I have been in the marketing field for years. I seek out and admire clever and innovative marketing practices regularly. Everything from Coca-Cola commandeering ol' Santa Claus for their own financial gain to Christian Mingle, the matchmaking website, claiming that God himself has endorsed their services. Brilliant. Just brilliant.
But so far, the best one I've seen is the campaign behind Sony Pictures' film The Interview. Follow this proposed scenario*, if you will...
Seth Rogen, an actor/writer possessing a modicum of talent, wrote the screenplay for a goofy film concerning the implausible concept of two reporters being recruited by the CIA to assassinate Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. When the silly concept was first conceived the object of the would-be assassins was Kim Jong-il, the current leader's father, who died in 2011, while the script was still in development.
As many kinks as possible were ironed out of the one-joke script and an August 2014 release date was set. Rogen, along with regular collaborator and Freaks and Geeks co-star James Franco (another actor that, despite a Best Actor Oscar nomination in 2011, has questionable acting range) were asked by Sony to reshoot and rewrite portions of the film. So, from the beginning Sony had its doubts about the sophomoric romp. The release date was changed to Christmas Day, a long-time popular and profitable day for the release of films.
Suddenly, what appeared (to me, at least) to be a brilliant marketing campaign was launched. Sony announced to the rabid, hungry-for-a-story media that their corporate email system had been hacked, the culprits releasing hundreds of personal correspondences that would prove embarrassing to a slew of executives, producers, directors and actors. The media leaped all over the story like a mouse to a peanut butter-smeared snap trap.
A day or so later, alleged hackers released several as-yet unreleased films online, to the apparent shock and dismay of Sony (including the inexplicable second remake of Annie).
After days of jarring emails — some deriding famous and beloved actors and their films — Sony announced that the source of the criminal infiltration was rebel group calling themselves Guardians of Peace, based in malevolent North Korea (read: George Orwell's Eurasia). Kim Jong-un himself had condemned The Interview, promising a "merciless" retaliation if the film is released. The Guardians of Peace threatened a 9/11-type attack on theaters daring to show the film. Suddenly, Sony was shaking, giving in to the threats and demands of an evil foreign government who was allegedly behind a massive email attack, although their previous technological know-how resulted in four consecutive failed satellite launches, Sony canceled the Christmas Day release of The Interview. The voice of the people roared with displeasure. Celebrities took to Twitter (the cool outlet of choice) to express their outrage about the decision. Even the President took time out of his busy day to offer an opinion, calling Sony's decision "wrong." With just a few days to spare, Sony did a complete turnaround, standing proud against foreign threats. The studio announced that it would show the film in a select group of theaters, terrorist groups be damned! It would also make the film available to online outlets, like YouTube, Google Play and many, many others, for a small rental fee. Social media exploded in approval. We won! We beat the terrorists! We would now exercise our God-given American rights of Free Speech to see shitty movies! One fellow in the military was even prompted to tweet to Mr. Rogen: "You make me proud with your courageous decision to stand up to North Korea. I support you and am proud to serve you. You are a true American." (Seth Rogen is Canadian, but, y'know... whatever.) U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!
So, defiantly, The Interview was released on Christmas, as promised. It made one million dollars — granted it was only shown in 330 independent theaters nationwide (as opposed to Unbroken, which was shown on 3,100 screens). The home, video-on-demand views, once tallied, will, no doubt, bring that total higher. The critics, however, were less than kind, mostly panning the film as "misogynistic," "racist," "filled with toilet humor and penis jokes," and "vulgar." One critic wanted to know "What was all the fuss about?"
A little more than a week after the hoopla has died down, The US Government (the same one that recently admitted to lying about the CIA's torture methods) revealed that North Korea may not have been behind the Sony hacking, but plans for sanctions against North Korea will still be implemented.
Oh well, you got to see your Seth Rogen movie. You got to wave the American flag for a little while. And you fell right into Sony's master plan.
* the opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone, but maybe you'll share them.