Sunday, June 10, 2012
Do You have Paid Attention to Hollywood's Most Outrageous Publicity Stunts
Unfortunately, it doesn't come with Apu.
In a buzzworthy segment on one of the Simpsons' famed Halloween specials, a CGI'd Homer accidentally drops into the real, non-cartoon world. More than a decade later, when FOX decided to move their most profitable TV family to the big screen, producers opted for a similar move hoping to generate similar interest.
In the lead up to the Simpsons Movie premiere, several 7-11 convenience stores were retrofitted overnight to become Kwik-E-Marts, Springfield's most beloved (and most robbed) slushy provider. As television's longest running sitcom, a publicity stunt of this magnitude may have been unnecessary, but people loved it. News stations from around the country covered the story, and the stores lucky enough to be converted saw lines around the block of people just hoping to experience a sliver of cartoon fantasy turned reality.
Office Space Traps a Man in Glass
Talk about a bad case of the Mondays. In the run up to the release of Office Space, the studio decided the best way to promote a comedy about the monotony of life in a cubicle was to actually put someone inside a very public cube. One poor gentleman was stuck inside a 12-foot by 12-foot plexiglass faux office in Times Square and forced to file TPS reports, manipulate spreadsheets, and answer calls as spectators looked on sympathetically.
The stunt stirred up press. In a move likely motivated less by compassion and more by the prospect of free publicity, the head of Krispy Kreme delivered a complimentary box of donuts for breakfast. Howard Stern took pity on the encased man by sending over an attractive massage therapist. For those out there thinking, "Why feel sorry for the guy in the cube? He's getting paid, right?" Remember, everyone stuck in a cube is paid to be there. That doesn't make it any less soul-sucking. That's why we have Office Space.
The Wizard Becomes the World's Longest Commercial
In all these other examples, studios use clever PR tricks to get people to buy tickets at the box office. In the case of The Wizard, the film was the publicity stunt. The demographic the film was aimed at was too young to realize it, but The Wizard was really a glorified Nintendo ad.
The half-assed plot about a socially awkward, withdrawn video game savant (read: Asperger's) was thrown together as an excuse to tease the North American market with footage of the highly anticipated Super Mario Bros. 3 before the game hit stores a few months later. Even worse, the film also tried to peddle the ridiculously disappointing Nintendo Powerglove, a complete piece of garbage that introduced a generation of youth to the concept of buyer's remorse.
The film only made $15 million at the box office, but it did its job. Every kid that saw it walked away with an unrelenting desire for the Mario game and that damn Powerglove, helping Super Mario Bros. 3 become the best-selling video game of its time.
House of Wax Lets Fans Live Out Paris Hilton Death Wish
Reality stars and fame-whoring socialites often serve as the targets of our collective cultural outrage, but people have forgotten it was Paris Hilton who started it all. In 2005, at the height of Hilton's run on The Simple Life, movie producers decided to capitalize on growing anti-Paris sentiment by killing her onscreen, and then making her death a selling point.
The schlocky horror flick House of Wax cast Hilton not for her acting chops, but for her polarizing fame and for the opportunity to kill her on the big-screen. The entire marketing campaign behind the film boiled down to one simple phrase: "See Paris Die." Spoiler alerts be damned, producers wanted everyone to know if they paid for a House of Wax ticket, they'd get to see Paris Hilton meet a brutal end.
In major cities across the country, T-shirts with the "See Paris Die" slogan were handed out for free, and movie posters with a bloody Paris and the slogan where plastered all over the place, including some of the Beverley Hills boutiques Hilton was known to frequent. The murderous promise paid off, with House of Wax earning more than $70 million at the box office.
Million Dollar Mystery: Both a Film and a Contest
Who knew this Lady Liberty had a million dollar booger?
If you haven't heard of Million Dollar Mystery, don't worry, you're not alone. The 1987 film was a massive flop, and the most ineffective publicity stunt in cinema history probably didn't help. The plot follows a bunch of frantic treasure-seekers searching for stockpiles of cash, so the production company partnered with Glad Bags to sponsor a real-life million-dollar treasure hunt that would coincide with the film's release.
At the end of Million Dollar Mystery, moviegoers were invited to find the location of a hidden million dollars by using clues provided in the film. First one to find the secret hiding place won a cool mill. No joke. The studio was putting up $1 million in the hopes that greed would motivate unprecedented ticket sales. The gamble didn't pay off, to an embarrassing degree in fact. Million Dolllar Mystery didn't even bring in enough money at the box office to cover the cost of the contest.
In the end, a certificate for the "secret" million was found inside the Statue of Liberty's nostril by a California woman, and the studio was forced to hand her the entire $989,033 in box office proceeds.
The Dictator Ashes Ryan Seacrest, Rides a Camel at Cannes, and Kills Elisabetta Canalis
Nobody commits to the publicity stunt like Sacha Baron Cohen. This is the guy who tried to crash the White House as a bumbling Kazakh journalist and who dropped his freshly waxed ass in Eminem's face at the VMAs to promote his films. But Cohen outdid himself for 2012's The Dictator.
