We haven’t had a good “real-life scare via hand-held video camera” type of movie in a while. One of the first in this genre, at least in the Internet Age, would be 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, which purported to chronicle the trip by a group of friends into the woods and their subsequent encounter with some sort of mysterious evil presence. I’d go into it more, especially in regards to how the movie was sold to the public that was frequenting message boards and user forums about this time, but since I’ve threatened to break the kneecaps of anyone who used this as a case study in viral online marketing again I probably shouldn’t risk my own health like that.

You could also put last year’s Cloverfield in that category and that too featured some interesting online promotions.

Now there’s Paranormal Activity. While different from those two previously mentioned movies in some real ways Paranormal Activity is of the same DNA. The movie is told from the point of view of a guy’s video camera, which he’s set up in the bedroom he shares with his girlfriend. He’s put the camera there not for any…adult entertainment purposes but to try and ease the fears of that girlfriend that there’s something creepy in the house, something she’s convinced of but he’s understandably skeptical about. But the camera winds up recording…well…let’s take a look at the campaign.

The Posters

The movie’s one poster taps into and lays out three things that are going to be key to its success.

First, by making the primary element a still from the movie it shows off the look and feel of much of the film. It’s pretty clear looking at that strip across the middle of the one-sheet that it’s a story captured by a simple video camera, both from the slightly grainy look of the shot and the time-stamp that appears in the lower right-hand corner.

Second, the pull quote at the top from Bloody-Disgusting.com is a play to attract the horror aficionados that frequent it and other sites like it for the latest horror genre news and information and to get their geek on while connecting with other people like them who have a passion for these types of films.

Last but not least, the bottom third of the poster seeks to make the movie an event, an event that needs people to get involved to bring it to its full potential. The “Demand It” allows people to take an active role in the movie’s campaign and add your voice to the call to bring it to a theater near you. More on this later.

The Trailers

The trailer takes a minimalist approach that’s similar to that employed on the poster and uses many of the same elements.

We open not with scenes from the movie but with a shot of a line waiting to get into a screening of the film, a shot that’s followed by footage of those people having a seat in the theater. There’s some text about how this is a screening that was held in Hollywood.

Enough footage from the movie itself is shown to give us – the trailer watching audience – a sense of the film’s plot and how it’s shot and all of those traditional goals.

But all of that is framed within continued shots of the audience – the people in the theater at this screening – and their reactions to the movie. That’s coupled with a call to not see the movie alone and, again, to weigh in and bring the movie to your area via the Demand It campaign.

The layers of meta going on in the trailer are numerous. We the audience are watching another audience watch the movie and are asked to gauge the movie’s impact not so much on how it makes *us* react but instead on how we see that audience react to it.

(By the way, I’m trying not to get hung up on the thought that if anyone else were to stick a camcorder at the base of a theater and record both the movie and the audience that was watching it a new land speed record for ejection from the theater and possibly even arrest might be set. Really trying.)

What the trailer winds up is not so much achieving the goal of making the audience – us – want to see the movie so much as it makes us, the audience, want to see the movie in a packed theater of our friends. Since that’s the whole point of the Demand It portion of the campaign, the trailer taking such a meta approach makes complete sense and so it’s a smart strategy.

Online

It’s funny – especially if you already have Blair Witch on the brain – but the first thought I had when I opened the movie’s official website was that it seemed kind of 1999. The text that’s used and the buttons at the top, all of it kind of harkens back to the early days of web marketing, when websites were big blocky things that only a handful of people were capable of creating.

In the middle of the website stands the poster, flanked on either side by quotes from online critics about the movie, including the same Bloody-Disgusting quote that’s on the poster and others from sites with similar cred in that same community. Unfortunately none of those have links to the pages where those quotes appear, a major short-coming. I keep saying, if you’re going to quote these websites it’s only good manners to include a link.

At the top there are a couple sections that are familiar to most movie website visitors.

“About” I would assume will contain information about the movie but right now, less than a week from it’s release, it’s still blank. “Videos” just has the trailer, “Newsletter” lets you sign up to receive updates about the movie either by email or text message. “Press” is not a round-up of coverage but instead the press release about its release.

The last button there is “Demand It.” That takes you to an Eventful.com page that, at the top, shows your area and allows you to register your vote to bring the movie there. Below that is a listing of the top ten metro areas receiving votes and, alongside that, the ability to add your own vote to that tally. Other cities and regions are below that. Also on the page are prompts to tweet about the action you just took or add a promotional widget for the “Demand It” campaign to your own blog or social network page.

