Word-of-Mouth Movie Marketing: How-to?

How many of you haven’t enjoyed the movie “Napoleon Dynamite“? I bet atleast some of you would agree that it was a cool-lil flick that opened small (investment: $400K) and went BIG (BO: $45 mil; DVD sales: $104 mil). How about the sophomore effort of its director Jared Hess – “Nacho Libre“? It opened kind of BIG (2 weeks back) but then is slowly losing ground.

Some of the more recent “small” Indie films have gone wildly successful — thanks to unprecedented grassroots marketing. Cases in point: “The Passion of the Christ” and “Farenheit 9/11“. A cursory analysis of the “Passion of the Christ” phenomenon yields my 5 Commandments for creating a viral-movie-phenomenon (inspired by an article from the Hollywood Reporter & Jackie Huba‘s The 5 Steps of how a story spreads):

The 5 Commandments

(i) Thou shalt choose a topic or theme that is extremely close to the hearts and minds of a vast cross-section of the movie going public, thereby controversial. Religion or politics offer easy bait.

(ii) Thou shalt keep the movie making a closely guarded secret and let out some juicy tidbits every now and then. Always let rumors fly and stoke anticipation.

(iii) Upon completion of filming, show the movie ONLY to a handful of reviewers (not to all-and-sundry media), containing a mix of those you think may adore it and some who’d hate it – and I mean absolutely HATE it!

(iv) Thou shalt enable a press-frenzy around it which shall snowball due to lack of screenings. Slowly, expand your screenings to other leaders from within your target audience.

(v) Thou shalt “Go grassroots”: The Passion benefited from an enormous word-of-mouth from every possible quarter; the website being a critical component. Motive Marketing was the agency behind the successful web marketing for Mel Gibson. Check out the agency’s website here, and also check out similar successes that agency has spawned:

1. The Passion of the Christ
2. The Polar Express
3. The Chronicles of Narnia

In related developments, bloggers are playing an active role in creating buzz for upcoming films. Check out the hot new meme that is “Snakes on a Plane” by Jackie Huba.

Most importantly, thou shalt be passionate and shalt not worry about breaking conventions. Irrespective of the content of the movie, it took courage for Mel Gibson to pour in between $30-40 million of his own money and to be dumb enough to break just about every unwritten rule that Hollywood studios have carved out over the past years.

Word-of-mouth Movie Marketing is only for passionate risk-takers. Not for the passive risk-averse types. Or as Jon Heder says: “Just follow your heart”.

I wonder what my friend Mack Collier (Viral Garden) thinks about my take on Movie Marketing virally. Also, John Moore from Brand Autopsy has a nice article on movie marketers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Comments (



  1. Mario Sundar

    The post is out, Mack! : )

    Let me know what you think!


  2. Mack Collier

    “My next post will cover Music-Marketing.”


  3. Mario Sundar


    Your comments are very insightful. I didn’t know that Chronicles of Narnia wasn’t a HUGE success for Motive, per se.

    I think the SNL skit parodying “the Chronicles” was a huge hit however. Maybe, marketers should take themselves and the products they market a little lighter and allow for user feedback. Kind of like the “Snakes on a Plane” phenomenon.

    And you’re right, Don’t PUSH too hard! My next post will cover Music-Marketing. It’s all about Pull vs. Push, too!

    Thanks for your comments.

    – Mario

  4. Mario Sundar


    Thanks for the link to your post on Garden State. I did check Zach Braff’s new video blog.

    It’s a savvy move by a director who has already leveraged the web to generate enormous success for Garden State.

    On a personal note: I thought Garden State was overrated but a great movie-marketing case study.

    Hope to see you more often on my blog. Thanks.

    – Mario

  5. Mack Collier

    Mario I think you make some great points. IMO for a movie to have a successful viral campaign, you have to go grassroots. The reason that the campaign that Motive did for The Passion of The Christ was so successful, is because Lauer found the people (pastors) that WANTED to spread the message about The Passion, and he EMPOWERED them to market the film for him. That’s the key for any viral campaign to work, there has to be a reason for the person that comes in contact with the message, to want to spread it to other people. Churches were eager to spread the message of The Passion, and would have done so even if Motive hadn’t marketed to them. Lauer was smart enough to put the marketing materials in the hands of the people that wanted to promote his film. That’s why the marketing for The Passion worked so well.

    On the other hand, you can go too far. I think that Motive tried many of the same techniques when they marketed The Chronicles of Narnia, and many pastors weren’t thrilled. In fact there were many complaints about the movie being ‘pushed’ on pastors. Whereas the pastors definitely wanted to spread the message about a film detailing the final hours of Christ, not so many were as eager to promote a children’s fairy tale that MAY have some Christian symbolism.

    So IMO you have to be very careful. You don’t PUSH your marketing on people, you make it available to them, and pete’s sake, if your community is marketing your movie for you, do NOT try to stop them! This is where New Line really nailed it, when people started making their own trailers and promotional materials for Snakes on a Plane, the studio basically told the internet to ‘have at it!’. If they would have tried to throw around some legal muscle, it would have killed the movie before it ever hit the first screen.

    Great post Mario, and as you mention, Chris at Movie Marketing Madness is your man for movie marketing, there’s none better!

  6. Jason

    I think you have some good points. Garden State, and the way Zach Braff marketed that movie with his blog is another example of great movie marketing. Here is my post on that:


Create a website or blog at WordPress.com