The Bosses of Buzz–Viral Marketing: Dissected

Category: SaaS Management
The film industry is one of many takes. It’s an often cutthroat, hit-and-miss game of successes and flops. But with the thick competition and array of available content, it takes some skillful marketing and the generation of buzz for a film to gross big bucks. As such, there’s a lot to learn from Hollywood–for industry bigwigs and small businesses alike. Indeed, Hollywood has been the birthplace of some of the most notable viral marketing successes of late.


The first and perhaps most notable of these successes was the extensive, intricate and widespread viral marketing campaign for Christopher Nolan’s 2008 film “The Dark Knight.” An assortment of multimedia clues prompted an intense scavenger hunt across the globe. The buzz and fan participation created by the campaign undoubtedly contributed to the film’s worldwide gross of over $1 billion.

Below is a video that summarizes the campaign’s breadth:

Since the widespread success of “The Dark Knight,” numerous films have followed suit. Recently, for example, Disney began showing a teaser trailer for the new “Muppets” film in theaters and later on YouTube under the pseudonym “Green with Envy.” Under the “Green with Envy” title, the trailer initially presents itself as a generic romantic comedy. Only towards the end are the Muppets finally–and hilariously–revealed.

The trailer does not simply rely on the thwarting of audience expectations to generate buzz, though. At its conclusion, it also encourages viewers to tweet about the faux film using the hash tag #GreenWithEnvy. This promotion of fan-generated discussion done hand-in-hand with the building of intrigue, reminiscent of the Grasshopper campaign I discussed earlier, is a relevant and easy way to accumulate free PR for any type of business.

In the same vein, the Steven Spielberg/JJ Abrams team has taken a multi-platform viral marketing approach to promote the upcoming film “Super 8.” For starters, the team mailed mysterious packages to various film blogs, encouraging them to share the news with readers. Again, like the Grasshopper campaign, the “Super 8” team sent unique items to specific purveyors of buzz, giving them all the tools they needed for discussion.

In addition, a “Super 8” iPhone app allows users to liken their phones to a Super 8 camera and, with increased usage, gives users clues about the film. And in an even further reach of viral tactics, a new website asked the simple question, “What is the #Super8Secret?” On Tuesday, after days of anticipation, the secret was finally revealed: with a special password, fans across the country could acquire tickets to advance screenings of the film.

This incorporation of user participation and strategic, buzz-building hash tags has already upped the publicity for “Super 8” to astonishing levels. And with positive early reviews, it seems that the film will enjoy success in theaters.

I know that Hollywood is an enormous and big-budget umbrella with which to cover viral marketing in one post. But there are certain motifs that evidently exist through all of these campaigns. Moreover, these campaigns utilize techniques that, when scaled down, can be executed with ease by the small or local business.

Take, for example, the use of a humorous and surprising video. Though it’s always a gamble, parodies and funny commercials, even low-budget ones, can gain footing in the online community. Or consider the aforementioned hash tags. Why not encourage users to discuss your brand or products with a specific hash tag and give a select few rewards for doing so?

We already know from the Grasshopper campaign that direct mailing can be successful. And though small businesses might not be able to afford creating apps of “Super 8” proportions, why not use existing apps to generate consumer interest?

Take it from Hollywood–buzz has no price tag.

Recommended Further Reading