CAMPAIGNS: Movie Publicity - Media plays along with film PR game

Client: Warner Bros.
PR Team: In-house
Campaign: Eight Legged Freaks
Time Frame: October 2001-present
Budget: 3% of overall marketing budget

Warner Bros. has been pushing the envelope in movie publicity more or less since the birth of the web, and its latest film - Eight Legged Freaks - is no exception. For this movie ("kind of an homage to campy science-fiction films of the '50s and '60s - giant spiders threaten a small town in America, as described by Don Buckley, Warner Bros. SVP of theatrical marketing), the studio knew it had to do something different to draw a significant amount of press in the middle of summer blockbuster season, and hopefully be a force to contend with at the box office.

Strategy

Over a year ago, Buckley's staff read the film's script.

"It suggested a gaming kind of experience, Buckley explains. "The action takes place in three distinct locations, each one becoming progressively more problematic and action-packed, much like a game. The strategy statement we wrote for ourselves was that everything we do should be a game-like experience, with the film being the irresistible, final level."

Furthermore, Buckley wanted to broaden the reach of the overall marketing effort. "I'm no longer satisfied with solely reaching people through the official website, he says.

Tactics

Like all other Warner Bros. releases, Eight Legged Freaks had an official website and other standard integrated-marketing pieces. But keeping in line with the game strategy, the studio released a 3D, console-quality computer game that involves - what else? - killing giant spiders.

"We delivered it in a variety of ways, says Buckley. "On CD, and on the website itself. We also created its own URL, letthesquashingbegin.com, and released the game on about 50,000 AOL 7.0 discs that were shrink-wrapped with Time magazines."

Warner Bros. also secured the involvement of the cast. The first step was to make the game available to the media, so computer terminals were set up in the hospitality suite at the press junket so reporters could play the game (though Buckley admits that one of the terminals was usually taken by the film's star, David Arquette).

And true to many games of its type, it has built-in cheat codes for such things as extra weapons, extra health, more lives, etc., which Buckley's team used as a hook to draw more attention.

"David and Kari (Wuhrer, Arquette's costar), were encouraged to talk about the fact that there were cheat codes available for the game, which we kind of held back as exclusives for them to reveal during their television interviews, explains Buckley. "Some outlets like the idea of having exclusive information revealed during their broadcasts."

In addition, one level of the game has an Eight Legged Freaks poster on a wall. At the press junket, a digital photo studio was set up so reporters could have their own images superimposed onto that of the movie poster that appears in the online version of the game. "We made it much more fun and involving, says Buckley. The plan was to "generate a second or third piece on-air, and the focus would be that the TV personality you were watching is in the game."

Results

Coverage of the film and the game spanned major national and local outlets alike, not to mention a plethora of positive reviews.

"Since we launched in April, we've had 1 million plays of the game on the site, and more than 685,000 downloads of the game. It was enormously successful in terms of generating awareness, says Buckley.

"They were somewhat clever about each thing they did, says Sperling Reich, founder of FilmStew.com, an outlet that focuses on the entertainment industry. "To have Arquette spew out a cheat code on Entertainment Tonight is perfect."

Unfortunately, come the Monday after its July 19 release, Eight Legged Freaks ranked seventh at the box office, pulling in $6.7 million (Stuart Little 2 led with $15.6 million). No fault of Warner Bros.', the entire weekend turned out to be one of the slowest for theaters in recent months, dropping 23% from the previous weekend.

Future

Warner Bros. continues to promote Eight Legged Freaks aggressively , and will remain committed to online and interactive marketing for future releases. "I've had enormous support, all the way up the corporate level, says Buckley.

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