Sunday, December 23, 2007

CLOVERFIELD: Marketing the American Godzilla

Last week, I spent 2 hours of my life learning about Slusho drinks and Tagruato's deep sea drilling. If you don't know what I'm talking about, first go watch the trailers for Cloverfield (first the teaser, then the full trailer).

Now, in one sense, Cloverfield isn't unique at all—it looks like a retelling of a tired genre, the Japanese monster movie. In another sense, however, it's innovative because it tells that story from the point of view of a small group of people. Unlike Godzilla, a monster which also attacks New York (why New York? Why not Charleston, West Virginia [thanks for the correction, Joe!] or Flagstaff, Arizona?), the viewer will probably have more invested in what happens to the main characters. It's like Blair Witch meets 9/11 and Godzilla. It's not surprising J. J. Abrams is behind this project—Cloverfield is a close cousin of Lost: put people you care about in an insane situation and see how they react.

Lost's popularity lays in the "peeling of the onion"—the more layers you peel back, the more layers you find. Each answer only gives you more questions. Of course, foreplay only lasts so long and some viewers have become frustrated with Lost's serpentine plotlines, while others are drawn to the story's emotional core: its characters. As in real life, Lost's story comes to you in scattered pieces of information. Like Ian Fassburg used to say, "A woman who's almost naked is far sexier than a woman who's totally naked." Viewers like to be given a challenge, a puzzle to figure out.

This is why Cloverfield looks to be such a great film. By framing the story from the point of view of strangers, without the benefit of any omniscient "meanwhile..." cutaways, the viewer is immediately handicapped and must struggle along with the characters to make sense of the impossible. A monster attack? What monster? How big is it? Where did it come from? What damage is it doing? What does it look like? Can it even be beaten? What will happen to us? What will happen to the city? What will happen to the world? These questions are visceral, emotional, atavistic. The trailer exploits that by piggybacking on the fears of another cataclysmic attack like 9/11... it's not by coincidence the characters witness a huge explosion from a Manhattan rooftop.

Some other simple tricks to hook the viewer into the story—the release date synchs up to the story's time, so photos taken in the film (and posted on the official web site, pictured at left) are datestamped to when the film is set for release... so the viewer will be able to easily imagine they're watching a live telecast. The first trailers didn't even list a movie title, just 1-18-08, the release date of the film. Even after the title was released, Abrams said the only official web site for the movie is, but as of today there's nothing much on that site except for a few photographs. Flipping the photographs on (it's a Flash site) gives you more information about the characters, which leads—with some detective work—to their Myspace profiles:

Look at each profile carefully—each person has each other person's profile in their top 8 friends list. Clever!

Rumors were also circulated that the film's title was to be called Slusho. Slusho? What the hell is that? A Google search for "Slusho" yields as the top result, which appears to have nothing to do with Cloverfield... at first glance.

But look closer: the site has a commercial contest where the public can submit their own commercial for Slusho. The address for contest submission is Bold Futura, LLC, 1223 Wilshire Boulevard, No. 1422, Santa Monica, CA 90403. Huh? What's a Japanese company doing with a Santa Monica address?

Researching Bold Futura, LLC took me to, which was live when I saw it, but is now defunct. From that site, I first heard about their affiliate company, Tagruato, a deep sea drilling company. A glance at Tagruato's web site,, shows an interactive map of deep sea drilling; their most recent, and biggest, drilling rig is in the Atlantic Ocean, not far from New York City... Googling Tagruato led me to an intriguing blog at, which appears to be run by a Greenpeace-like group blaming Tagruato for destroying our oceans. On that blog, they claim to have received notes from whistle-blowers inside the deep sea drilling company that "bad things are happening."

ALL these sites have been created to promote Cloverfield and, without realizing it, you can easily get pulled into this alternate reality and start to care about the characters listed on Myspace. This kind of marketing isn't new—it's called "immersive entertainment" and it's been used for films before. The goal is to create a world where easter eggs are sprinkled across multiple web sites for those curious enough to seek them out. When someone finds a new piece of the puzzle, they discuss its meaning and import with others and the end result is a phenomenal word of mouth about the movie. I mean, look at me... I'm practically a walking advertisement for a movie I haven't even seen yet.

I had so much fun learning about this marketing campaign that I just had to buy my own Slusho T-shirt and baseball hat... I'm told the box it arrives in includes newspaper stuffing offering even more clues about the movie!

If you want to know the complete lowdown about the ad campagin, here's a real site which lays out everything currently known about each of the sites listed above:

And don't forget to see Cloverfield on January 18th!

No comments: