(Ed Note: I know I probably missed a lot of stuff in this. I’m counting on you all picking up the spare in the comments and on your own sites)
There have been so many column inches dedicated to, so much ink spilled over, bandwidth used up by and so much hard drive space taken up with coverage of Snakes on a Plane that to write anything more would almost be ridiculous. If one were to, say, write a long column on the marketing of the movie you could say, for instance, that such a column would be just crazy and borderline irresponsible to write.
So let’s discuss the marketing of Snakes on a Plane.
What more can really be said about the movie? It has generated a veritable avalanche of word-of-mouth buzz because of its insane title and the fact that it stars Samuel L. Jackson.
Let’s talk about that title for a minute. Snakes on a Plane. Who needs a plot synopsis with a title like that? What’s the title? Snakes on a Plane. What’s the movie about? Snakes on a plane. See? It works on two levels. It’s a naming convention that actually hearkens back to the great B-level movies of the 50’s and the Irwin Allen disaster films of the 60’s and 70’s. Think about it being on the same playing field as â€œThe Towering Infernoâ€ or â€œGiant Gila Monstersâ€ or other flicks like that. Movies like that frequently sported few stars â€“ or at least a bevy of off-the-A-listers â€“ and some outrageous premise that could be bolstered by sub-par special effects. So to help draw people in, the movies would be given outrageous titles that had the added benefit of being a plot synopsis.
And that’s exactly what Snakes on a Plane is. An outrageous movie with a synopsis for a title. But it’s become an internet and word-of-mouth phenomenon.
That’s because people realized early on that this was a brand name just begging for good-natured ribbing. And so they started creating trailers, songs, graphics and more that put the community’s spin on the movie. While other movies had gotten spoofed online or paid homage to with fan films, this was at an unprecedented level. While other movies and brands have had blogs devoted solely to them, this was something different. There was a ground-swell that fed itself and was, to some extent, self-perpetuating. And you know you’ve entered the off-Broadway version of the cultural mainstream when you get a gentle ribbing from Rocketboom.
The buzz had to fuel itself for a long time because New Line wasn’t creating much in the way of official marketing material for the movie. This was, perhaps, the smartest move made in a series of smart moves. The studio realized nothing they could do would supplant, or even greatly impact, the grassroots marketing being done by the internet community. So they sat on the sidelines and watched it happen. They didn’t get in the way of the identity being built for the brand through the ongoing discussion. They let people define the how, why and what of what was being said. So many marketers still, in the age of blogs, YouTube and MySpace, convinced that they and only they should be allowed to communicate any sort of marketing message. They think word-of-mouth is useless unless it’s one of their budgeted and planned programs that started the WOM. New Line? The only thing they had to do to start buzz happening was green light a movie with the name Snakes on a Plane. They knew they weren’t in charge of the campaign for this movie, that the net denizens would be in charge.
In fact, they found that at least in some regards they weren’t even in charge of the movie. At some point in production Samuel L. Jackson found out New Line was going to change the title of the movie to â€œPacific Air Flight 121â€. He protested, saying he had signed on largely because of the title Snakes on a Plane and that’s what the movie should be called. The studio relented and went back to the original title. And there are reports dialog was changed or inserted based at least in part by the expectations of fans and speculation as to what was going to be in the movie.
One area where the studio seemed determined to maintain control was in the release date. Jeffrey Wells and others, back in May and June or so, were calling for New Line to release the picture immediately. There was no way, they said, that the positive buzz for the movie would be able to survive another two or three months. Mack Collier even posted an analysis of traffic to Snakes-related websites back in May showing that visitor numbers were dropping as some of the initial buzz faded. Ultimately the release date stayed the same and while the buzz did drop off somewhat, I don’t think it dropped to a level that would negatively impact the movie. It’s been getting, by my half-assed estimation, a bounce as the release date gets closer. One PR blogger used Google Trends, which measures search volume, to make the bold assertion (actually he more insinuated than asserted. Steve doesn’t like making statements he can’t vacillate on later) that Snakes would be as big as Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Since that stands as the summer’s biggest winner to date, that was a pretty one-ballsy thing to say. But since Google Trends is an iffy tool at best there’s not much solid ground to base such a statement on.
