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IT the movie and its freakishly good marketing campaign

Alina Gorbatch
by Alina Gorbatch on October 29, 2020

IT, the movie directed by Andy Muschietti, was released in September 2017. As you probably know, it involves a scary ass clown, a bunch of kids, a small town, fear, darkness, and blood.  

IT was based on the book by Stephen King (take a moment to all hail the King). It's the second adaptation of the book, which definitely made the task more challenging for everyone involved. 

IT is one of the most instantly successful horror movies ever. It broke pre-sales records to become the top horror pre-seller of all time. It also became the top horror second-week-seller of all time. It's the highest-grossing horror movie. No recent film of the same genre came even close to the results of IT.

There are a couple of reasons for such success. Firstly, it's a good film (scored 7.3/10 on IMDb). Secondly, it's the all-embracing talent of Stephen King who creates stories like no one else. But also - and I am partly sorry and partly thrilled to point that out - it's the amazing marketing campaign behind IT.  

And this is what we shall explore in this article. 

The diversity of marketing campaign

IT's marketing campaign began early on and was as full and diversified as one can imagine. The official website for IT debuted on August 31, 2016. In addition to trailers, the website had a gallery, videos, and the 8-bit game "It: Enter the Sewer". Traditional media carried out interviews with anyone involved, including even the costume designer. Social media marketing (more on that later) was used to its full potential. Offline marketing (posters and billboards) and experiential offline marketing (also, more on that later) brought the horror to your doorstep.

If you weren't blind and deaf or ignoring the horror movie genre due to you know, wanting to sleep at night, you had no choice but to built up the excitement for IT.

The marketers appealed to all kinds of the target audience. They talked both to the younger ones through social media and offline marketing and to the nostalgic ones who remember the 1990s IT miniseries through 8-bit games. 

Whoever you were, it was simply impossible to hide from the face of the creepy clown and the iconic, instantly recognizable red balloon.

Trailers and posters

For horror movies, the most important thing in a trailer is to keep the balance between capturing the audience's attention and not revealing too much. Every turn of events, every door opening, every new voice should be sudden. If people know what's coming from the trailer, they won't be half as tense, and that's just not what you need as a sadist horror movie creator. 

Another most important thing in a horror movie is the villain. They are the most exciting, most memorable character. They are what the audience is looking forward to.

The burning questions, then, are: 

1. How much do you reveal in a trailer?

2. Do you reveal the villain?

The marketers behind IT opted to reveal the villain but to keep the story secret. 

This was clever for a number of reasons. 

First, many people already knew the villain from the books and from the previous screen adaptation. Seeing the new version of Pennywise the clown jump-started the conversation. The audience was instantly divided into the ones who loved the new look and the ones who hated it. By the time the second trailer was released, the word was already out. 

Second, the trailers didn't reveal the story. And everyone who's read Stephen King or watched the movies based on his books knows it's never mindless gore. 

As a result, the marketers found the balance: they gave a glimpse of something controversial to start the buzz, but they never showed anything real. The teaser trailer gathered 197 million views in the first 24 hours, making it the 5th most viewed trailer ever. It was released on March 29, 2017. Two official trailers followed, showing more glimpses of Pennywise, revealing his voice in the last trailer. 

Posters echoed the overall Pennywise-based marketing campaign, showing us just enough of the monster to get us excited.

Unleashing the power of social media

The arguably biggest role in the promotion of IT was attributed to social media. Let's break down the efforts, processes, and successes of the movie's social media marketing campaign. 

1. Official social media accounts

IT the movie got personal official social media accounts on every major social media network. Fans started following the accounts straight away. The Instagram IT movie account gathered 1.5 million followers and the Facebook page has more than 2 million likes. The Twitter account got 251 thousand followers, suggesting the audience preferred instantly visual Instagram content. Marketers also didn't ignore Reddit and created an account there, too. 

Official social media pages promoted the movie by posting images coupled with texts that are meant to scare you and suggest you overcome your fears. For many, watching horror movies is indeed about overcoming one's fears, so the message was justified. Besides, the imagery for IT is bright, captivating, and memorable, so combining the two it was a sure win. 

Another message that IT social media marketers promoted was positive: we're together against the evil. We're friends, and you, the viewer, are one of us.

Posts appeared multiple times a day.

Social media accounts also posted short reviews and quotes from movie critics and journalists. They included the quotes into the image, again combining the two powerful methods to nudge people to go see the movie. 

Besides, official social media accounts carried out short-term marketing campaigns. Surely enough, they did a marketing campaign for Halloween. They encouraged people to dress up as Pennywise for Halloween and share the photos on social media:

2. Influential social media accounts.

Yet, the social media campaign behind IT wouldn't be half as successful if it weren't for the real people's social media accounts that promoted the movie non-stop. The director, the producer, Warner Brothers, actors... Everyone was involved in the marketing campaign (was anyone paid extra for this, I wonder?..). 

