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since 1997 | by maryann johanson

‘Cloverfield’ fans are Paramount’s slave-labor marketing bitches

Cloverfield is back. Remember the trailer for an unnamed movie everyone was so excited about a few months back, the one before Transformers about a mysterious monster attacking New York and knocking the head off the Statue of Liberty? There’s a second trailer now: it debuted before Beowulf over the Thanksgiving weekend and immediately afterward started showing up on YouTube in an impossible-to-watch cell-phone-cam version.

I watched it anyway, and found myself getting a little cheesed off. Not about the movie itself, but about how Paramount is marketing this. I can’t go into a press screening without having my bag rifled and my body wanded in search of cameras and other recording devices — when I upgraded my cell phone recently, I made a point of getting one without a camera in it so I wouldn’t have to check it with the minimum-wage “security” guards who regularly harass we critics and our guests at screenings. It’s not like those pristine DVDs and downloads of new movies are coming from critics sneaking their cameraphones into press screenings, but we get subjected to this anyway.
But Cloverfield makes it clear, I think, that Paramount wanted geeks to camcord that new trailer, wanted it to end up on YouTube. Perhaps no one in Paramount’s marketing department realized that the first teaser trailer would be such a viral hit on the Web this summer, but they had to know the second one would be. This is the first movie for which “piracy” is a planned part of the marketing.

You can now watch that new trailer (as well as the teaser) in crisp, clear, “official” versions at Apple.com, and it’s even more obvious that it was not primarily intended to be seen in theaters but in a format you can freeze and rewind and rewatch. Lots of intriguing stuff slips by a mere frames. And, of course, you don’t have to bother with analyzing it yourself: All the Cloverfield nerds have done it for you. At CloverfieldNews.com, there’s an ongoing discussion about what each and every shadowy image and garbled sound might be. The sprawling Cloverfield fan community has even ferreted out a connection between the movie and Heroes.

Some folks, like my fellow Film.com contributor Eric D. Snider, are tired of all the coyness on the part of Cloverfield producer JJ Abrams and all the literal gameplaying required to figure out what the damn movie is about. I figure the gameplaying isn’t meant for us grownups but for kids with tons of time on their hands. Who else could be able to post something like this: “For the last few weeks, we have been devoting all of our time to the myspace accounts of the characters.” Seriously? All your time? To a movie that hasn’t even opened yet, and might turn out to suck. (That site, Cloverfield Project, hasn’t been updated since August, so perhaps someone got a life.)

I wonder if all these folks realize that they’ve become unpaid marketing managers for a multibillion-dollar corporation.

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  • At least we only have to put up with this nonsense for less than 2 more months.

    Of course, I’m going to go see it. But I’m not going to obsess over it just because it has an enigmatic trailer. And if the movie sucks, I’m gonna laugh my ass off.

  • JT

    How hard is it to figure out what “the damn movie is about”? I know what it’s about and I haven’t been playing all the games and freeze-framing trailers.

    It seems you’re actively seeking out Cloverfield-related websites and then whining about what people are talking about. What does it matter to you how other people spend their time?

    I wonder if all these folks realize that they’ve become unpaid marketing managers for a multibillion-dollar corporation.

    Oh jeez. Like you don’t do the same when you put a movie on your ‘anticipated’ list. Unless DreamWorks paid you to say you’re psyched for Sweeney Todd, how is that different?

  • MaryAnn

    I don’t care how people spend their time. People are free to do whatever the hell they want. And I am free to wonder about things that people do publicly.

    But do you honestly think that letting you guys know which movies I’m excited about is the same thing?

    Anyone who has read my site for a while will instantly be able to tell the moment when someone pays me to say I’m psyched for something…

  • MaryAnn

    Oh, and the moment that moment comes, I encourage you all to abandon me wholesale, because I will no longer be worth reading.

  • MBI

    “But do you honestly think that letting you guys know which movies I’m excited about is the same thing?”

    Yes.

    I have nothing to add to that. Yes, I think it’s the same thing. Someone’s going to have to explain to me why it wouldn’t be.

