LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- Columbia Pictures' marketing credo for its new Roland Emmerich disaster epic, "2012," seems to be "Google it." The Sony-owned studio has abandoned plans for a Super Bowl ad hyping the film in favor of an online campaign, run with the help of Google's search engine.
In the film's initial trailer, a panting Tibetan monk huffs frantically up the spine of a lofty mountaintop and sounds a warning bell about an unseen, imminent danger. But it's too late: Suddenly, the better part of the Indian Ocean crests the Himalayas and washes away the monk, his monastery and, presumably, the rest of Asia. But instead of directing viewers to a traditional movie website, the trailer uses the tagline "Google Search: 2012."
Because movie websites preach to the converted, they can't do much to fill seats at the multiplex. But you can bet a lot of people are going to be Googling "2012" in the next few years, and a better profile among those searches won't hurt the film.
Year of the apocalypse?
If the year 2012 doesn't immediately conjure images of the apocalypse for you, you're clearly not associating with the right internet conspiracy theorists -- and that is exactly why the studio teamed with Google.
Just type "2012" into Google's search engine, and hundreds of thousands of entries erupt, but the biggest beneficiaries are Wikipedia and IMDB, whose synopsis of the film was No. 2, as well as paid ads for self-published, fundamentalist-Christian end-of-days books.
What does not immediately appear in a Google search for "2012" (not yet, anyway) is the usual movie-studio-produced promotional site for the film -- at least until you scroll about halfway down the first page of Google's search results.
"Instead of sending them [directly] to our website, why not let them do some research on their own? People seem to like to work a little bit," said Valerie Van Galder, co-president of Sony Pictures' worldwide marketing and distribution, adding: "We're hoping people will become curious about it, and we'll start to release more materials that will be less esoteric."
'Sneaky viral plan'
Michael Wimer, the film's producer, said a "sneaky viral plan" is already under way to "seed the internet with mad prophesizing" during the next three weeks. Part of that will be audio blogs voiced by characters in the film, including one from Woody Harrelson, who plays a seemingly mad doomsayer with his own cable-access show.
"We're going to pluck the same chords that either scientists or prophesiers would," Mr. Wimer said. "The fringe audience is out there, but it's bigger than you think."
For instance, Sony's head of digital marketing, Dwight Caines, disclosed that some Google search results for "2012," while not optimized, were nonetheless part of the studio's viral-marketing campaign. (One such bogus Sony site, instituteforhumancontinuity.org, has been offering "lottery tickets" for those interested in being saved from certain destruction in 2012. Just plug in your e-mail address, and you'll begin to get messages from its "communications director.")
While the film is far from No. 1 on Google, it is No. 1 somewhere else: YouTube. As of press time, the trailer was No. 1 on the Google-owned video site (synergy!), where it has had nearly 1.3 million views and 5,521 comments in the past month.
No Super Bowl spot
"2012" is scheduled to open on July 10, but unlike many summer blockbusters, it won't be a debutante in the costly, ad-festooned NFL championship in Tampa Bay, Fla., this February.
"We're not going to do a Super Bowl spot," Mr. Wimer said. "There's so many pictures that buy those spots, you get lost in the crowd, and frankly, we could use that money a lot more effectively in this clever [online] way."
A single spot in this year's Super Bowl costs an estimated $2.7 million.~ ~ ~ Michael Learmonth contributed to this report.