This cult fantasy flick went largely ignored in theaters when it came out in 1983, but the marketing had other ideas. Krull was meant to be an enormous new franchise, and the studios – apart from the usual toy and board game tie-ins – thought to advertise in the weirdest way possible: by offering Krull-themed weddings to a few lucky sweepstakes winners. This is outrageous and hilarious. Who wouldn't want to meet the people who got married in Krull outfits?
This was one of the biggest hit films of the 1990s, and it likely owes a lot of its success to its clever marketing. Back when the internet was less ubiquitous, The Blair Witch Project set up a website that deliberately perpetuated the rumor that it was not a found-footage horror movie, but an actual documentary. Some people assumed it was all real. There was even a TV special to that effect. In retrospect, it's all clever and fun. At the time, it was terrifying.
Everyone remembers this one, because the marketing was funnier and better than the movie itself. To advertise, The Simpsons Movie famously transformed hundreds of 7-Eleven convenience stores into Kwik-E-Marts, complete with exclusive donuts and Squishees. There were lines around the block to visit a Kwik-E-Mart. And the products therein – Krusty-Os and the like – were prized jokes.
Ralph Bakshi's Cool World is a twisted cult film about a cartoonist who manages to break into his own animated creation, ruled by the ultra-sexy Holli Would. To advertise, the studio had the rather misguided idea to construct a 75-foot tall cutout of Holli to sit on the Hollywood sign. Many thought it was super-tacky, and it even blew over once and almost injured a hiker. The hubris elicits laughter.
William Castle, that master showman, is king of the theatrical gimmick, and his hilarious ad campaigns have instilled in his fans an undying loyalty and admiration. This is the man who put buzzers under people's seats for The Tingler. He sold death insurance in movie theaters (because the film was so terrifying!). He strung skeletons across theaters. There was nothing he wouldn't try. Castle's ad campaigns are the stuff of legend.
Ridley Scott's prequel(-ish) to Alien came almost pre-marketed to a generation of Alien fans, and it was one of the most hotly anticipated films of 2012. I laughed at how clever this was: To sell the flick, the studio staged an imaginary TED Talk, circa 2032, given by Mr. Weyland, the mastermind from within the film. He was a tech genius who felt that everything must be done if it can be done.
In early 1999, the only film anyone was talking about was a little something that had to do with a phantom menace. The makers of the Austin Powers sequel decided, in this hotbed of Star Wars enthusiasm, to punk audiences by making a trailer that looked like it was going to be for Episode I, but was actually Dr. Evil doing his namesake. This author witnessed several audiences losing their minds over the anticipation of new Star Wars footage, and then outraged over the fake-out. How brilliant to play with expectations like that. "If you see one movie this summer, see Star Wars," the preview said. "If you see two movies, see Austin Powers."
Pixar has always been clever, but this was the funniest ad campaign that they managed to put together. The villain from Toy Story 3 is a tattered pink teddy bear named Lots-O'-Huggin' Bear. Disney, once again with 100% authenticity, managed to create a fake television commercial for a Lots-O'-Huggin' Bear that looked as if it had been produced in 1985, complete with a VHS static. If I didn't know it was a tie-in, I would have assumed it was a real toy.
Men in Black was, in the summer of 1997, one of the biggest films of all time. The film, about two alien-policing secret agents who erased people's memories, was seen by everyone. How do you advertise a film that everyone has seen? Why, have the title characters appear on television and use their memory-erase devices on the populace. See it again, they said, for the first time. Gold.
Snakes on a Plane was far more notorious as an ad campaign than it ever was as a film. Part of the overwhelmingy talked-about ad campaign was a specialty phone call you could order for a friend, wherein star Samuel L. Jackson would ring up a friend of yours, address them by name, and insist in no uncertain terms that they should go see Snakes on a Plane. I unexpectedly received such a call. It was a pretty special - not to mention hilarious - moment.