  • MaryAnn

    So mentioning, almost in passing, that I’m excited to see a particular film would be the same thing as creating an entire Web site devoted to a movie I haven’t seen, and spending all my free time developing it?

  • PaulW

    Let me just say it now. It’s about snakes. On planes. Seriously.

  • JT

    So mentioning, almost in passing, that I’m excited to see a particular film would be the same thing as creating an entire Web site devoted to a movie I haven’t seen, and spending all my free time developing it?

    It’s two extremes, but on the same spectrum. Whether you’re creating a website or mentioning it on your blog, you’re causing people’s interest to be piqued.

    I think it’s hypocritical of you to call other people ‘slave-labor marketing bitches’ when all they’re doing is expressing interest in a movie and as a by-product, promoting it. Just like you do.

  • Wow, I just had to respond to this article on my blog, and educate this lady on a few points. You can read my response here: http://wewerethecoolkids.blogspot.com/2007/11/cloverfield-marketing-rant-from-some.html

  • Maeby

    Perhaps no one in Paramount’s marketing department realized that the first teaser trailer would be such a viral hit…
    I wonder if all these folks realize that they’ve become unpaid marketing managers for a multibillion-dollar corporation.

    They wouldn’t have been surprised as they were the “geeks” that “camcorded” the teaser and dumped it on YouTube. And it’s crystal clear Par’s people are involved in discussions in internet communities. Everything is made to look raw and uncorporatized. This is viral marketing after all.

  • JT

    @ Arthur Phillips

    Well, that was pretty childish and stupid. How old are you? 12?

  • Adam

    I don’t totally understand the rant… maybe it’s just a sign of the times (of internet media), but before the net you would have just seen the trailer before a movie, gotten excited about it, and waited to see what happens when the movie comes out. You would have been ok with that. Now, you’re complaining that there is all kinds of marketing to make you interested in the movie, which you don’t want to be part of, and you’re upset about it? Can you just NOT play along, wait for the movie to come out, and like it or not like it just the same? ‘The internet’ is not making you try and figure anything out. The outcome of the movie would be the same whether you look at the websites or just wait for the movie. I’m pretty sure, for those that have NO idea about the internet marketing for this movie, the movie will not rely internet useage to figure out what Slusho! is or Tagruato Corp. to make you figure it out DURING the movie.

    Sheez. It’s a good marketing strategy that’s been working in the recent past (Lost, Hero’s), but it doesn’t mean you have to play along to watch the show.

  • JJ Abrams + Cool Teaser = Large fan base have something to buzz about on the internets.

    Keen observers who blog take note and create a multitude of websites to compete for a share of that new (keyword) audience.

    Movie critics who blog are distressed to see nonprofessionals cornering their (keyword) market.

    Movie critic goes to internet-plan-B and abandons criticism of movies in favor of criticism of bloggers/fans (enemy list anyone?) in an attempt to regain some of the (keyword) audience.

    Bloggers/fans abridge and ripe critic new web 2.0 friendly a-hole.

    Plan-B a success. Everyone happy. Thank you Mr. Abrams.

  • Mo

    I’ve got to hand it to JJ Abrams- he learned well while working on Lost. I don’t think any other producer could pull this off, especially not without his pre-existing fan base who trust him and do this stuff because it’s fun.

    And is that really all that wrong? Have fun decoding and promoting a movie by people who make stuff you like in the hope that they will make more stuff you like? Sure, it may suck in the end, but in the meantime it sounds like a win-win situation for the people who get a kick out of it all.

    Me, I’m only excited because Ultimate Drew wrote it. But I’m starting to worry that not even he can keep it from degrading into a dumb action movie by the look of it.

  • MaryAnn

    Now, you’re complaining that there is all kinds of marketing to make you interested in the movie,

    I’m complaining that this is a particularly egregious case of fans and their enthusiasm being used.

    I guess I must have hit a particularly sensitive nerve to get Arthur Phillips all riled up like that. You can always tells when someone has no comeback: they resort to vicious sputtering and childish namecalling. Boy, I’m shattered to discover that he thinks I’m a “sow.”

