World War Z

This beach-set video is one of several clips hosted on the page Crisis Zero, which appears to be documenting an impending zombie apocalypse but is actually viral marketing for the forthcoming World War Z.

World War Z

This beach-set video is one of several clips hosted on the page Crisis Zero, which appears to be documenting an impending zombie apocalypse but is actually viral marketing for the forthcoming World War Z.

World War Z

This beach-set video is one of several clips hosted on the page Crisis Zero, which appears to be documenting an impending zombie apocalypse but is actually viral marketing for the forthcoming World War Z.

"Take This Lollipop"

"Take This Lollipop" took home honors from Cannes for creator Jason Zada, thanks to the online experience’s widely shared and rather unsettling depiction of the potentially creepy downside to our social media usage.

"Take This Lollipop"

"Take This Lollipop" took home honors from Cannes for creator Jason Zada, thanks to the online experience’s widely shared and rather unsettling depiction of the potentially creepy downside to our social media usage.

The Walking Dead

In a South African promotion for the impending second season of Walking Dead in 2012, a fake romantic-comedy trailer played before the beginning of a real movie, during which a "real" zombie wandered into the theater. Admit it, you’d have been terrified if you were there.

"You're Next"

In order to promote the forthcoming horror movie, You’re Next, marketers grafted images onto posters for other Lionsgate movie posters--images that looked like reflections revealing the killers from the movie over viewers’ shoulders.

"You're Next"

In the movie, the killers are frequently shown observing their prey; the movie poster illusions worked to make viewers feel like they were being hunted.

"You're Next"

An online version of the campaign planted similar images in the Facebook pages of other Lionsgate horror movies.

"You're Next"

An online version of the campaign planted similar images in the Facebook pages of other Lionsgate horror movies.

"The Last Exorcism"

In 2010, Lionsgate found a clever way to channel the world’s brief fascination with random interaction site into an ingenious, chilling bit of viral marketing. Perhaps you were forwarded the video in which two hopeful Internet boys think they’re about to see some skin, and end up seeing so much more.

"The Last Exorcism II"

An ambient marketing plan for The Last Exorcism II interrupted a bunch of ladies’ hair salon visits with a visit from a highly acrobatic young lady able to mimic the "possessed" movements of the film’s lead character.

"Blair Witch Project"

One of the most masterful viral marketing efforts for a horror film was also one of the first. In 1999, Artisan Entertainment rolled out the faux-documentary Blair Witch Project with a pre-release focus online on the supposed directors of the film, who they claimed had disappeared. The resulting hype helped spread word-of-mouth about the movie far and wide, propelling it to eventually become one of the most profitable movies of all time. Members of The Haxans, the team behind the film, would go on to form Campfire, an agency specializing in immersive campaigns that blend fiction and reality.

Sadako 3-D

When it came time to promote Sadako 3-D, from the franchise that spawned The Ring movies, Japanese marketers tried a number of tactics, including having the lead character throw out the first pitch at a baseball game.

"Resident Evil"

When the team behind Resident Evil was promoting the game’s latest iteration in 2012, it created the No Hope Left website to show how humanity was suffering amidst zombie attacks and disseminated videos like this one.

"Resident Evil"

Also promoting the latest Resident Evil game, a human butcher shop was created, in perhaps the grossest PR stunt ever.

"Dead Man Down"

Because the 2013 film Dead Man Down hinges on a witnessed murder, agency Thinkmodo created an elevator murder experiment, wherein users witnessed a "murder" and had to decide what to do about it. Plenty of YouTube commenters cried BS, and those who believed it was real thought it went too far, but all of the reactions helped beat the drum for the film.

"13th Street"

The team promoting German horror channel 13th Street designed special bowling balls with spray gun artist Oliver Paass that look like decapitated heads. They were placed in an actual bowling alley.

"Paranormal Activity 4"

The viral campaign for 2012’s Paranormal Activity 4 involved YouTube videos from a social media-savvy new character tangentially tied into the series. Watching the videos, it seems as though he might be incurring some light demon possession.

"Paranormal Activity 4"

The viral campaign for 2012’s Paranormal Activity 4 involved YouTube videos from a social media-savvy new character tangentially tied into the series. Watching the videos, it seems as though he might be incurring some light demon possession.

"Paranormal Activity 4"

The viral campaign for 2012’s Paranormal Activity 4 involved YouTube videos from a social media-savvy new character tangentially tied into the series. Watching the videos, it seems as though he might be incurring some light demon possession.

Co.Create

Marketing So Good It's Scary: 12 Experiential Horror Campaigns That Went Viral

The horror genre has been an especially fertile ground for memorable immersive marketing. Here are 12 examples of campaigns that successfully used horror to get lots of, um, eyeballs.

Is it better to be loved or feared? While much marketing talk centers on the notion of brand love, perhaps as many of our buying decisions are essentially motivated by fear. If it isn’t the fear of missing out, it’s some other strain of dread that spurs consumers to whip out credit cards en masse. This could explain why horror--the genre that can most fully explore and exploit our fears--has yielded so many advertising gems.

The Crisis Zero website came online recently, apparently counting down until some sort of end of days scenario,and reporting on strange happenings along the way. It even includes footage of these instances as they occur--an ATM surveillance tape that ends in a customer running away, a happy couple on the beach who appear to meet with something horrific. While almost anyone who’s spent enough time on the Internet in the past few years would recognize this site and its videos as viral marketing for a horror movie (in this case, the forthcoming World War Z), there’s just something chilling about the idea of horror content leaking out of a movie and into one’s real life in some form.

Of course, World War Z is far from the first film to use such tactics. Since The Blair Witch Project jump-started the ambient horror marketing trend with its innovative efforts in 1999, many others have figured out new and exciting ways to frighten fans into submission. Have a look through the slide show above for 12 of the most effective horror-based campaigns of all time. (If you dare, that is.)

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2 Comments

  • Alex Billington

    I admire the work you put into this tracking down some of these campaigns, but barely half of them are successful. I'd argue that a LOT of these campaigns have not actually "gone viral" in the organic sense. They've been forced to go viral and have been forced into our sights because they have money behind them, but none of them have taken off in the definable "viral" sense or exploded or directly caused success.

    At least two of them (World War Z and You're Next) are referring to movies that have yet to be released and their success cannot even be measured beyond that the campaigns exist and were created. I don't want to be a troll, but I don't believe there is any research or confirmation behind whether these campaigns are truly "successful" or were just emails from publicists sitting your inbox that were referenced because they're all horror films. One of the first times I've ever felt a FastCo article has been inaccurate and nothing but pure hype.