Transformative Movie Marketing

I’ll never forget the request from the advertising production company for the Michael Jackson/Pepsi commercial in which the iconic performer took the stage as part of a simulated concert. The shot required recruiting thousands of extras off the street to serve as the audience, yet all were strictly forbidden to record or photograph any aspect of the event. (Fat chance.)

Flash forward to today when literally anyone with a smart phone has the capacity to not only create original content, but to socially syndicate it as well. This relatively recent phenomenon was not lost on one enterprising young man with a personal interest in the latest Transformer’s film “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”

Kevin Lee, a video essayist who initially set out to make a documentary on the making of the film, was “surprised by the hundreds of videos of filming that remained online. In a blockbuster film about humanoid robots, humans had become part of the giant marketing machine.” Mr. Lee aggregated the outdoor video taken by the public onto an online platform to publicize the film. Here’s Transformers: The Pre-Make:

In reporting on the PR/marketing ploy in her New York Times piece “Transforming Phone Video Into Publicity and a Film,” Cara Buckley writes:

“The chaos was manufactured for the shooting of “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” which opens June 27, with much of the amateur filming of the shoots posted online. And many of those videos, along with shorts made by passers-by at the other filming locations in Utah, Texas, Detroit and China, serve as both source and subject of an independent 25-minute film, ‘Transformers: The Premake,’ being unveiled online Tuesday on YouTube, which examines the making of a Hollywood blockbuster in an international marketplace.”

There are countless examples of companies who have tapped the crowd for consumer-generated branded content that extolls a particular product or service – for better or worse. Yet, I’m not aware of any such efforts that resulted in an unauthorized trailer for a national theatrical release. Mr. Lee observed:

“These videos are up there for a reason.  It’s not just because fans put them there, but because they’re allowed to be there. They’re part of the promotion and the prerelease buildup.”

I did however find it surprising that Paramount Pictures, which will release the film, disavowed any participation in the initiative, and even declined to be interviewed for the Times piece. Here’s the “official” trailer. (Yawn.)

Something tells me that the advance buzz Mr. Lee and his cohorts will generate may serve as a transformative moment for Paramount.

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