Smile utilizes marketing that is unsettlingly hard to notice

Guerilla Marketing in Media

Smile utilizes marketing that is unsettlingly hard to notice

As 2022 comes to a close and the fall air directs us towards the frights of Halloween, it becomes apparent that it has been a somewhat disappointing year for horror movies so far. Although there are certainly upcoming releases looking to bring a jolt to the oversaturated genre, such as the hopefully final inst-allment of the extremely bloated Halloween series and a sequel to the gorefest that is Terrifier, entitled Terrifier 2, films so far have been unfortunately bland.

Despite yet another gem from Jordan Peele in his project Nope, and surprisingly good reboots in Scream and Prey, films such as Orphan: First Kill and The Reef: Stalked continue to show major issues with horror, with studios throwing money at directors to create unnecessary prequels, sequels, and everything in betweenquels.

However, a new release, Smile, is attempting to change the tone bringing some flavor to the scene not only through the movie itself, but through the marketing. Many readers have seen or at least heard of the film The Blair Witch Project, but are unaware of the marketing utilized to bring attention to it prior to it’s 1999 release. Since Blair Witch was one of the first found footage films, it was afforded a lot of leeway in terms of marketing. Since the film was only afforded a budget of $60,000, the creators were forced to get creative in order to create attention.

One way they did this was through the extremely infantile internet of the 1990s. A website was set up following the plot of the movie, attempting to appear as homemade by the characters in the movie bringing an air of uncertainty to the project overall. Although many did not directly see the website, word of mouth spread quickly over a supposed documentary horror film, bringing millions into the theaters, and resulting in profits 4000 times the original budget.

Less than a decade later, yet another horror film attempted to and fully succeeded in catching lightning in a bottle with their marketing campaign. 2007’s Paranormal Activity was filmed on a third of the budget of Blair Witch, and in only a week. In similar fashion to Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity relied heavily on the internet, having a viral ad that allowed viewers to vote on if the movie would be shown in their local theaters. However, an even more well known aspect of the films marketing was it’s trailer, rather than showing the scenes from the movie, they showed the reaction of those in theaters watching early releases and showed viewers the terror the movie would cause. These trailers went viral and helped the movie bring in a whopping 12,800 times it’s original budget.

This style of marketing is commonly referred to as guerilla marketing and is incredibly effective when well executed and is not just used for horror movies. An extremely popular example comes from energy drink company Red Bull during the late 80’s , who decided to fill trash cans with empty Red Bull cans instead of spending millions on brand deals and television commercials in order to make people think the brand was more popular than it really was.

However, Smile is using a different method than all of these brands. Instead of relying on the internet, or leaving cans strewn about, Smile is using television in a manner you would not expect. Rather than paying for expensive trailers to be shown for commercials, they are having actors wear bright colored shirts and stand in frame of popular shows and sporting events staring directly into the camera with a huge smile. These events include New York Yankees and Giants games, an Oakland Athletics game, as well as in the background of the Today Show and many other broadcasts. Although many could have easily missed these actors, those who did not immediately went to social media spreading the word of these strange and creepy figures in the background of their favorite programs.

Although there were critics of this marketing, many were fans, with twitter user @theheadknight saying, “#SmileMovie has some of the best marketing out right now! So creepy and compelling on how this took the internet by storm!” With almost 8,000 posts on Instagram using #SmileMovie, and even more on twitter, the movie unsurprisingly soared to the top of the box office on opening weekend with 22 million dollars in tickets sold.

Although many could attribute this to marketing, raving reviews have been coming in, with Rotten Tomatoes giving it a 76%  on the tomato meter and an 80% audience score and even more on social media. This continues with the trends of Paranormal Activity and Blair Witch Project, showing how good marketing can’t make up for a bad movie, but can elevate a good movie into a great movie, proving that no matter how good a movie is, if no one has heard of it, it will never get the recognition it deserves.