Back to the official site, next to those buttons is a red version of the Twitter bird icon that’s labeled “Tweet Your Scream.” That takes you to a page where, after entering your Twitter login credentials, you can post a message that drives traffic to the Demand It page. It also shows what other people are saying in updates that include a mention of the @TweetYourScream account.

That account also is pretty active in re-tweeting what others are saying about the movie and linking to early reviews and other coverage.

There’s also a Facebook page that includes some information about the movie as well as a continuation of the “Demand It” push and a Wall that seems to be likewise full of people wanting the film to play where they are.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

No cross-promotions to speak of and, as far as I’m aware, not much in the way of paid advertising either. Because the release schedule seemingly came out of nowhere – at least that’s how it appears to me – and because of the limited release pattern of the movie a big campaign wouldn’t make a lot of sense anyway. There was some online advertising that I’ve come across but most all the emphasis has been on…

Media and Publicity

While there’s been some press (LAT 9/20/09, MTV Movies Blog) about how the movie was shot in 2006 and has been sitting on the Dreamworks shelf since 2007, it’s important to realize that the entire “Demand It” campaign, coupled with the release strategy that has the movie appearing on a handful of college campuses at first is one big publicity move. The idea is to get college kids to see the movie, rave about it to their friends who will demand that it play on their campus and eventually have that enthusiasm reach a critical mass and spill over into the mainstream when Paramount expands it to more theaters in mid-October.

I shouldn’t need to say this out loud at this point but this is exactly what more movies need. With films that have niche appeal like this – whether it’s a horror flick or a documentary about the plight of immigrant farmer – an initial deployment to a targeted audience that’s then built on makes a lot of sense. Not all movies need to be seen by everyone, but they do need to be seen by the audience that’s likely to be interested in it.

That’s why the “Demand It” idea is so intriguing and something that I think could be widely adopted and adapted by the independent film community. Come up with a list of 12 places to roll out the film at first and then let people literally demand the movie is brought to them based on that first deployment. Get a critical mass in a location or two built up and then make screening arrangements, arrangements that are going to be easier to secure when a filmmaker who’s presenting the movie can say to a theater manager or whomever that there are already 500 people who have committed to come and see the film. Studio support is great, but this is absolutely a tactic that can be utilized by anyone with an internet connection and a movie to promote.

Overall

It’s a fast campaign, that’s for sure. Despite some buzz built up by appearances at film festivals in the last couple years, 99 percent of the campaign has happened in the last three weeks. And it shows.

I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. I just mean that the meta nature of the trailer combined with a poster that seems somewhat slapped together and a web strategy that is primarily focused on encouraging and rewarding word-of-mouth is the kind of fast, loose campaign that someone proposed and put together on the fly. And that’s cool since it leaves a lot of room for the audience – and the potential audience – to make the movie their own, which again is more or less the key to the film’s success.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 10/5/09: Paranormal Activity might be given a full-fledged theatrical release plan after weeks of the “Demand It” campaign resulting in an ever-widening scope of midnight-screenings across the country. Much of that buzz has come from Twitter and Facebook, where word has spread and people have participated in the call to see the movie play near them.
  • 10/7/09: Mashable’s Christina Warren talks about the drive to get 1 million people to demand the movie (a goal it hit shortly later), a drive that’s taking place almost exclusively on social media and which is the threshold Paramount is shooting for before approving the film’s wide release. John Horn in the LA Times (10/8/09) has a similar piece.
  • 10/14/09: The success of the movie’s campaign (portions of which Bill Green had issues with) led to write-ups by AdAge, The Cycle, Mashable, BNet, NewTeeVee and Attention. It was also an excuse for the Washington Post to revisit other interactive movie campaigns.
  • 10/15/09: Anne Thompson also takes a retrospective look at the film’s online campaign.
  • 11/15/09: iMediaConnection puts the Eventful-driven “Demand It” campaign for the movie in its Creative Showcase.
  • 12/7/09: A sequel of sorts was announced as an IDW-created iPhone app comic that extends the movie’s story of trying to figure out what the demon is that was haunting the characters in the film.
  • 1/22/10: Andrew Hampp at AdAge revisits the “Demand It” campaign to review just how much it played in to the film’s tremendous box-office success.

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