Lionsgate Spills Blood Marketing Horror Flick

Movie Advertising Team Gets Tobin Bell to Put Himself into 'Saw III' Posters

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Think you put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into your marketing campaign? It's nothing compared to what Lionsgate Films is doing around the grisly horror flick "Saw III."

Not only have studio executives arranged blood drives in 25 markets across the country, they persuaded Tobin Bell, who plays the movie's sadistic villain, Jigsaw, to use his own blood on a promotional poster.

While Hollywood studios have spilled buckets of stage blood in the quest to scare the pants off audiences, this is likely the first time the real thing has been employed as a buzz builder. It's also the first use of Mr. Bell in the marketing of the hugely successful "Saw" franchise, which so far has pulled in $247 million. The R-rated thrillers are always released around Halloween; "Saw III" opens Oct. 27.

While the approach is unique in Hollywood, it's not completely without precedent in the marketing world. Adidas drew blood from members of the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team and mixed it with ink for commemorative team posters given to consumers who bought $70 Adidas jerseys. All 8,000 jersey-and-poster combos quickly sold out, and a website that showed the players giving blood generated 95,000 hits in the first few weeks of the program. The campaign, dubbed "Bonded by Blood," came from ad agency TBWA/Whybin on a budget of less than $320,000.

Lionsgate executives said they wanted to do something unusual for "Saw III" to focus on the villain in the final weeks of the marketing campaign. Previous controversial ads and posters for the "Saw" films have used severed body parts such as fingers, feet and teeth and images of people trapped in torture devices.

Mr. Bell, a veteran actor who often plays the heavy, donated his blood for posters that feature his character wearing a crimson shroud under the tagline "Legends never die." His Jigsaw serial-murderer character is thought to be critically ill at the end of the second movie.

The studio printed 1,000 of the posters for movie theaters and other high-traffic entertainment venues. Some will be sold on the Lionsgate website for $20, with proceeds going to the American Red Cross.

Tim Palen, Lionsgate's co-president of marketing, said he had the idea to use real blood in the posters because he figured it would create the most authentic shade of red. Blood has been such an integral part of the franchise's marketing that Mr. Palen thought it was time to use the real thing.

can we do that?

Another Lionsgate executive called Mr. Bell to see if he'd be up for it.

"His initial reaction was silence," Mr. Palen said. "Then he said, 'Can we really do that?' And then there was more silence."

After mulling it over for a few days, Mr. Bell agreed. Taglines for the previous films included "How much blood would you shed to stay alive?" and "Oh yes, there will be blood."

Still, it wasn't done strictly for the shock value, Mr. Palen said. "I didn't want it to be blatantly gimmicky," he said. "I didn't want to do something weird just for the sake of doing something weird."

There had to be a payoff, and Mr. Palen is pleased that the American Red Cross will benefit from the sale of the posters. One poster, with signatures from the cast, will be auctioned online and that money also will go to the Red Cross.

The studio has a track record now of collecting blood from fans. The "Saw" blood drive started with the release of the first movie in 2004. In its nascent stages, the drive collected 4,249 pints of blood at colleges and donation centers in 15 markets. The second drive last year for the sequel netted 10,154 pints.

This year's event has expanded to 25 markets and will include a donation station at the Lionsgate offices in Santa Monica, Calif., for the studio's employees. The goal is to double the previous year's donations.

As in past years, the studio has created slick movielike posters to lure blood donors under the tagline "Give 'til it hurts," complete with attractive women dressed as naughty nurses.
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