Viral marketing was made for horror films. Even the idea of something “viral” spreading to the masses sounds like a plot straight off the big screen. Whether it’s a psychological thriller, a slasher flick, or a creepy ghost tale, there are no limits on how a good horror film can scare us. And as we’ve seen with the evolution of digital and social marketing, there are no limits to how studios and innovative filmmakers can create buzz and excitement about their films. Below are five examples of horror movies that used successful viral campaigns to market their films.
The Last Exorcism (2010)
Gross: $41,000,000 ($62,000,000 worldwide)
Chatroulette, a webcam-based chat website that pairs random users together, was even creepier than normal during the promotion of The Last Exorcism. On the site, some unsuspecting boys were lead to believe they had been paired with a cute girl. Unfortunately for them the flirting quickly turned to terror—followed by a callout for the movie’s website. The compilation of horrified reactions went on to become a viral hit.
Devil’s Due (2014)
Gross: $15,000,000 ($25,000,000 worldwide)
Who doesn’t love a possessed baby? To help promote Devil’s Due, an animatronic “devil baby” hit the streets of New York to get candid reactions. The baby was truly scary, the reactions were hysterical, and the video scored more than 54 million views on YouTube.
Paranormal Activity (2007)
Gross: $107,900,00 ($193,400,000 worldwide)
The initial success of Paranormal Activity can almost single-handedly be traced to viral marketing. Released on September 25, 2009 in only seven cities, Paramount announced that if the film received 1 million hits (where people “demanded it” in their city on the film’s website) it would be released nationally. Less than a month later, on October 16th the film was released nationwide. The low-budget $15k movie went on to gross close to $200 million worldwide, becoming one of the first movies to successfully use online and social media buzz to market a film.
Gross: $35,000,000 ($84,000,000 worldwide)
One of the most elaborate viral marketing pranks came from the team behind the remake of the classic horror film Carrie. Using a wire rig, stuntman, remote controlled props, and multiple actors, a truly terrifying scene took place inside a New York coffee shop. The first day posted, the video produced 3 million YouTube views, 250,000 Facebook shares, and 11,000 tweets. The clip has gone on to be viewed over 67 million times on YouTube.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Gross: $140,500,000 ($248,600,000 worldwide)
Many consider The Blair Witch Project the film that launched viral movie marketing. The film came at the perfect stage of the internet’s development – new information was readily available, but not as verifiable and instantaneous as it would soon be. The filmmakers (and later the studio that bought the film, Artisan) launched a website detailing the story of three film students that went missing while filming a documentary, all presented as fact and in anticipation for the movie release. Continuous updates to the site with more details about the disappearance helped spread buzz and create a connection with movie-goers that more conventional marketing tools never could. The outcome was a $248 million dollar phenomenon that changed the movie and marketing landscape forever.