Digital A-List 2008

Digital A-List 2008: No. 10, 'Cloverfield'

A Chancy Experiment Created an Immersive Online Marketing Experience

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Just as 7UP once marketed itself as "The Uncola," "Cloverfield" likewise assumed the "un-" mantle. It was "The Unmovie."

The J.J. Abrams-produced horror movie played hard to get through the late summer and fall of 2007. A mysterious online movement was a key ingredient in the run-up to the movie.
David Baronoff, executive-new media at Bad Robot Productions
David Baronoff, executive-new media at Bad Robot Productions Credit: Darryl Estrine

First, there was that trailer. Preceding Paramount's summer hit "Transformers," the studio's "Cloverfield" trailer was visceral, chaotic, unsteady and -- in a first for the Motion Picture Association of America -- untitled. (It'd been shot under code names such as "Cheese" and "Slusho!" to throw off pesky movie bloggers such as Harry Knowles.)

Then, slowly, websites bubbled up, all strangely industrial, enigmatic and, maddeningly, unacknowledged by the producers -- a Japanese deep-sea drilling company called Tagruato, an addictive iced beverage called "Slusho!" -- all of them laced with concepts that would resurface in the movie about The Monster Who Ate New York.

"Cloverfield" wasn't just unique in its obliqueness; it was also a chancy experiment that an immersive online marketing experience could well become an obsessive one.

David Baronoff, executive-new media at Mr. Abrams' Bad Robot Productions, developed the viral web campaign. "We asked, 'How can we start telling the story of this movie right away and make the audience active and not passive? How can we start a relationship with the audience much earlier than the film itself?'" he says.

But could Bad Robot ride the buzz all the way to the film's January debut? Would it build like "The Blair Witch Project" or crash like "Snakes on a Plane"? "Cloverfield," directed by Matt Reeves, opened at more than 3,400 theaters on Jan. 18, grossing just shy of $17 million in North America on its first day, according to Box Office Mojo, and just over $40 million on its opening weekend -- the most successful January release ever. To date, worldwide box office for "Cloverfield" has topped $152 million.

Mr. Baronoff tells Ad Age that as a result of the success of the "Cloverfield"-related sites, Bad Robot is "in discussions with partners to create [original] content for new media." He won't say exactly who the creative partners are. One thing's for certain, though: The clues are probably online ... somewhere.
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