With new films coming out almost every week, production houses are seeing the need to get their marketing game right in order to beat competing titles.
Creating early pre-release chatter amongst fans on social media is now a quintessential activity in the campaign for any movie’s success.
So here’s a compilation of some cool posters, followed by a list of brand activation/guerilla marketing stunts that helped their film or web series pull in more ticket sales before or during it’s launch.
The posters below were selected on the basis of their creativity, relevance to the movie, and minimalist designs.
Similarly, the campaigns have been selected on the basis of their simplicity, contribution to the movie’s earnings, and relevance to the plot.
To give more exposure to small-budget but good quality ideas, I’ve skipped ambitious & impossible-to-replicate campaigns like The Simpsons Movie (2007) turning 7/11 stores into Kwik-E-Marts (which cost 20th Century Fox a whopping $10M+).
I’ve also passed onthe superb marketing campaign for The Blairwitch Project since most of the material is outdated/hard to find for reference but you can read all about it here.
Besides these original posters, you can also explore these some witty minimalist posters on Pinterest created by independent designers – I found them really witty & charming.
Dracula’s Light-play Billboard
To announce the release of their series Dracula in 2020, BBC set up a creative billboard in the UK.
During the day, it looked like a a bunch of knives stuck on the canvas. But as the city approached dusk, the lighting created a special shadow effect of a Dracula’s scary image, discernible by his characteristic fangs.
This also makes sense because the fictional character comes out mostly at night and fears the day time, so the billboard is very much in sync with the brand/story.
Smile at the Baseball Game
This is horror movie promotion done right.
When Paramount Pictures’ Smile was coming out in fall 2022, they hired professional “smilers” to show up and stand at random public places, like the Today Show and a Yankees v. Red Sox baseball game. These actors then delivered their most haunting smirks, which is a reference to the movie’s core plot.
Onlookers in the audience noticed something was off and took out their mobile phones to record it, igniting a massive discussion around the upcoming film.
Cameras were also strategically placed to pluck out the smilers, helping the stunt gain eyeballs via television screens across the nation. In no time, the movie was a viral sensation, grossing $37 million worldwide (with a modest budget of only $17 million).
No fancy posters. No need for expensive technology. Just make random people smile in the most horrifying way possible – that’s just freaking genius!
Dusty Car Wash ~ Mad Max
This is a wild but totally on-brand thematic campaign.
As Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) is set entirely in the arid desert region, the film makers launched an “anti-car wash” campaign through which you could get your car “dust and grime-painted” to look like it was part of the film’s actual set.
Fans in Canada could walk their car in and walk out with a unique temporary dusty wash coat on their hood, making each car a walking promotional poster for the movie. Etched into the dirty layers were symbols, text and logos that aided brand recall.
It was quite a daring stunt but allowed die-hard franchise fans to immerse themselves in the film’s scenery.
The campaign was executed by Toronto-based agency Lowe Roche.
Telekinesis Cafe ~ Carrie
To promote the remake of Stephen King’s Carrie in 2013, starring Chloe Grace Moretz, the makers got a bit wicked and set up a terrifying telekinesis prank in a New York-based cafe.
Unbeknownst to regular customers, the actors acted out a scene in which the main character is supposedly moving the furniture and causing a havoc with her mind power. The video of their hilarious freakouts quickly went viral on social media.
Again, this is in very much sync with the movie’s plot so the stunt helped in driving initial traffic into cinema holes. Unfortunately, the remake couldn’t live up to the 1976 original so it tanked at the box office overall.
This campaign was executed by the agency Thinkmodo.
The Thing ~ Wednesday
To promote their Tim Burton’s Addams Family spinoff, creators of the Netflix Series Wednesday (starring Jenna Ortega) in 2022, let loose an eerie animatronic hand resembling the main character’s fictional pet in public spaces all over New York City.
The Thing, laced with its own hip personality, successfully managed to scared kids, delighted passerby, and brought out many laughs overall.
That said, the series gained even more traction because of a parallel billboard & OOH campaign which featured cutting dark humor written in the protagonist girl’s unimpressed scathing voice.
The quotes were perfectly placed to match the settings to the delight of the audience.
So which copy did you love the most? Like I care!
Flying People ~ Chronicle
To promote their low-budget sci-fi thriller, makers of the movie Chronicle (2012) flew three human-shaped RC planes around New York’s connecting bridges.
The movie’s plot revolves around normal humans acquiring super powers, so the idea of creating the illusion of people flying was really on target. Many people who saw it couldn’t believe their eyes, and even the news channels got fooled for a few hours before the motive behind the campaign was released.
Of all the case studies on this list, I love this one the most because it shows you don’t need a huge marketing budget to do something out-of-the-box. All you need is a bit if smart thinking and some tech innovation.
With a modest budget of a few thousand dollars, the makers managed to make their title go viral across the country in a few hours.
Tinder Turing Test ~ Ex Machina
Without giving too much of the plot away, the sci-fi thriller Ex Machina (2015) explores the idea of whether AI-powered robots can be sentient enough to have an emotional relationship with a human being.
FYI, the test that proves whether an AI is capable of having human-like intelligence is called the “Turing Test,” named after the scientist Alan Turing who first devised it in 1950.
As the film’s story involves a complicated AI named Ava and an unsuspecting man who befriends her, agency Watson decided to bring things out into the real world by creating a fake Tinder profile for Ava.
This was done just before the film’s launch at the SXSW premiere. She’d immediately connect with festival goers in a familiar way, asking questions and creating dialogue surrounding the film’s themes en route to driving them to the premiere.
Within minutes of launching Ava’s profile, the matches started rolling in. 400+ unique conversations were executed over a 3–day span, many of which resulted in trips to the premiere.
Once word got out that Ava’s profile was tied to the film, publicity coverage and Twitter response spiked as audiences recognized the clever, yet morally polarizing marketing initiative.
The activation was one of the most discussed topics at SXSW, also earning mentions in BBC, The Guardian, Buzzfeed, AdWeek, MSN, etc.
This is a brilliant example of how to leverage the features of an already famous platform where your TG is active on a daily basis (in this case, it was Tinder, and the collaboration made sense, too, as the plot of the movie had elements of romance).
When released in theaters, Ex Machina posted the highest grossing opening weekend ever for distributor A24 and has since, surpassed critical and box office expectations everywhere.
So that was my curated list of cool movie posters and creative film marketing campaigns from across the globe.
Which ones did you enjoy the most? Did I miss any innovative stunts that should be on this list?