If you’ve been anywhere near a newsfeed this week, you’ll have seen the clever “coffee shop surprise” viral ad for the remake of 70’s horror flick Carrie. The short video (it’s here if you’ve managed to miss it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlOxlSOr3_M) is set in a New York coffee shop, modified by some special effects pixies so that furniture, books and certain people can be moved by remote control.
Following an altercation between two ‘customers’ (actually plants), a woman appears to dash a man against a wall, hurl tables across the floor and knock books off the shelves, all with the power of her mind. Standard-issue reaction shots of actual customers perhaps overstate the genius of the stunt, but nonetheless the clip has whirled around Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere, and in so doing breathed new life into the deathly dull world of film promotion.
If you’ve been to any of my talks (if you haven’t, why the hell not?) you’ll know I identify six ‘story triggers’ – qualities a great story needs to be shareable and captivating. I won’t go into all of them now, but three of them – ‘funny,’ ‘shocking’ and ‘schadenfreude’ – will lead to a sure fire hit if you can combine them correctly, and the Carrie promo team have done just that. I would imagine that actually being present in the cafe wasn’t the terrifying experience it appears on film, but competent editing definitely ups the shock factor. Once grabbed by this, people are driven to share the ad through a mixture of growing hilarity and a desire to express just how dumb the chumps in the coffee shop were.
The team behind the video are clearly practitioners of something else I preach: they have created a story meme that can run and run. The video doesn’t make it immediately clear what its purpose is (it isn’t uploaded from the official movie YouTube channel, for instance), meaning the curious must explore to establish its links with the movie. This was a smart move – if fans come to the film’s website or Facebook page of their own volition they are far more likely to actually explore it. More interestingly, there’s plenty of creative follow-up coverage around the meme (which predictably was a big hit with blogs and viral aggregators). Celebbuzz, for instance, are running a competition offering $2,000 to the entrant best able to ‘flex like Carrie’ (the instruction is taken from the video’s own hashtag). The post (see it here: http://www.celebuzz.com/2013-10-07/see-how-its-done-flex-like-carrie-get-money/) invites readers to send in vines or images of their own ‘supernatural’ stunts.
For me, what is particularly exciting about this is what it says to the movie industry. Decades after other communications disciplines have become more flexible, more organic, more subtle, film promotion is still dominated by the press junket, an institution so dull it makes you want to burn a high school gym to the ground. The team behind Carrie show how much love and excitement you can generate by treating fans as something other than mindless celeb obsessives. Bravo.