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Over Doing Viral Marketing

Viral marketing for movies on the Web has gone positively bubonic in the run-up to the summer blockbuster season. A bunch of movies, from "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" to "The Dark Knight," and "Hancock" have deployed intricate viral marketing campaigns to lure die-hard fans into engaging with these films prior to their summer release. We're not talking about word-of-mouth marketing, but rather, intricate puzzles and quests involving movie characters and locales that you can only find out about by communicating with your friends and work colleagues.

For example, one of Warner Bros.' thirty "Dark Knight"-related Web sites provided clues pointing to screenings in 12 different cities. But the clues were far from simple, requiring users to visit other Web sites and use Google Maps in scavenger hunt-like race to find the screening's destination. In a word, "exhausting," the HR report says. "Since when should marketing feel like doing homework?"

Meanwhile, the question studio marketing execs should be asking themselves is whether it's worth it to spend all this money on reaching die-hard fans who would be go to see the film (probably multiple times) anyway. "Even among the most dyed-in-the-wool fans," HR says, "it is hard to believe too many have the time or inclination to justify all this. Maybe money is better spent targeting audience segments that aren't as likely to buy tickets.

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