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Movie marketing finally going viral?

Posted Tuesday, July 3, 2007 at 4:56 PM Central

by John Couture

A couple of years ago, a rotund (I can use this word as I myself would never be described as tiny) teenager took a golf ball retriever, a video camera and his delusional Jedi skills and became an Internet legend. Fans cried out to George Lucas to find a role for the "Star Wars Kid" in Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith.

The "Star Wars Kid" didn't get the role, but Lucas got an unfathomable amount of free advertising for the last chapter in his Star Wars opus, not that he needed it, but that's not the point. Since then, and really long before then, Hollywood has been looking for alternative ways to entice its audience to watch its product amid the ever-increasing amount of entertainment options available to a consumer.

Really, the fault probably lies with those Blair Witch guys who were the first to truly use the Internet as a marketing tool to help promote a movie that is basically three people with shoddy home video cameras running through the woods into an International blockbuster. Heck, it even turned Artisan (now Lions Gate) into a major Hollywood studio.

In 2001, Steven Spielberg's movie A.I. practically invented a new entertainment channel, the alternate-reality game (ARG). The "game," code-named "The Beast," took elements from the futuristic movie and moved them into the real world, mostly on the Internet, and what started as a murder-mystery turned into a thrilling couple of months as the game reached out into the real world with phone calls, texts and emails. It was a new experience and loads of fun, I know because I was right there sucked in with a whole lot of others. But, ultimately, it was just a more elaborate marketing vehicle.

The ARG has been used with varying levels of success with video games Halo 2 and Halo 3 and most famously with the TV series Lost. The Lost Experience helped to bridge the gap between season 2 and season 3, and for those that actually stuck with it to the end, it provided a wealth of information concerning the intricate plot twists and the underlying forces at work in the TV show.

So, it should come as no surprise that Fox has jumped onboard the bandwagon of unique marketing gimmicks by turning a few 7-Eleven stores into Kwik-E-Marts, which is a 7-Eleven ripoff in the Simpsons universe. The obvious tie-in is to The Simpsons Movie which will hit theaters at the end of the month.

The latest marketing trick sure to light the Internet ablaze is a trailer linked to Michael Bay's Transformers. Now here's the thing. It's a trailer for a movie that Paramount is releasing on January 18th, 2008. The movie doesn't officially have a title, but it is going by the codename Cloverfield. There is no title anywhere on the trailer.

Oh did I mention that the movie hasn't even filmed yet and that this trailer was created as simply a marketing ploy? It shouldn't be a surprise that Lost guru J.J. Abrams has his finger prints all over it. He's serving as producer and his collaborators are writing and directing it.

That's pretty much all we know about the movie. Oh sure, there are rumors out there that it's on par with Independence Day. That parasite aliens are wiping out humanity. There are also rumors that it will be shot entirely on handhelds wielded by the actors ala Blair Witch.

But those are only rumors. And right now, that's all there is. It seems that the new trend is to let as little information out as possible and make its secrecy the cool quotient that will drive interest in the movie because no one knows anything about it.

It's funny, Hollywood used to create bit trailers that basically gave away the entire movie. Now, they won't even give us the movie's title.

It's a bold move to be sure, but I for one can't wait for January.