Scaring someone once is easy. Pop out from behind a door and yell “BOO” when someone’s not expecting it and you can get them to shriek like a little girl, jump back a couple feet and maybe, if you’re lucky, they soil themselves just a little. But the next time they walk through that same door, unless they know you’re not back there waiting for them, they’re going to be a little wary and will probably be expecting some sort of shock and so aren’t going to be caught as off-guard as they were the first time.
How to scare people a second time with the same – or at least a very similar – setup is the dilemma faced by the creators of Paranormal Activity 2. When the first one arrived last year it was almost out of nowhere. It had been screened a couple times but the vast majority of the public had never heard of it and until a couple weeks before release there was almost no marketing done for it. But with a genuinely scary movie and a legitimately engaging campaign that was powered largely by a setup where people could “Demand It” to come play in their area it became a tremendous success, hugely profitable because it was shot for less than $100,000.
Now the sequel attempts to recreate that cultural phenomenon. Once again the story is based around the idea of “found footage” that was shot at someone’s house where strange happenings have been occurring. Where the first movie simply featured a young married couple this one has a whole family – including a small baby – involved, the better to apparently up the emotional ante.
The movie’s poster uses almost the exact same design as the one-sheet for the first installment. A pull quote from an early review is at the top and the movie’s title and the prompt to “Demand It” is at the bottom. In-between is a grainy photo seemingly from a security camera that shows, instead of an adult’s bedroom, a child’s room, with that child standing up in his crib while a dog barks at something unseen off camera but obviously coming from the bathroom.
I like the fact that they carried over the major graphic elements from the first movie since it creates a nice brand franchise consistency. Some might think it’s lazy design but I think it works for what it’s trying to accomplish, which is to sell audiences on the idea of having an experience with this movie that’s similar to the one they had with the first.
If there’s anything about the actual story here it’s hidden in quick cuts and mystery.
The first trailer starts off by reminding us that the first one was a hit because we demanded it, which this one will then ask us to do as well. But all we get in terms of movie footage is some grainy security camera footage of a child’s bedroom, which the family dog is also sleeping in until it senses something and starts barking. What it is remains unseen until something suddenly, after one of those quick cuts, is there standing in the doorway, the dog nowhere around.
That’s about it, though, aside from a slightly revised version of the same trailer that was released well after the initial debut which had a couple of hidden scenes that lasted only a fraction of a second. One of those was a shot of the baby being held by a girl but without any additional context.
The next trailer (second or third, depending on how deep into symantics you want to get) was dubbed a “fan trailer” and released first through Twitter. It features a bit more detail about the plot, including introducing us to the family whose house we’ll be watching get torn to shreds and how they initially react to the strange goings-on around them. It once again features lots of surveillance camera footage along with some that looks like it was captured on a video camera and is fairly spooky, with lots of quick cuts and people yelling at the camera.
The movie’s official website opens with an abridged version of the trailer and then changes to a still photo taken from the surveillance camera that’s in the baby’s room that we see from that trailer. That image then zooms in and you can move it to some extent with your mouse and you’ll hear a static like noise as you get closer to what you’re supposed to be looking at. It culminates in a close-up of the shot of the baby (there may be some other hidden images there but I couldn’t see anything) before the screen goes to black and the title reappears.
Before all that happens there are links on the site to Tweet Your Scream” – which just lets you send a Twitter update related to the movie and pre-populates that update with some recommended text and links – and such but afterward your only option is to share the page on Twitter or Facebook.
I’m not going to point out how sparse this site is since that’s largely, I think, by design. There’s no need on a movie like this to overburden the visitor with options. Just try to scare them, make the ask with the Tweet Your Scream thing and be done. It’s about setting up the mystery, not providing a lot of information.
The movie’s Facebook page has the trailer, some photos and a heavy emphasis on buying tickets. But as far as I scrolled down the Wall there were no official updates from the studio. Instead it was given over entirely to the fans and their discussions of the film.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Once again a core component of the movie’s marketing is the “Demand It” portion, where the audience expresses their desire publicly to see the movie.
This time things were a little different though. Instead of simply demanding the film in general, the carrot was held out that the 20 cities that generated the most demands for the film would receive screenings a day before it opens in the rest of the country. So the studio was offering audiences the chance to be first movers, early adopters, the ones who were the first to talk it up to their friends and thereby hopefully convincing them to go see it again over the weekend – this time buying tickets.
That effort ultimately resulted in about 250,000 people winning advance screenings of the movie, a number that will hopefully have a ripple effect when they see it and then encourage their friends to check it out the next day.
There were other, more traditional tactics (AdAge, 10/18/10) utilized as well. TV spots ran that featured the same sort of footage as was found in the trailer and there probably was some online advertising done as well. In fact the size of that traditional campaign was estimated to be between $14 and $17 million, far higher than what was spent on the first movie.
Media and Publicity
Much of the marketing seems to have been done on the assumption that by presenting a mystery similar to the first one the movie will sell itself to the audience that’s presumably just chomping at the bit to be scared again.
The studio sent out USB drives to a bunch of movie bloggers with a single video on it, video that looks like it was pulled from the same security camera the trailer takes the point of view of. The primary scene there is relatively tame – just a man checking on the baby in the crib – but there are spooky things hidden in the footage.
On the surface this seems like a decent campaign that, while small in nature and execution, is supporting a low-budget horror movie and so is more or less appropriately scaled. And that’s true to some extent.
What’s missing here is the same sort of emotional build-up that accompanied the first one, that sense of something truly unique and special that’s about to happen. I’m not sure it’s even possible for that to be recreated considering just how out of left field the first movie came, and there was plenty of buzz about the movie from the movie blogging press.
It comes down to trying to put the genie back in the bottle. So it doesn’t quite feel the same as the first movie from last year but does, in the end, work for what it’s trying to do here. Whether or not it works to bring in the same sort of crowd that made the first movie a word-of-mouth success story remains, of course, to be seen.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
- 10/21/10 – The Los Angeles Times looks at how Paramount has tried to recreate the phenomenon that was the first movie, from the story creation to the marketing.