I would love to link to all the examples of consumer-generated content that have been, umm, generated for the movie but such a task would be impossible. And it would take days of researching and cataloging to round-up the mainstream press coverage of the online work being done. It seems like every major media outlet has, sometime in the last five months, devoted a lot of space to talking about how neat the internets seem to be with all their geeky Snakes on a Plane musings. All the coverage led Jeff Wells to say “enough already ” about Snakes and internet buzz since they were all basically the same story over and over again.
The problem I’ve had with so much of that MSM coverage is that between the lines of it there’s this attitude that, well, this is just the internet being the internet, and that a movie like Snakes on a Plane would never have made it through the filters of the legitimate press. It’s slightly condescending, especially when you know full well the story is just being written so the paper will get coverage for itself in the SoaP-devoted blogosphere.
Alright, enough ranting, let’s look at the campaign.
Well that’s the movie right there in the teaser poster , isn’t it. There’s a plane and it’s being entwined by two awfully vicious looking snakes. It’s exactly the sort of over-the-top image that comes to mind when you hear a title as ridiculous as Snakes on a Plane. The image used on the poster honestly looks like it was conceived at 2AM by someone with two much bad whiskey in their system who decided a tattoo would be bitchin’. Seriously, doesn’t it look custom made to be a tattoo?
The theatrical poster was slightly less cool, largely because it winked at the audience like it knew how crazy the premise was. This one features Jackson, smiling like he’s in on some super-secret inside joke, standing in a plane aisle while passengers and crew around him recoil in horror from…something. What is that something? We don’t know because they’re not on the poster. That’s right, there are no snakes on this poster for Snakes on a Plane.
Two things could have made this poster work a bit better. First, put some, nay, a lot of snakes on the poster (Snakes on a Poster. Heh.) That’s essential. Second, drop the sly look on Jackson’s face. It’s essential that he take this seriously, otherwise the audience is never going to play along.
That second poster, though, did give us the tagline “Sit back. Relax. Enjoy the fright.” which works way better than it really has any right to.
There were a number of trailers created all of them pretty good and all of them virtually unwatchable by your humble host, who has an almost paralyzing fear of snakes. Sorry. Check out the “Trailers” section of the official website and we’ll talk later when I unclench my buttcheeks..
When the official website first launched in earnest (as more than just a place-holder) I had some problems with the fact that it seemed they were asking people to register on the site in order to get to the content. Whether I was just freaking out or if this was a restriction they eventually dropped I’m not sure. Either way, you don’t have to do so. So let’s look at that content.
“Snakes Kit” is where most of the stuff is. That “Kit” is arranged like a briefcase. Click the passport and you’re taken to Images, where you can download a number of images to manipulate as you see fit. In fact the site encourages you do do so. Choose the floppy disk looking image and you can grab a handful of IM or MySpace icons to use. The taser is Downloads, with wallpaper and a screensaver. If you want to do some shopping, click the sunglasses. The keys take you to a contest where you register and then have your friends vote for you as the most awesome Snakes fan around. The winner with the most votes gets a fully catered private (with 100 friends) screening of the movie. Finally the iPod looking thing lets you view video clips or listen to audio, including some full-length songs inspired by the movie. Even better, you can grab the HTML code to put those tidbits on your own site.
About a week before opening day they launched a website where people could have a phone-call placed to their friends where Samuel L. Jackson “called” them to tell them to go see the movie. Within days over a million phone calls had been placed, and that included a period of time when the site was down because of an overwhelming load of requests.
New Line partnered with social networking site TagWorld for a good number of promotions for the movie. Not only did one of the trailers premiere there but a contest was held on the movie’s Tagworld site asking people to submit songs for inclusion in the movie. The site even hosted a video chat with Jackson.
