The obligatory “Snakes on a Plane” post

Yes, I went to see SoaP last night. Despite the obvious expectations of seeing a movie “so bad, it’s good”, I didn’t think it was that bad; there are certainly more horrible movies out there. Though I don’t think it was originally intended to be this way, the movie eventually became a sad commentary on the clichéd rubbish that Hollywood pumps out, and to that effect, SoaP accomplished its task, keeping me (and the rest of the theatre) basically chuckling or in outright laughter throughout most of the movie – you just can’t take anything in this movie seriously. And of course, all of it builds up to the Samuel L. Jackson one-liner that fans had requested.

However, what I think is more important is how the hype and buzz about this movie came about – all of it happened through entirely untraditional channels, and SoaP may be the first movie that was heavily promoted and spread through viral marketing on the Internet, actively encouraged by New Line Cinema. This sets a precendent that other marketers are sure to notice

The viral spread

Viral marketing is nothing new. Basically, the concept of viral marketing is not to advertise by traditional methods, but rather by encouraging people and fans to spread the news of a product by word-of-mouth, to their friends, family and so-forth. This can be done by creating fun little web games that promote a particular product, and thus it is hoped that the game will be forwarded to friends. It’s called “viral” because the hype and buzz spreads from person-to-person, rather than from a particular media campaign (TV, billboard, etc.) directly to the person.

The rise of hugely popular social networks, such as MySpace, has made viral marketing more effective. Witness companies Unilever, using MySpace users to promote Axe deodourant. This method of advertising is extremely cheap compared to traditional methods, and can be very effective. It’s thus a low-risk option that’s just waiting to be exploited by more companies. Perhaps even more astonishing is the rise of companies like PayPerPost, which offers payment to bloggers who agree to write posts about certain products. In a way, these companies are just like regular ad agencies, except they’re operating in a new medium – the online viral market.

These techniques can be related to, or called “astroturfing”. The term itself is a play-on-words of the term “grassroots”, which basically means huge amounts of regular people voicing their support for a particular idea or policy. Astroturf, being fake grass, is thus the same to “grass” as “astroturfing” is to “grassroots” – apparent wide-spread user buzz about a particular product, when in fact the buzz or hype has been ochestrated.

Snakes on a Plane goes viral

The lead up to Snakes on a Plane and its move to viral marketing may have been accidental and unpredicated by the people behind the movie. When someone got wind of the absolutely outrageous title and concept, it apparently quickly spread throughout the web, becoming nothing short of an Internet meme.

This lead to many user-generated videos or art mocking or otherwise speculating on what might happen in the movie. A blog dedicated to it was even launched. And, of course, the many requests of a proper Samuel L. Jackson one-liner eventually lead New Line Cinema to re-open shooting of the movie in early 2006 for the explicit reason of adding this dialogue that users had so rampantly requested. In effect, New Line Cinmea was getting free advertising of their movie because of all the online buzz it was generating because of the outlandish concept. And, perhaps most importantly, they themselves decided to jump on the bandwagon, and further encourage more hype by actually yielding to users’ requests to make the move even more outrageous!

One could argue that the movie wouldn’t have generated so much buzz had it not been so outrageous, but one thing is for sure: There is no way this movie would have generated so much hype before its release if it were not for the web. I guarantee you that almost everyone in the theatre last night had read up on SoaP on the web before going to view it – heck, that’s the only way they would’ve known about it!

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