Best of 06: Top 9 Viral Marketing Stories

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By Erin Donovan

Four Eyed Monsters: After failing to secure a distribution deal for their debut feature directors Arin Crumley and Susan Bice began documenting their process (and failures) via video podcasts just as the video iPod was becoming the "it gadget". They became minor internet/MySpace celebrities, saw their film play in five major cities and the DVD will be released in early 2007.

Inland Empire: Forgoing the typical film festival schmooze circuit while seeking distribution for his new film, Inland Empire, David Lynch chose the corner of La Brea and Hollywood in Los Angeles to practice some transcendental meditation with (I am not joking) a cow, a poster of Laura Dern and a sign that read "if not for cows the Northwest would have NO CHEESE". If not for the internet this stunt would have landed Lynch in a loony bin, but it... just... might... work.

The Descent: Fans posted an alternate (i.e., British) ending on YouTube which overnight turned this awesome low-budget horror movie into a referendum on whether Americans need to have everything dumbed down and saccharined up (I, for one, actually prefer the American ending). The film wound up making back its full production costs in its opening weekend.

Running Scared: To promote the film starring Paul Walker, New Line posted a sexually graphic video game wherein the player/protagonist has to pleasure his wife in a limited amount of time. The game was quickly removed from the film's website when the people who call it "the internets" found out the movie still managed to hold its own against the Bruce Willis vehicle 16 Blocks and UltraViolet -- a film with an actual female in it.

Monty Python's Personal Best: For the release of this new DVD set A&E Home Video created a game where users could animate "silly walks" with their favorite characters. A delightful way to procrasturbate.

Serenity: To exploit the earnest Whed-fiends dizzy with glee to see their beleagured Firefly series reborn as a feature film, Universal posted a series of 'training videos" (starring writer/director Joss Whedon) that depicted psychic waif solider River Tam killing a doctor without raising a finger and breathily intoning geek references. Universal also hosted dozens of "fan previews" hoping convert fanboy energy into cheap blog marketing power. But after a disappointing theatrical run last year, the studio turned around and sued fans for using copyrighted images on web banners, shirts and butttons. The fans responded by serving Universal with an invoice for the money they had spent marketing the film (to the tune of $1.9M). There is no talk of a Serenity 2 at this time.

Lost: Okay, not a film but so what, I'm still obsessed and so is everyone you know. ABC networks posted an online sleuthing game called "The Lost Experience" that rewarded fans with tiny fragments of a training video used by the "Dharma Initiative." Consider me confused, ABC. I'll see you in February.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan: 20th Century Fox leaked a slew of deleted scenes on YouTube. It also didn't hurt that the president of Kazakhstan (yes, it's a real country) personally complained to President Bush and ran full-page ads in ten American newspapers illustrating how totally funny, un-anti semitic, and not sister-fuckerly the Kazakh people kind, sort of, may or may not be. In its opening weekend Borat out-performed Tim Allen's Santa Clause 3 in one-third as many theaters.

Snakes on a Plane: Insiders leaked gossipy bits to blogs (such as a proposal to change the title to "Pacific Air 121" or "Venom") to demonstrate to New Line studio execs how excited fans were for the almost non-sensically straight-forward smut, violence and profanity Snakes had to offer.

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