    Movie critics who blog are distressed to see nonprofessionals cornering their (keyword) market.

    Oh, yes, I’m distressed. I can hardly sleep, I’m so distressed.

    More fascinating stuff: I’m derided as a “professional” when it is perceived that I’m complaining about things fans do, but I’m “just a blogger” when I diverge from the “professional” critical consensus. I must be doing something right to get people all across the spectrum so mad.

  • @MaryAnn: You’ve been reduced to gibberish. You’re both a professional (you do go to press screenings) and a blogger (this thing we’re commenting on being a blog). What you’re obviously not is a “geek goddess”, so you might want to edit that little stretch out of your profile. Lastly, the evidence of your distress is your total abandonment any pretense of professionalism and your wholehearted embrace of lowbrow flame bait. Oh, and don’t let your glee at a handful of people responding to your post obscure the fact that the good posts on Cloverfield enjoy hundreds and even thousands of comments. We’re not mad MaryAnn, we’re experts.

  • MBI

    “I’m complaining that this is a particularly egregious case of fans and their enthusiasm being used.”

    What exactly is the evil that these fans are being used for?

  • MaryAnn

    The fans are doing Paramount’s work for them, for free.

    your total abandonment any pretense of professionalism and your wholehearted embrace of lowbrow flame bait.

    Oh, you caught me! I don’t really think any of the things I write: I write them just to get traffic.

  • MBI

    “The fans are doing Paramount’s work for them, for free.”

    And?? I don’t see you blasting MuggleNet for hyping up “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”

  • Papone

    All I know is this movie looks F’N sick. NYC getting ripped to pieces. I haven’t seen a good Godzilla movie in a while. So hopefully this makes up for that lost time *double fingers crossed*. J.J has yet to let his people down. Theres a reason people like him so much. He knows whats new , he knows how to put the newest art visions on screen. Thats what made “Lost” so good. So it doesn’t surprise me that true fans, fans who know whats coming out needs to be represented in the right way so the word spreads out, so people know. This isn’t about work its about art and what needs to be visually seen.

  • MaryAnn

    This isn’t about the movie. The movie may well be awesome, and I am also looking forward to seeing it.

    I don’t see you blasting MuggleNet for hyping up “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”

    Not the same thing. I’m not objecting to fan activity — I’m an active fan of lots of things. I’ve published fanzines, for pete’s sake — is there anything nerdier than that? I obsess over stupid crap like *Doctor Who.* The thing that is bugging me about the *Cloverfield* marketing is that it is being done almost *entirely* by people who don’t even know what they’re in for yet. It’s one thing to be obsessive over something that is already out there, already a known quantity. It’s another thing for a corporation like Paramount to be cynically harnessing that fan enthusiasm to do its job.

    To be clear: I’m not complaining about fans. I’m complaining about what Paramount is doing to fans.

    Look: We’ve gone from giant corps trying to shut down fan sites that were all about celebrating something we love to those same corps using fans for their own purposes. The first was simply stupid and counterproductive, but the second is even worse. Fans expressing their love for and enjoyment of a show or a movie or a comic book or whatever? That’s great. But what Paramount is doing is stringing fans along because it knows it can. One thing exists independently of the corporation — the other exists only because of it. I can’t believe no one else sees the distinction here.

    Basically, I guess I’m saying this: Paramount is ruining fandom. It is taking the best things about fandom — about geekiness — and twisting them to its own purposes. It is using fans. It is creating artificial fandom. I love fandom enough to be bothered by a corporate entity taking what started out as a pure grassroots, independently spirited kind of thing and trying to make it its own.

  • It’s not really my fault that MaryAnn complains about the coverage of “Cloverfield” by the netizens and then what does she do? Gives “Cloverfield” even more press. Yeah, yeah I know that her opinion is completely irrelevant.

  • MBI

    This is retarded. Of course the studios are using fans for their own purposes; that’s what they do every time they sell you a product. Paramount wanted fans to be interested and now they’re interested. Everybody’s happy, except you for some reason. It isn’t artificial fandom because these aren’t artificial fans. They’re people who are genuinely interested.

