When it comes to making movies, a trailer doesn’t always cut it. Sometimes a little extra finesse needs to be tossed in to really garner up buzz for a film. Sure there’s the typical social media spread of information and commercials that appear on television that we see all the time. But some films opt to go an extra step when it comes to marketing — and it can get downright wild.
M3GAN first gained notoriety after the trailer dropped and viewers were chatting nonstop about her dance moves. So when it came time to properly market the movie and garner even more buzz, what better way was there to go than capitalizing off of the iconic dance? A group of “M3GANs” would take to the red carpet or show up at NFL games and bust out their best dance moves. Naturally, it was completely unsettling given the robotic way they move and the stone-faced expression they have, but it did exactly what it intended to do in gathering hype for the film. The film also took an extra step in having M3GAN start Twitter beef with yet another scary doll: Chucky. Both accounts are a fun addition to the platform but pitting them against each other only escalated the hype and was a brilliant choice.
Smile went in a unique direction when it came time to advertise the movie. The film hired actors to stand in the crowds at sporting events and smile that titular creepy smile into the camera. They were unmoving, unflinching, and felt as though they were staring into your soul. The best part? They were often hidden within crowds which meant when you saw them it was a surprise and once you saw it there was no unseeing it (much like the movie.) It was delightfully creepy, sent the internet into a tizzy, and succeeded in pulling in audiences.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The Blair Witch Project has one of the most famous marketing techniques and one that is still talked about to this day. Given its 1999 release and the fact that the film used a found footage approach which wasn’t done much at that time, there was a lot of room to play with the minds of audiences and critics alike — and that’s exactly what the film did. The Blair Witch Project follows a group of students who set out to capture footage behind the myth of the titular Blair Witch, only to go missing in the process. The team behind the film took that concept into the real world and planted the seed in everyone’s mind that these students were very much real, have been missing, and that the footage in the film is all real. They’d hand out missing person posters, share photos from supposed police reports, and even enlist local newspapers to write fake news stories about the missing group.
But they didn’t just stop there, no, they also had a website. In 1999 the internet was not even a sliver of what it is today, it was a relatively new concept and the filmmakers used that to their advantage. They created a website that looked like the students had made it themselves as part of their project and contained information about the Blair Witch. It never pushed you to go see the film, and it never revealed itself as a marketing campaign, it simply relied on intrigue and mystique to draw in viewers.
You’re Next (2012)
You’re Next took a simple but effective approach to its marketing but given the events of the film it made perfect sense and was a top-notch marketing ploy. After releasing their first trailer for the film, the filmmakers set out to amp up the buzz. Their approach was to superimpose the film’s eerie, animal-masked killers over other movie posters in the city. The effect made it look like someone was standing behind you as you studied the poster and it was so subtle you didn’t notice it until it was too late and your heart was already racing.
Hereditary remains one of the best modern horror films, its slow-burn approach to its off-the-wall terror is admirable and brilliant, so it’s no surprise its marketing was just as creepy. In the film, Charlie hand-makes little dolls and figurines out of garbage and scraps she finds. After a screening of the film, a lucky (or unlucky) 18 influencers woke up to an unmarked box on their doorstep that contained one of Charlie’s creations. The kicker? The boxes didn’t contain any postage, and the filmmakers never actually reached out to the recipients ahead of time, making the unexpected packages all the more creepy.
The Ring (2002)
The Ring took a page out of The Blair Witch Project’s book and made its own website to mess with audiences. The website allowed you to input anyone’s email and they would then receive a copy of the eerie video sent directly to their email, telling them they had “seven days.” They didn’t stop there though. Blank VHS tapes were left on car windows, with no return label or indication of where they came from. When played you were shown the video with no context or indication of what you were watching. Late-night programs would also unexpectedly play the video during commercials. Needless to say, it was hard to escape The Ring’s marketing in 2002.
Cloverfield took a terrifying approach to its marketing, one so unexpected and jaw-dropping, you can’t help but admire it. Ahead of the first Transformers film, an ad for Cloverfield would play, only you didn’t know that’s what was going on at first, given the seedy, found-footage style of filming. It would begin with a group of friends partying when all of a sudden explosions erupt and the Statue of Liberty’s head comes tumbling into the streets. It ended with the date of the movie’s release and nothing else, and left viewers with plenty to speculate about. You know, after they picked their jaws up off the floor.
The Last Exorcism (2010)
Ah, 2010, when sites like Omegle and Chatroulette were all the craze. These sites would allow you to video chat with random people all over the world. There was no way to know who would be coming up next as it was randomized with every click. The Last Exorcism took that knowledge and twisted an evil ploy to market their film. Using a pre-recorded video, an actress would come on screen and begin to unbutton her top. But just as you think you’re going to get a free peep show, the woman’s eyes would roll back into her head and she’d lunge at the camera with a now demonic face. The poster of the film would then show up, showing that it was all an elaborate prank. It’s a brilliant use of viral marketing and it’s hilarious to watch unsuspecting people get tricked by it.
Scream has always been a self-aware franchise and a perfect time capsule of its release. So when it was time to start marketing the newest film in the franchise, the team took to TikTok. An account called @TooBrAshSarah was made and was the train that began leaking information about the film. The account was run by Sarah, a teenager living in Woodsboro (aka, the town from the Scream films) who is a huge fan of horror films. Her account began with simple things, like introduction videos, challenges, and lists of her favorite movies. Through her, we are introduced to the new characters in the film, and we watch as she tries to solve the mystery of Ghostface. The account shared its last video the day the film was released and it showed Sarah approaching the house from the first movie and dropping the phone to run away. It sits there for a long moment with no movement whatsoever, until it’s eventually picked up by none other than Ghostface. It was such a unique way to market the film and helped to introduce all of the new characters to the audience, as well as sharpen up viewers’ detective skills in preparation for yet another whodunit.
It took a much simpler approach to its marketing but there was truly no better way to do so. The marketing for the film consisted of red balloons being tied to grates, and that lone red balloon over a grate was enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine. It’s the perfect example of less is more, and while an over-the-top campaign can most definitely be fun from time to time, sometimes eerie simplicity can do just as well.
House of Wax (2005)
2005’s House of Wax remake was much talked about due to the addition of Paris Hilton in the cast. She ruled the early 2000s and was the “it-girl” of the time. So naturally, the filmmakers capitalized off of her star power and used it to their advantage when it came time to market the movie. A poster was made for the film featuring Hilton with the tagline “See Paris Die!” While it may seem mean-spirited, Hilton was so on board with it that she made t-shirts that echoed the slogan. It was a huge moment in pop culture and one that will surely never be forgotten, even if the movie itself wasn’t all that well-received.
Child’s Play (2019)
Back in 2019, we were treated to Child’s Play, a remake of the 1988 classic. It updated the story to modern-day technology and changed just enough about the story to still be in tune with nostalgia but stand firmly on its own. But Child’s Play wasn’t the only movie that was slated to come out on June 21 that year, there was another film set to give Chucky a run for his money (literally), and that movie was Toy Story 4. The two films could not be more different and don’t seem like they would have anything to do with one another. After all, one is family-friendly and one is very much not (as much as Chucky says he wants to be your friend ‘til the end.) But the team behind Child’s Play acknowledged the competing film in a brilliant (and traumatizing) way. Posters were released that featured Chucky murdering the toys of Toy Story. From a knife in Mr. Potato’s head to roasting Slinky Dog over a fire, the posters were a brutal piece of marketing, but boy was it effective. (Didn’t we go through enough in Toy Story 3?)