J.J. Abrams, Viral Marketing Champion

Companies sometimes use viral marketing techniques to catch their target demographics’ attention (Bizweb Journal, n.d.). Other forms of advertisement perform the same function, but viral marketing involves their targets in such a way that it could boost anticipation and even sales for an upcoming film, book, or video-game. Theresa Howard of USA Today even described it as “(…) today’s electronic equivalent of old-fashioned word of mouth” (Howard, 2005). Such form of marketing threads beyond the conventional advertisement, past radios, newspapers, and videos (Chron, n.d.). They could be online games, like AMC’s Mad Men Yourself dressing game to promote another season of the hit show (Mashable, 2009); they could be petitions, like Paranormal Activity’s “Demand It!” button to screen the movie in more cities (Entertainment Weekly, 2009); and they could be challenge trends, such as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, to raise awareness to the disease and donate to research centers (Time, 2015). All of them were curious enough to spark activities and discussions online, but there has not been a more common practitioner of the viral marketing campaign than filmmaker J.J. Abrams.

Before the release of Cloverfield in 2008, Abrams and production company Paramount Pictures commissioned a series of cryptic material for the world to see, decrypt, and promote (Bennett, 2007). The first of these is a mysterious trailer previewed along with the first Transformers movie, followed by websites for fictional companies and dossiers to piece together clues to the mystery that is Cloverfield and its universe (Little White Lies, 2018). They have carried on this tradition well after the found-footage monster movie’s release, with unusual release date announcements for later instalments. 10 Cloverfield Lane was announced a few months before its own release (Collider, 2016), and The Cloverfield Paradox released the same day it was announced (Deadline, 2018), with part of their own campaigns being an alternate reality game (IGN, 2018).

Among other projects beside the Cloverfield franchise, Abrams released a trailer for a mysterious project that was later revealed to be a book, S., which he co-wrote with Doug Dorst (Nerdist, 2013). One other example for his knack for viral marketing campaigns is perhaps his most publicized, which is the Force for Change campaign, partnered with Disney. In this campaign, fans would have to donate to supported charities in order to have cameo appearances in The Force Awakens, sell exclusive merchandize, and meet the cast and crew (Force for Change, 2015). Promoting this campaign further, Harrison Ford appeared in a charity video to surprise fans (Entertainment Weekly, 2015).

References & Bibliography:

(ScreenCrush). (2018, February 5). Cloverfield Paradox – How All 3 Movies Connected. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqRl4kxkd0A

Abrams, J.J. (Director). (2015). Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Motion picture). United States of America: Lucasfilm Ltd./Bad Robot Productions/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

Anderson, K. (2017, May 10). The Secret of J.J. Abrams’ STRANGER Teaser Revealed. Retrieved April 21, 2018, from https://nerdist.com/the-secret-of-j-j-abrams-stranger-teaser-revealed/

Bennett, T. D. (2007, December 17). Producer Talks Cloverfield. Retrieved April 13, 2018, from https://web.archive.org/web/20071220142258/http://www.scifi.com/scifiwire/index.php?id=46450

Chitwood, A. (2016, January 15). Watch: ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ Trailer Reveals J.J. Abrams’ ‘Cloverfield’ Follow-Up-Surprise! Retrieved from http://collider.com/cloverfield-2-trailer-10-cloverfield-lane/

D’Alessandro, A. (2018, February 05). Netflix’s Ultimate Super Bowl Surprise: ‘The Cloverfield Paradox’ Streams After Big Game Tonight – Watch Trailer. Retrieved April 21, 2018, from https://deadline.com/2018/02/cloverfield-sequel-god-particle-super-bowl-trailer-netflix-streaming-release-1202276386/

Dornbush, J. (2018, January 31). Rumors, Clues, and Theories to Know About Cloverfield 3. Retrieved April 21, 2018, from http://me.ign.com/en/movies/143006/news/rumors-clues-and-theories-to-know-about-cloverfield-3

Giroux, J. (2016, February 19). ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ Viral: What’s in the Box? Retrieved from http://www.slashfilm.com/10-cloverfield-lane-viral-box/

Gleiberman, O. (2009, October 7). ‘Paranormal Activity’: A marketing campaign so ingenious it’s scary. Retrieved from http://ew.com/article/2009/10/07/paranormal-activity-marketing-campaign/

Grove, J. V. (2009, July 30). MadMenYourself: Create a Mad Men Inspired Avatar for Twitter, Facebook, and iPhone. Retrieved from https://mashable.com/2009/07/30/madmenyourself/#a4_5g_GqmOqA

Howard, T. (2005, June 22). ‘Viral’ advertising spreads through marketing plans. Retrieved April 17, 2018, from https://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/advertising/2005-06-22-viral-usat_x.htm

Johnston, K. (n.d.). Traditional Advertising vs. Unconventional Advertising. Small Business – Chron.com. Retrieved from http://smallbusiness.chron.com/traditional-advertising-vs-unconventional-advertising-26379.html

Onah, J. (Director). (2018). The Cloverfield Paradox (Motion picture). United States of America: Paramount Pictures/Bad Robot Productions/Netflix.

Overloop, J. V. (2017, April 03). How To Attract More Consumers With Viral Marketing – Bizwebjournal. Retrieved from https://bizwebjournal.com/viral-marketing/

Reeves, M. (Director). (2008). Cloverfield (Motion picture). United States of America: Paramount Pictures/Bad Robot Productions.

Smith, N. (2018, January 13). Remembering Cloverfield’s bizarre, groundbreaking viral marketing campaign. Retrieved from http://lwlies.com/articles/cloverfield-viral-marketing-campaign/

Tratchenberg, D. (Director). (2016). 10 Cloverfield Lane (Motion picture). United States of America: Paramount Pictures/Bad Robot Productions.

Wolff-Mann, E. (2015, August 21). ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: What Happened to The Money | Money. Retrieved from http://time.com/money/4000583/ice-bucket-challenge-money-donations/


2 thoughts on “J.J. Abrams, Viral Marketing Champion”

  1. This idea of viral marketing really can be applied to many forms of media, in the end. I like the examples you provided, such as the Force for Change campaign. It seems as a whole that the best of “viral marketing” is when you engage the potential audience into an activity, such as once again Force for Change which did engage people into giving money.

    This reminds of a case with a video game I was anticipating back in 2013, Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, where the developers had hidden hints about the plot, release date and even a free copy of the game (which I did get!) if you dug well enough into the website’s source code, which led to a lot of discussion at the time. A more recent example of this, though I am not a fan of this franchise, is for the Five Nights at Freddy’s games where the developer, similarly to the previous case, used the official website to hide information about the lore, which created further speculation about the games, and thus, has created a sort of “unofficial” marketing campaign since everyone was talking about how obscure the methods were to find that lore.

    As a whole, do you think that it’s good to build such a high anticipation with such tactics?


  2. That’s such an interesting way to not only collaborate with the star wars fans but also do something for a really good cause. I think that a lot of people try and incorporate this, like YouTubers, for example, having people like jacksepticeye having live streams done for hours so his audience and him can raise money for charity.


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