Case Study: Sony’s ‘2012’ Campaign

Find out the truth: Search 2012.

If you can’t quite place where you’ve seen this line, think back to the bus shelters, billboards, and movie trailers that have recently crossed your path. Chances are you’ve been exposed to an ad for the upcoming Sony Pictures film “2012,” a disaster movie about a “global cataclysm” predicted by the Ancient Mayans to take place on December 21, 2012.

The movie’s marketing and advertising efforts first made it onto our radar last year, when an early trailer for the film encouraged audiences to “Google 2012.” At the time, Sony Pictures wasn’t yet running any paid search advertising surrounding the picture. Some bloggers criticized the call to action as being misleading and irrelevant, while others heralded Sony’s effort to build excitement around a theme that is actually based in historical fact.

Nearly a year later, Sony Pictures Digital’s online marketing campaign is going strong, and even includes the search advertising that was previously missing. The question now is whether its approach will be successful, and whether those of us watching can draw any marketing insight from its strategy.

That strategy is an interesting combination of teaser ads (like those of the “Search 2012” variety), viral marketing, and traditional motion picture advertising. Entertainment companies generally have the luxury of large advertising budgets, which affords them the ability to combine more experimental techniques with those tried-and-true methods known to deliver results. In addition to its teaser ads, Internet users will find the official Sony Pictures movie site, and a related microsite at In the film, this fictional organization, known as “The IHC,” is tasked with determining how best to ensure the perpetuation of the human race.

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The film’s marketers have parlayed this theme into a robust site that encourages visitors to immerse themselves in the film’s storyline through background information about The IHC organization, fictional news releases, and interactive features like registering for a “Survival Lottery” and voting for a post-2012 leader. Those who choose to do the latter can be entered in a contest to win a trip to the Mayan Ruins in Cancun, Mexico, among other prizes.

The shrewd marketing ruse continues when, in the “About The IHC” section of the site, a second viral site address is mentioned: The blog is maintained by “Apocalypse Prognosticator Charlie Frost,” one of the movie’s lead characters played by actor Woody Harrelson. Naturally, The IHC also has a YouTube channel, Facebook group, and Twitter handle. Even Charlie Frost has a fan page on Facebook, further blurring the line between fiction and reality.

As if that wasn’t enough, reports that at least four other sites, along with related social media communications, are being maintained, including one for the conspiracy book written by another fictional character from the film played by John Cusack.

We’ve seen a lot of examples of brilliant online movie marketing in our day, but Sony has really thought of everything when it comes to promoting the “2012” film online in a manner that intrigues and engages potential audiences. Most notably, this isn’t just another case of a rudderless ship. Far too often in our industry the “big idea” isn’t followed through with, particularly when that idea involves ongoing maintenance in the form of a blog, Twitter account, or Facebook page. When updates drop off, it dilutes and detracts from the campaign, reducing its value in the eyes of the consumer — and worse still, the value consumers perceive to be placed on it by the advertising brand.

To its credit, Sony not only started early, launching its official and viral sites months prior to the film’s upcoming November release date, but has been consistent with its updates and posts, even providing users with entertainment supplementary to the film in the form of side-stories, such as the supposed resignation of The IHC’s communications director.

As the marketers behind “2012” keep us actively participating in their viral campaign and anticipating the film’s release, we have to wonder what percentage of consumers are actually making the time to explore the film on such a deep level. One might argue it doesn’t matter; the press resulting from the campaign is enough to draw audiences to the theaters, and in this age of online marketing, do entertainment companies really even have a choice?

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