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The Best #Horror #Movie Viral #Marketing Campaigns

The Guardian
Viral marketing existed before the internet did, but the development of online culture has taken it from a complex, high risk marketing strategy to a far more common and commonly successful one. Social media in particular has aided its development and it's done more for film than perhaps any other medium or product. Being able to take the story of your film and allow it to seep out into the world, hinting at what's coming before it even arrives is tremendously advantageous and even phrasing it like that surely makes it obvious why horror films are particularly good for it.

Creating a creepy, mysterious atmosphere is vital for good horror to work, so if you can do that before the audience has even gone into the film, you're already scoring points. Moreover, inventive marketing strategies will create a suggestion, or even assurance that the same deftness was applied to the actual production of the film. So, being that this is Halloween, I thought it would be fun to cycle through some of the best examples of viral marketing for horror films.

WARNING - All the videos below contain either strong language, material some might find disturbing, or both.

The Coffee Shop Attack (Carrie)


Pranks have benefitted massively from the advent of YouTube. No longer the sole domain of memories, home video collections and Trigger Happy TV, now there is a massive, global showcase for all the hilariously awful things people do to mislead and/or frighten complete strangers. The team behind the distribution for last year's regrettable Carrie remake clearly understood this.

The inspired video involved a coffee shop which was rigged through various means so that tables, cups, chairs and even people could be thrown through the air, seemingly manipulated by telekinetic powers. Apart from a few actors, everyone else in the shop was none the wiser and it's endlessly entertaining watching them freak out as they realise that they probably should have taken their pumpkin spice latte to go.


The Chatroulette Demon (The Last Exorcism)


Chatroulette is a weird, creepy place even without the added risk of otherworldly monstrosities. It's an amusing, if depressing irony that the 'roulette' part of the name ended up being so applicable, only it's more like Russian roulette and instead of a bullet in your head, you get a dick in your face. Doesn't really seem like prime marketing real estate, does it? Well, actually...

The Last Exorcism remains one of the most intelligent twists on the exorcism trope in years, and the advertising was just as inventive. Oblivious Chatroulette users would find themselves face to face with a girl, who would almost immediately start slowly taking her clothes off. Webcam stripteasing isn't entirely unheard of on Chatroulette, but the ratio leans far more heavily towards guys with their junk on display, and as such most of the people in the video can't believe their luck. That elation quickly morphs into sheer terror when the girl's eyes roll back and she flies at the camera like a banshee. As the startled viewers are left to marinate in a puddle of their own urine, the title card for the film fades in. Genius. An honorable mention must go to their campaign for the second film, which involved a contortionist portraying possessed girl menacing a real hair salon.


Sarah/Jacob (Paranormal Activity 4/5)


I've never been an avid follower of vloggers, so if somebody wants to explain to me how you tell the difference between a worthwhile one and just some fool with a webcam and nothing interesting to say, let me know. Assuming that anybody with a channel is worth giving a chance, the Paranormal Activity team killed it with their campaigns for the fourth and fifth PA movies. The first involved a character named Sarah, an avid YouTube vlogger who started to upload videos with mysterious, ghoulish things happening in the background.

When the 5th rolled around, a man named Jacob suddenly appeared on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, and once again, everything he uploaded had an unsettling twinge to it, and several characters who appeared in the films either appeared or were at least alluded to in his posts. As the release dates for the respective films drew closer, the posts became more unsettling before coming to an abrupt halt.


The Elevator Murder (Dead Man Down)


The same people who organised the coffee shop prank for Carrie (as well as this freakish thing for Devil's Due), but whether that was amusing, this is just downright messed up. Unsuspecting pedestrians were fooled into thinking that they'd accidentally blundered into an attempted murder. Some people run away, others call the police, and others intervene in various ways ranging from the ineffectual to the ridiculous (seriously? A fire extinguisher?).

Speaking morally, it could be argued that this one crosses a pretty serious line. Tricking people into believing that they've seen an attempted murder runs the risk of serious psychological harm. Of course, the promoters likely knew that when they decided to do it, since the discussion the campaign raised acted as its own kind of promotion for the film. People also talked a lot about the different ways people reacted, since the video was on some level intended to make you wonder what you would do.


'Missing' (The Blair Witch Project)


We couldn't do a list of the best horror viral marketing campaigns without talking about the one that started it all. Earlier films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre might have tried similar promotional tactics offline, but Blair Witch was the first to use the internet, back in 1999. There was no standard promotional material for The Blair Witch Project at all. Everything they posted was steeped in police nomenclature and it all claimed that the creators of the film were indeed still missing, and that the footage was still being considered as evidence.

It might seem blindingly obvious now that if the footage was really involved in a missing person's case, it never would have been released to the general public but this kind of thing was unheard of at the time, and found footage didn't even really exist yet as a film-making style. That in mind, people lapped it up, and the film became a sensation, with the marketing team even becoming one of the most successful/well known viral marketing and alternate reality game firms in the world, even to this day.



Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF


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The Best #Horror #Movie Viral #Marketing Campaigns Reviewed by Callum Davies on Saturday, October 31, 2015 Rating: 5

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