Here’s something I noticed about the online coverage of Snakes. Usually when a movie is being written about the author will link the name of the movie to one of two things: The Internet Movie Database entry or the movie’s official website. But for Snakes a third URL emerged that rivaled the other two for frequency of linking: The Wikipedia entry. That page became a go-to resource for people and was really built up by the community. Links to information, rumors and more got entered into the page. Indeed a Technorati search for those three URLs shows the number of incoming links to each page breaking down like this (as of 8/11/06):
â— IMDb â€“ 2,326
â— SnakesonaPlane.com â€“ 1,482
â— Wikipedia â€“ 1,010
The Wikipedia entry, with its easy format for information sharing, became sort of an online coffee house for fans of the movie to hang out and chat. This person knows this. Another person knows something else. Everyone contributes and everyone’s knowledge base is expanded. Since that’s kind of the mission statement of Wikipedia and the driving power of wikis in general, it’s a great example of the power of collaborative software.
Since no marketing campaign is complete without some inclusion of MySpace, Karl Long found that New Line created templates allowing you to customize your profile page with a Snakes theme.
I humbly turn my column over to Snakes on a Blog , the premiere fansite for the movie. The goal Brian Finkelstein had in mind when he started the site was to garner the attention of New Line and be invited to the premiere of the movie. That dream paid off when, on August 7th, he got his desired invite. Like I said before, I can’t possibly link to or list all the fan-made trailers and such but Brian has done a pretty good job of doing just that.
One of the biggest things about SoaP is that the opening was obviously going to be an event. People have been anticipating this flick so fervently and for so long that some sort of celebration was going to be called for. Thankfully there is a plan. First Showing, a group in Colorado devoted to making a movie’s opening day an event, has a guide to help you throw your own Snakes on a Plane party. Yes, this is as campy as it sounds, but it’s also an awesome idea for reveling in the silliness of a movie with such a name and such a premise. For his own event, Alex, one of the guys at First Showing, mentioned to me that the local zoo would be sending snakes to the theater just to help the effect. There’s even a script to turn Snakes viewings into a Rocky Horror-type event.
Among my favorite decisions by New Line was a partnership with CafePress. They allowed the users of the site, which lets people upload or create images or text for custom printing on t-shirts or other items, to create their own Snakes on a Plane shirts. Usually the terms of service on CafePress prohibit the inclusion of any copyrighted material, but this skirted that. Visitors could choose from an already available design or create their own. Since so much of the online buzz for the movie involved people creating funny graphics and images this was a great way to empower and, to some extent, reward those good folks with something tangible they could own based on their creation.
The whole phenomenon of Snakes’ buzz is, I think, a powerful example of the â€œUse New Marketing to Prove New Marketingâ€ idea established by Joseph Jaffe. The idea there is that to prove to old media and people who follow them that the internet and social software is a big deal and can be harnessed for effective marketing, let’s harness the power of those things for effective marketing. Jaffe used it to promote his book by sending free copies to people who agreed to review it, in effect spurring on buzz. New Line did the same thing, by releasing the brand name into the wild and letting people do with it what they will. Bill Green at Make The Logo Bigger compared the campaigns for Snakes and the recent Adam Sandler flick Click and guess which one he found wanting? Hint: It’s not the one about a universal remote control. Jon Fine and Richard Williamson have also weighed in on the topic.
Is this campaign better or worse than some others this summer? No, not really. The posters range from cool to disappointing, the trailers are alright and the official website is pretty good. The trailers aren’t that much different from other thrillers, albeit with a slightly ramped up sense of campiness. The website is pretty good.
But the unofficial campaign, the one that wasn’t part of the Excel spreadsheet emailed around New Line, is where the real power of Snakes on a Plane resided. Mack even nails it when he asks the question “If New Line had tried this in-house, would their results have been the same?” And he answers, rightly, that the answer is no. This one had to grow organically.
movie marketing, new line