    I don’t see how “Cloverfield” is any less of a known entity than “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” was before it came out. The Harry Potter dorks didn’t know what they were in for either with Book 7, when you get right down to it, and they certainly analyzed every bit of pre-release hype, and they’re going to do the same for the next two movies. Granted, “Cloverfield” isn’t part of a series like Harry Potter 7, but apparently J.J. Abrams fanboys actually exist, so I completely fail to see your point. I can’t find a single meaningful difference between the Cloverfield trailer and any other marketing scheme other than this one being more successful than most.

  • Seen on the Internet, 19 January 2008:

    “I loved Cloverfield. It was much better than Godzilla. I’m going to see it again and again.”

  • Mo

    “Basically, I guess I’m saying this: Paramount is ruining fandom…. I love fandom enough to be bothered by a corporate entity taking what started out as a pure grassroots, independently spirited kind of thing and trying to make it its own.”

    I totally get your point, it’s something I’ve been worried about myself for a while. But I’m really not too worried about this particular movie. It’s when the next studio tries to mimick this campaign that I’ll get upset. But those campaigns are so easy to spot. There’s always something kind of lame about them.

    THIS seems to me to be more of a case of knowing your audience. I don’t recognize a single actor, and the film is coming out in January. I’m guessing most studios would have given up on any other movie like it by now for being unmarketable. The one thing this movie does have is connections to Lost and the Wheadonverse. Is it really unreasonable to give that group of capital F Fans something to pick over in a way that they will appreciate? If they hadn’t, a lot of them would have obsessed anyway (diehard Drew Goddard minions are a scary bunch in my experience) and then gotten upset that it was coming from JJ but was all so…boring. I know I would have been a little let down if JJ had gone the straightforward marketing route, because he CAN come up with so much more. Having tried my luck at that secret Lost webmaze (which gave me a migrane it was so… I don’t know… freaky and massive) this seems pretty tame in comparison.

    Would you feel better if they tried to shut down a couple of the sites? Or started browbeating us with obnoxious tv ads? (Which they still might, come to think of it…) Because this is starting to remind me a little bit of the fandom equivalent of those endless music conversations about when did punk rock really die and have current indie darlings _______ sold out. And as much as I love a lot of underground-ish music, I can’t stand the attitude those Pitchfork-style music snobs have.

    Yes, I would hate to see fandom fall into the corporate machine, but I would equally hate to have fandom go the snobby cynical route as well.

  • Papone

    to clayj:

    Seen on the Internet, 19 January 2008:

    “KING KONG.. ain’t got nothing on CLOVERFIELD!”

  • Looks like my joke went over some of y’all’s heads… I was referencing the old SNL fake commercial where some hypnotist (played by Jon Lovitz with one really wide-open eye) has a show on Broadway. Every single person who is asked about the show, including Rex Reed, says, in a monotone voice, “I loved it. It was much better than Cats. I’m going to see it again and again.” Obviously, because they were hypnotized… just like Cloverfield appears to be doing with some people.

    :-)

  • Yet another trailer seemingly manufactured to induce seizures in all my epileptic acquaintances.

    I’m so not seeing this.

  • Adam

    Holy cripes… Paramount is MARKETING! It’s the new way to do it. Why be a wuss and whine about it? Their keeping up with the times, whether everyone likes it or not. See, er, the consumers, take advantage of what the internet has to offer. Big Corporations realize that and their Think Tank decides on how to market to us. I don’t understand how that’s any different than what’s happened in the past.

    You may not like th eway things have been going, but with consumers downloading stuff through P2P, torrent sites, etc… why would spending some money on some Slusho shirts to get some clues to an advertising gimmick that we enjoy piss you off so much? Are you upset because you think WE are so stupid we can’t figure out it’s ALL just a marketing ploy? I, for one being a HUGE Lost fan, like to play along. I understand what’s going on, but I don’t let it effect me like, I guess, you’ve weirdly let it effect you.

  • Papone

    Amigo i was just joking. I know nothing of that snl sketch.I thought we were doing possible news paper tag lines.

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