Best of 2009: Paranormal Activity Finds Abnormal Amount of Success Thanks to Online Following

As we approach year’s end, I’ve begun to think back to some of the best examples of digital campaigns in 2009. One in particular stands out to me–Paranormal Activity.

I’m not a fan of scary movies, but I have great respect for the creators of Paranormal Activity, a low-budget horror flick released earlier this fall. With a miniscule budget of just $10,000, Paranormal Activity was able to reach blockbuster status after bringing in $22 million in its first weekend in wide-release. And it was all thanks to the power of social media.

While the film earned respectable viewership while in limited release, Paramount Studios saw even greater potential in mainstream audiences—but before investing the cash, they wanted to make sure. The studio launched a grassroots digital campaign to generate buzz around the film and gauge interest from potential viewers. Should 1 million viewers announce online that they’d like to see the film, Paranormal Activity would be expanded to wide-release across the country.

This campaign was hugely successful and the online chatter surrounding the psychological thriller was even more than expected. Horror film buffs took to their blogs, Twitter pages and Facebook account not only asking, but demanding to see the film in wide-release.

“The fans have really made this their film and they are doing the bulk of the work to market the film,” said Megan Colligan, co-president of marketing for Paramount Studios.

The grassroots approach enabled consumers to feel like they were a part of a movement and encouraged them to spread the word—a benchmark of a successful online campaign. Even though I respect and appreciate what the marketers were able to accomplish, I’ll stick to watching It’s a Wonderful Life this time of year.

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3 Comments

Filed under Best Practices, Film

3 responses to “Best of 2009: Paranormal Activity Finds Abnormal Amount of Success Thanks to Online Following

  1. Lauren, excellent post about the grassroots campaign run by Paramount!

  2. Ian

    Thanks for the comment and link Lauren. I’m going to go out on a limb here though, I think, because I kind of take an alternative view. I understand why so many say it was a successful online campaign but, sigh, I’m conflicted. One thing that struck me immediately was that Paramount was already set on a mid-October wide release over a month in advance of the million figure being hit on the “Demand” online lever (and I must confirm this, but I suspect in advance of the lever even being deployed).

    Second, I don’t think the $22 million opening weekend is that remarkable—isn’t that about average for fall-release horror movies (Texas Chainsaw, the Amityville Horror)? I totally accept your point that its b-o was startling for an (to all intents and purposes) assets-less, low-budget pic competing against established franchises, plus the fact that (compared to those franchises) it had about a thousand less playdates when it went wide also gives me pause … but I have to allow for the fact that Paramount invested $10 million in marketing and distribution, bracketing the whole thing with conventional (high) ad spend in old media for national audiences—which it would do with or without the web—at which point I’d argue the film isn’t assets-less in the market. So I’m with you in spirit, but perhaps just not on paper!!

    • laurenbegley

      Thanks, Ian. I appreciate your point of view. However, I’m sticking my my original argument. To address your first point, I don’t think it makes a difference whether or not the wide-release was already planning or not. The fact is, the buzz campaign put out a call to action (post your support of a wide-release online) and over a million people did just that. The success is that the consumers became the marketers, which is difficult to achieve in a (seemingly) organic way.

      Your second point, I think, is valid. Perhaps $22 million isn’t far above similar fall-release horror films from the past. However the return on investment from around $10,000 is still impressive, and I continue to argue that the creative marketing played a role in that. Thanks again for your feedback. I hope you’ll share your thoughts on future posts as well!

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