taste because the motivation is always money, not love.

In one of the most egregious viral flubs so far, Universal mobilised sci-fi fanboys to talk up Joss Whedon’s Serenity on the cheap.

When the film flopped, the studio sued them for using its copyrighted images (the fanboys countersued for unpaid promotional work).

Not only is this unspeakable behaviour actually damaging to the films themselves, it’s exactly the kind of fuck-lazy thinking that got Hollywood to the point where it needs gimmicks to palm off its second-hand shit as stardust.

After all, selling people something that they don’t really want may be a skill, but so’s daylight robbery, right Charles? Or is it just me?


Jane Crowther

Done well, viral campaigns can out-strip the thrill of finished product. The fan-made trailers and poems devoted to Snakes On A Plane that actually got the film into production was so much more entertaining than the actual flick. Bring it!

Richard Jordan
Yes, it may be motivated by money, but the clue is in the word ‘marketing’. Studios have to try to sell their films – deal with it. And OK, so films like The Dark Knight might sell themselves, but at least that viral showed a bit of creativity in the buzz-building and gave fans something to get involved with.

Are you entertained by viral marketing campaigns? Let us know below


    • Punchbowl

      Nov 25th 2012, 10:49

      Agree with Jane, more often than not the campaign is more interesting than the movie it's trying to sell, certainly true of Blair Witch. But most Virals, like any advertising just passes me by due to my utter disinterest.

      Alert a moderator

    • Hadouken76

      Nov 25th 2012, 14:35

      Firstly, Serenity is anything but second hand sh*t, and I suspect way it was promoted would have disgusted Wheldon .Furthermore, Cloverfield was clever by virtue of revealing nothing about the film, not even the fact that it was a monster movie. So yeah if done wrong, its a cynical ploy by nefarious Hollywood marketing scammers , keen to rip-off consumers with cinematic snake-oil. But if done right, it can hook people into chasing down a mystery. Anyways, most of the time I just wait for the trailers.

      Alert a moderator

    • Will Waters

      Nov 26th 2012, 1:55

      I did an essay on this for university, viral campaigning can work but its not the best advertising campaign. The best way to get people to see your film is by making a good film because nothing works better than word of mouth. Viral campaigns sometimes work like Matt Reeves said to add a more tangible level to the story. but that is for fans, people who are already aware of the film so not the people that need to be drawn in. But in my opinion viral campaigns are a waste of money.

      Alert a moderator

    • CaptainCrazy

      Nov 26th 2012, 11:02

      Viral campaigns is the sort of thing to justify some "marketing guru's" job - nothing more. Studios forget that this sort of thing will only get the interest of some basement internet junky between their WoW playthroughs. The general public (who actually are the ones who pay to see their films) have no interest in viral marketing as they have actual lives.

      Alert a moderator

    • NickyC

      Nov 26th 2012, 15:08

      "Viral marketers want to bottle word of mouth like so many cans of Slusho, but it leaves a bitter taste because the motivation is always money, not love." What a bunch of naive, head-in-the-clouds c**p! What other motivation is there for any business? Do you think The Dark Knight was made for love? Did Disney spend $250M on Avengers for the good of humanity or because they thought they could make a Billion back? Good films do NOT sell themselves. Filmmakers are businessmen as much as artists and ALL films require marketing to be successful. The film industry is not a filmMAKING business, it's a film SELLING business ... and Viral Marketing may be a bit gash, but the truth is that 16-34 year old males are spending less and less time in front of the TV and more time on the internet. Viral Marketing exists because that's where the demographic for those movies spend their time. Yes, word of mouth is the best form of advertising, but that pre-supposes that one won't watch a movie until someone they know has already seen it, and if we all did that then nobody would watch anything would they? Or at least we'd only watch what other people like and never develop our own tastes or opinions (which most people don't, admittedly). Last point: Total Film is a movie magazine i.e. it is PART of the marketing machine. You'd think that people who are engaged in the act of selling films one way would have something more intelligent to say about another way of essentially doing the same thing. After all, what is the page of a magazine but advertising space? What is a movie preview if not 'bottled word of mouth'?

      Alert a moderator

    • Senver

      Nov 27th 2012, 13:11

      Fine article. One thing 'Peerless' Christopher Nolan, really? no one compares with him?

      Alert a moderator

    • NickyC

      Nov 28th 2012, 9:52

      Well said, Senver. Well said. Fan boys are so blinkered.

      Alert a moderator

    • FBMHobbs

      Nov 28th 2012, 11:27

      Is it me, or does this column suck....? Is Alex Zane dead yet?

      Alert a moderator

Most Popular