It all started at the Oscars. Cohen, who was expected to attend due to his involvement with the Oscar-nominated Hugo, was explicitly told by the Academy he could attend under one condition — he was not to upstage the evening by arriving in character. Naturally, the comedian didn't listen, hitting the red carpet in full Dictator regalia, accompanied by supermodel bodyguards in skimpy military garb. Cohen even brought along his recently deceased buddy Kim Jong-Il along for the event (in an urn, of course).
Jon-Il's ashes didn't stay inside the urn for long because Cohen made sure to dump them all over a stunned Ryan Seacrest during an on-air red carpet interview. The typically unflappable Seacrest went white and wide-eyed when he realized his fancy tux was covered in dust on Hollywood's biggest night.
Sacha Baron Cohen Cohen didn't stop there. The Cannes Film Festival was treated to his Dictator antics when he made a grand entrance complete with a camel and gun-toting beauties by his side. Then, Cohen staged a dustup with model and former Clooney arm candy Elisabetta Canalis. Innocent sunblock application turned to manhood mockery, which resulted in Canalis' "body" being tossed overboard. It appears with every movie, Cohen ups the publicity stunt ante, so who knows what to expect for his next one.
The Wackness Will Get You High
Kingsley tokes up, and so can you.
The Wackness, a 2008 film starring Ben Kingsley and Josh Peck, caused an uproar among anti-drug organizations that caught word of how the producers decided to market its DVD release. In a publicity move that was equal parts Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and High Times, 1,000 copies of the DVD included a golden ticket that was good for a trip to Amsterdam and a free bag of weed upon arrival.
When the studio was hit with bad press courtesy of anti-drug campaigners, the film's PR firm wondered what the big deal was. After all, pot played a heavy role in the film, and there didn't seem to be any controversy when it came out in theaters. "The Wackness is all about people coming together through a love of weed, and we're just celebrating that fact," the firm said.
Independence Day Fakes the News
Any old film can buy 30 seconds of TV time to run a trailer, but the 1996 blockbuster Independence Day was not any old film. It was a summer event, one that would eventually gross close to $1 billion worldwide. For Roland Emmerich, A commercial just wasn't good enough for director Roland Emmerich. His movie deserved an entire half-hour block. Luckily, Independence Day was produced by 20th Century Fox, so there was a built-in TV network primed for such a stunt.
The marketing team for the film put together an entire 30-minute news show designed to look like every other newscast, except this one would be interrupted by the breaking news that aliens had invaded the planet. Clips from the film were intercut with newsroom footage, custom graphics, and a news scroll declaring high alert. The production was so realistic, some 911 call centers were overwhelmed by panicked citizens demanding answers to questions about "the invasion."
Bee Movie Takes Jerry Seinfeld's Dignity
Jerry Seinfeld might be one of the wealthiest comedians of all time but it appears his dignity is still for sale. How else do you explain him dressed in a goofy bumblebee costume, dangling from the sky like a flailing fool? That's what the comedy legend was obligated to do while promoting 2007's Bee Movie at the Cannes Film Festival.
Skittishly zip lining across the streets of Cannes in a puffy yellow and black-striped barrel to drum up some press is on par with those costumed dudes who dance with oversized signs to get people into a furniture store or car wash. Watching the man who created one of the best sitcoms of all time sink to that level is just sad. Fire your manager, Jerry, and whatever you do, don't make a sequel.
The Blair Witch Project Is Real, Right?
The "based on a true story" thing has always been a nice way to hook audiences, but suspension of disbelief comes a hell of a lot easier if people think what they're seeing onscreen is actually connected with real people in a real place somewhere. Those behind Blair Witch understood this and acted accordingly, forever changing movie marketing in the process.
Blair Witch producers insisted the documentary aesthetic was authentic and not just a stylistic choice. As such, they presented the film as "found footage" discovered after three student filmmakers vanished while searching for the "legendary" Blair Witch. In the early days of the Internet, the Blair Witch Project was one of the first viral phenomenons, with message boards, chat rooms, and websites debating whether or not the film was real. Producers even collaborated with IMDb to change the then unknown actors' bios to read "missing, presumed dead."
The move worked. Blair Witch raked in upwards of $250 million at the box office, a record-setting proceeds-to-budget haul. Now just about every horror film trailer goes for the documentary look supplemented by taglines aimed at convincing the audience the scenes are the real deal and not some backlot creation. And it's still effective. Just look at the Paranormal Activity franchise.
With so many pieces of media vying for attention, it takes some outside-the-box thinking to drum up interest and get the hype machine rolling. The days of billboards and casually placed TV spots are over. While some industries are slow to adapt, Hollywood realized years ago that traditional advertising avenues and marketing strategies can be enhanced with one big tactical move — the publicity stunt.