The Palm Theatre had only a few empty seats as the opening credits of the paranormal thriller “The Fourth Kind” rolled to claps and multiple cheers of “I love free s#$%” by Cal Poly students, who were treated to the movie free of charge four days earlier than national audiences. The free screening for Cal Poly students is one part of NBC Universal’s two-pronged marketing campaign, the other being viral, or word of mouth, marketing.
NBC Universal approached the Palm Theatre and Associated Students Incorporated (ASI) about a possible pre-screening of the film to help promote it. ASI pays nothing for the movie and gets free handbills and posters to help advertise. The Palm is rented out for the evening and the income from that is comparable to a normal night of movies, Cameron Bowman, general manager of the Palm said.
The idea behind the free showing is that it will create a conversation about the film in a key demographic group, Missi Bullock, ASI programs director said.
“It’s something special and exclusive,” Bullock said. “It is only for Cal Poly students before the movie is ever released. (NBC Universal) wants to generate this kind of buzz about their new movies.”
There is quite a buzz already surrounding the movie on the Internet. The claim that the movie is based on actual events has got people talking.
This is just the type of Internet conjecture that studios want to start, said Randy Frank, chief risk officer of the New York branch of 7th Chamber, a viral media marketing company based out of London that has done marketing for Nike, Aston Martin and MTV.
“I’m quite sure what (NBC Universal) did was seed blogs and speak on the social media profiles,” Frank said. “Entertainment companies understand that all buzz is good buzz. Any kind of controversy and you’ve got people talking.”
Universal Studios declined to comment on the marketing behind the movie.
Similar techniques have been used with other recent movies. The studios behind “Cloverfield”, “The Dark Night”, and “Paranormal Activity” all successfully used viral marketing via the Internet to get people talking about their movies.
The pre-screening is another, more concentrated, step in the viral marketing process, Frank said. It targets a direct demographic market and is made to reach what Frank called “influencers”; people who will talk to other people and will comment on the movie.
At a pre-screening, much of the following conversation will be based on what the audience thought of the movie. Cal Poly students were not totally sold on the film.
“The way they integrated the real footage with the reenacted footage was pretty interesting,” industrial engineering freshman Ryan Basilio said. “I don’t know, I’m still skeptical. I was digging the handheld camera thing though.”
Business administration graduate Nate Pasile enjoys scary movies but thought this one was just average.
“Aliens creep me out, so it was cool the way they used actual footage,” Pasile said. “But I would say you could wait to see it.”
Some students weren’t convinced in the slightest.
“If people are going to make things up they need to better at it,” modern language and literature senior Christian Rojas said. “One thing is making art and the other thing is just trying to make money and I really think that’s what this was.”
“I wouldn’t recommend it to other people,” Rojas said. “No, definitely not.”
“The Fourth Kind” will be in widespread release tomorrow.