Like the rest of us, Los Angeles Times feature writer Chris Lee has been noticing those quirky “public service announcements” regarding extraterrestrial visitors in our midst. Unlike the rest of us, though, Chris decided to get to the bottom of it all and dissect the cryptic marketing campaign. Here’s his report:
The perplexing public-service announcements began turning up two weeks ago, splashed across bus-stop advertisements in America’s 15 biggest cities, including Los Angeles. “Bus bench for humans only,” the ads’ banner copy proclaims, accompanied by a rough rendering of an outer space alien that has been crossed out, “Ghostbusters” style, with a strike-through circle. “Beware! Non-human secretions may corrode metal!”
If you happen to be among the tens of thousands of inquiring minds who have called the posted telephone number (listed beneath the ominous-sounding imperative: “Report non-humans”) or punched its URL — D-9.com — into an Internet browser, you may already know the ads’ true purpose. They are part of a viral marketing campaign for Sony Pictures’ documentary-style sci-fi thriller “District 9,” which arrives in theaters in August.
“We wanted to do something provocative and that would create a stir,” said Marc Weinstock, Sony’s co-president of worldwide theatrical marketing. “But we had no idea to what extent we’d connect.”
Sony’s president of digital marketing, Dwight Caines, said: “In two weeks, there have been 33,000 phone calls. Two thousand five hundred people left voice messages about alien sightings. And 92% of those calls come from cellphones, indicating that people are opting in, on the spot, in the streets.”
By their very nature, viral movie marketing campaigns rely upon a temporary suspension of disbelief. After initial confusion wears off, as the operating principle goes, people will agree to play along with what is essentially a massively scaled practical joke — and, by extension, tell a friend about it and go see the movie — predicated on the understanding that there will be a big “reveal” to make it all worthwhile. Ever since the viral marketing effect of 1999’s “The Blair Witch Project,” which had movie fans wondering whether the low-budget indie horror flick was actually a documentary gone horribly wrong, virals have been the stuff of fanboy dreams and movie marketer reverie in terms of low-cost, high-yield buzz.
“District 9’s” stealth campaign, however, has already accomplished what a wildly diverse array of virals unleashed on an unsuspecting public this year could not: It made it stand out from the pack.
The beachhead for its high-minded, meta-narrative promo push is the movie’s website, listed on bus benches, bus shelters and billboards.
D-9.com not only streams the movie’s trailer (which has been viewed 21 million times since May 1, another indicator of robust viewer interest) but also serves as a primer to the self-contained world of “District 9″…
— Chris Lee
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