Getting People Talking About Your Stuff (Like District 9)

29 August, 2014

There is no rule book to ensure that your marketing campaign goes viral and gets people around the world talking about your stuff. But there are a few things to look out for… 



We’ve seen some remarkable movie marketing campaigns in the last 15 years. This one for ‘District 9’ is certainly among that creative bunch.

District 9 takes place in Johannesburg, South Africa and follows the events after an alien spacecraft enters the city’s airspace. The alien population of this ship is then confined to a government camp as prisoners. After some time, conflict occurs between the aliens and the locals, and the movie focuses on the process of moving these aliens to a new internment camp outside the city.

Based on this periodic unrest between alien and human, Sony Pictures launched its “Humans Only” marketing campaign designed around the segregational billboards that appeared in the movie. Posters, billboards and signs began to pop up in major cities throughout the world a year before the movie’s official release letting people know that these areas weren’t non-human friendly!

They added further reality to this campaign by providing free phone numbers to report ‘non-human’ activity, and more so launching a website run by the fictional military company MNU as appeared in the movie (which has since been taken down due to a proposed sequel). This brought life to the entire concept through news feeds, alert systems and regulations for Johannesburg inhabitants.

Okay, this doesn’t achieve the effect that ‘The Blair Witch Project’ marketing campaign did though it’s a solid effort. We know that aliens don’t live in Johannesburg, but the combined promotional materials create a sense of buzz for sure, and no doubt strengthens the case to go and see District 9 at the cinema.

It’s possible that the producers succeeded here because of its timing. Just a year prior to the movie launch, Johannesburg experienced a handful of xenophobic violence where locals rioted and attacked migrants from other countries such as Zimbabwe and Mozambique that also lived in the city. This is news that made global news bulletins, so it’s no wonder how this campaign brought reality to the “Humans Only” messages that also appeared worldwide. This is just speculation of course, but who else can see the similarities?

So to the stats. Before the release of District 9, its YouTube trailer had in excess of 25 million views, its Facebook page over 300,000 fans, and average Twitter conversations of 47,500 per day for “District 9”. The movie made 7 times its production budget at box office and won a string of awards making it one of the success stories of 2009. Not at all a bad outcome.

Lesson: Timing is everything. If you can give reality to something as spectacular as aliens living on earth by triggering a memory of a previous event (in this case a news story) and back it up with the relevant materials (such as a website), then people are always going to be interested in what you have to offer. All triggered by a “Humans Only” alien poster at the bus stop.

For a whole year bloggers, marketers, Sci-Fi fanatics and movie lovers were all asking themselves “What is District 9?” This is the power of real Buzz.

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