Paranormal Marketing

October 14, 2009

Been noticing all the buzz about this “Paranormal Activity” flick? Yes, of course you have. But honestly, a few weeks ago, could you have really said with confidence that all this hype and chatter was about a movie, a TV show, a band or even actual paranormal activity?

The film, which is made of found footage,” is slow-building, fictional (get to this in a minute) and has been scaring the socks off of audiences and marketing professionals alike as of late. The plot isn’t really what’s important here, but for a little background: It’s about a woman who hears disturbing noises while sleeping after moving into a new house and then installs video cameras in an attempt to capture the strange behavior.

Talk about strange behavior. It had grossed $9.1 million as of Oct. 11, according to Box Office Mojo. To the naked eye, that sentence makes no sense and is nothing to be baffled over — but learn that it was produced for less than a Honda Civic ($15,000) and was shown in only 159 theaters across the country last week and in 33 the week prior, whereas last week’s top-grossing film, “Couples Retreat,” was shown in 3,000 screens — and you find we’re talking about a profit margin more stunning than actually experiencing such horrifying things in your home.

I unfortunately haven’t had the opportunity to wet my pants watching this movie yet, but I have been monitoring the consumer reactions and have been thoroughly impressed with how Paramount was able to really stretch a dollar with this grassroots project.

Andrew Hampp at Ad Age wrote a very detailed article about all the marketing for this film since it screened at the 2008 Slamdance Film Festival and caught the eye of Steven Spielberg, who brought the film to Paramount. Yes, “The Blair Witch Project” is mentioned due to the obvious comparisons, as the 1999 “is-it-a-documentary-or-isn’t” horror movie may have had the most successful viral marketing campaign of all time. But the “Paranormal Activity” marketing has been focused more on marketing the audience’s reactions to the movie than the movie itself.

This strategy was part of gauging a viral dialogue and bringing the film to its coveted cult status. Paramount’s co-president of marketing Josh Greenstein also brings up the important point about selling the film as an experience rather than just a movie, for if there was ever a movie that was meant to be experienced in a communal environment at the theater, it was this one.

Other marketing tactics included allowing fans to literally demand the movie using event and venue search site Eventful, and the Twitter account TweetYourScream, where fans have flocked to tweet their reactions to the film. Paramount announced that if 1 million demands were made on Eventful to bring the film to the demander’s city, that the film would be released wide. That goal was reached last Friday, and I bet that the folks at Eventful are just as pleased as Paramount — the newfound traffic and attention are almost as amazing as the crowds showing up for the film.

Yes, movie marketing is cool. I always like to know what studios are doing to raise awareness for their films, but when you have a budget this small and you deliver these sort of results, it something that’s pretty inspiring. We have a motto around here at Fast Horse that “big ideas trump big budgets,” and wow, did that motto ring true for this campaign.

It should serve as a reminder to marketers of the importance of maximizing budgets, and it should challenge them to come up with big-budget ideas. Now, if you haven’t seen the trailer yet, check out what all the fuss is about below.