One of the most influential accounts belonged to the director of the movie Andy Muschietti. Andy has almost half a million followers on Instagram. From very early on, he showed his ideas and sketches on the platform, letting people be a part of the IT creation. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

And here a little sketch i drew for pennywise’s “killmouth” , one of the comedic highlights of the film // acá un dibujito que hice para el momento mas humorístico de la peli . #ITMovie #killmouth

A post shared by Andy Muschietti (@andy_muschietti) on

He also posted behind the scene photos. Sometimes spooky... and sometimes cute.  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

I couldn't be more proud of these creatures. Jeremy where are u? IT Premiere is coming !!! PC:@instagrahamesmith #itpremiere #itmovie

A post shared by Andy Muschietti (@andy_muschietti) on

With his posts, Andy made fans feel like they were included in the making of IT. He took care of the old fans, too: Andy revealed multiple times in his Instagram that the plot will be more like the book as opposed to the previous miniseries adaptation. Closer to the release date, Andy started posting the posters of missing children and the photos of balloons with the countdown to the release date.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Andy Muschietti (@andy_muschietti) on

Barbara Muschietti, the producer of IT, also did her part in promoting the movie on Instagram. She posted background photos that gathered thousands of "likes" and was the first one to post the photos of all the kids from the Loser's Club, which caused an eruption of media attention. Together with Andy, she also did a Q&A on social media under the hashtag #AskITFilmmakers.

Another social media account that directly increased ticket sales for the movie was the Stephen King's Twitter account. The author has more than 6 million followers. But also, it's his approval that people were waiting for before making a decision whether to go and see the movie. After Stephen King praised the remake of IT, all the doubts of all the horror fans were gone. 

Stephen King also posted about IT many times after that, but perhaps the coolest tweet was this one:

Actors' and Warner Bro's accounts also promoted the movie. Bill Skarsgård, the actor who played Pennywise, has 1 million followers on Instagram and he posted enough promotional material to draw people's attention. Nicholas Hamilton, another actor with a large following, promoted the movie by posting images of red balloons. 

Social media marketers behind Warner Bros thought Christmas is as fitting a holiday as any to promote the horror movie. After all, it's also about children, isn't it?

Everyone involved in the making of the movie made sure their social media audience is aware, alert, and waiting. 

3. Guerilla marketing meets social media marketing

While all of the above is no doubt impressive marketing, it's not even close to some other ideas the geniuses behind IT came up with. Their end-goal was to take horror off the screen and to your doorstep. What would you do if you saw something creepy on the streets, right where you live? You'd take a photo and post it on social media. That's exactly what happened when people started seeing red balloons tied to the street sewer drains around Sydney.

Photos like this one became viral sensations. 

In another publicity stunt, the marketers organized a fake mass rally of the real-life clowns who've allegedly suffered from the horror movie. Journalists only revealed that the New York rally was fake and meant to promote the movie when they started researching the "victim" businesses and didn't find any.

While this seems like a counterintuitive tactic to attract viewers, it has a proven success record. Negative PR is what works for horror movies. Raw, for instance, benefited from the rumors that audiences vomited because of how intensely gory the film was. The House That Jack Built was often talked about in the context of people leaving the cinema because of its extreme violence. So why not promote the movie by suggesting it's so powerful kids can't even look at clowns anymore?

Finally, Warner Bros went big with offline marketing that's supposed to encourage UGC content: they created a replica of the movie’s haunted house in Hollywood, where people could take photos and post them on social media. It's been dubbed "the scariest place in Hollywood".

Conclusions and takeaways

Let's summarize what we learned about IT marketing and horror movie marketing in general. 

Firstly, the unprecedented success of IT was partly due to the large, diverse, and no doubt expensive marketing campaign. Investing more to get more was what worked for the marketers of IT. Secondly, the people behind IT used social media to its full potential. They revealed engaging details, made the audience feel like they are all in this together, built suspense, used recognizable imagery, and involved every relevant and influential person out there. And finally, what made this marketing campaign absolutely special was the tight connection between the offline and online worlds. The marketers managed to bring the horror closer to you and encourage tons of user-generated viral content. Sometimes, using only a thread and an infamous red balloon!

What can every marketer learn from the IT marketing campaign?

  • Look at every product launch as a PR opportunity and give it all you've got.
  • Create memorable imagery that will associate strongly with your brand.
  • Squeeze everything out of social media. Create official accounts and private accounts (for your employees). Post regularly. Combine images, texts, and quotes.
  • Work with social media influencers. It's unlikely that your CEO has many followers, so either promote their account to a point when they become an influencer or find existing relevant influencers and collaborate with them. 
  • Encourage user-generated content. 
  • Experiment. Strive to connect offline and online, to show parallels between your different marketing campaigns. Consider how Instagram-friendly your offline campaigns are. Will people want to post what they see on social media?

Keep calm and overcome your fears. If you do the marketing right, the creepy clown will come for everyone but you. 

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