SMILE – A Terrifying Marketing Campaign

Matthew Hayes.

Matthew Hayes Managing Director

October 18th, 2022

Debuting his first directorial feature film, Parker Finn celebrates the release of his American psychological horror film, SMILE, with a marketing campaign unlike no other. Based on his 2020 short film “Laura Hasn’t Slept”, SMILE follows a clinical psychiatrist working in a public hospital setting. Having a bizarre and traumatic encounter with a patient, she begins to experience all kinds of really frightening occurrences that she can’t quite explain, starting to believe that something evil may have come into her life.

With the world premiere occurring at Fantastic Fest on September 22nd, SMILE was released to the public on September 30th. Given a production budget of just $17m by Paramount Pictures, and a projected gross of $16-20m from 3645 theatres in its opening weekend, the film slightly overachieved, grossing an impressive $22.6m, topping the box office and being titled the biggest debut of September 2022.

As of October 9th, SMILE had already grossed $49.9m in the US and Canada alone, with a further $40m in other territories, bringing its worldwide total gross up to a staggering $89.9m.

Adding to some of this success, Paramount launched a very eery and spooky marketing campaign the weekend before the film’s release. With viral and worldwide coverage on both social media and the news, over the last week, this blog will look at the campaign and its impact on SMILE’s incredible opening weekend.

A Baseball Weekend Full of Smiles

On a massive weekend for Major League Baseball, with huge fixtures such as the Boston Red Sox vs the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers matching up against the St. Louis Cardinals, Paramount saw this as the perfect opportunity to include some interesting and unique marketing for the upcoming release of SMILE.

Instead of a conventional movie trailer at the break, or a huge billboard promoting the film, Paramount came up with an idea that caused quite the fuss on social media. Placing actors directly behind the home plate, in the prime view of the main camera, Paramount got the actors to look directly down the camera and smile in a creepy fashion for extended periods of the game, providing zero reaction, whilst the eager fans around them soaked in the big event and atmosphere.

Wearing fluorescent clothing with “SMILE” written in big letters on the front made the actors stand out more, with people taking to popular social media site Twitter, to inform their followers that the “creepy man” behind the batsman was distracting them from the match. The producers quickly noticed the hype and coverage and furthered it by creating a website, ‘Smile Sightings’, which allowed members of the public to upload pictures of the actors, finding that they were popping up at a number of games over the weekend. This was a clever and different way for Paramount to grab the attention of potential customers and make them look for their marketing in a fun and intriguing way.

So why was this marketing campaign so effective?

The Major League Baseball streaming site, MLB.TV registered over 11.5bn minutes watched during the 2022 season, an increase of 9.8% over the season prior. Also, with coverage of the MLB being on the likes of subscription-based television giants ESPN, Fox and Peacock, the exposure for any marketing activity is sensational. With the perfectly placed actors, the SMILE promo was visible to hundreds of millions of avid watchers.

With a major popularity spike in Major League Baseball over the past year, it was confirmed that the five most-watched games of all time, and nine of the top 10 most-watched games ever, all took place in 2022.

The physical attendance at each game, were all being exposed to the actors during the match as well. With a combined attendance of 91,569 people across the three games, where the smilers appeared, the exposure at the games alone was huge.

With people being so closely linked to social media, it didn’t take long before the exposure expanded on to platforms such as Twitter and TikTok. Users used the trending hashtag #SMILEmovie on TikTok to post videos of the actor sightings, raising a total number of 349.1m views, with the top video reaching 1.2m likes and 13.9m views.

Over on Twitter, the hashtag #SMILEmoviead was cluttered with thousands of tweets, photos and videos talking about and showing off the smiling crowd members, with the top video raking in 14.6m views. Popular page Barstool Sports also posted a chilling screenshot of one of the actors exposing her to their tens of millions of combined followers. It is safe to say that the marketing campaign definitely went viral!

After this incredible immediate exposure, the morning headlines wrote themselves. With hundreds of articles online and nearly every news station and paper covering the story, including TMZ, The Independent and CNN, the stunt even further.

The Power of Simplistic Communication in Marketing leading to Worldwide Digital Reach:

This genius marketing campaign demonstrated exactly the power of the simplicity in communication between producer and consumer, when marketing a product or service. Regardless of the industry, providing simplicity ensures comprehension as people understand simple. The last thing that any business wants is to create misunderstanding and even non-understanding, and with less complex wording and marketing, this can be limited.

When complexity is broken down, it is simply just an overlong list of simple ideas and in turn creates more confusion to customers, which can easily be eliminated. Therefore, this marketing campaign from Paramount has created a simple message, that hasn’t taken long to deliver at all, and catches the attention of the viewer whilst they’re doing something they love.

With Social media creating a habit of short bite-sized content, such as TikTok and Instagram Reels, a standard user’s attention span has decreased dramatically and is now roughly eight seconds, before they move on and continue scrolling. This has created a very short window in which marketers must utilise a significantly short space of time, to grab their target audience’s attention and make them stay.

Paramount’s use of experiential marketing has provided the baseball viewers with a real-life experience to raise awareness, build understanding and grab attention quickly. With the use of fluorescent clothing in the middle of a group wearing more dull colours such as blacks, greys and navy blues, the smiling actor becomes a focal point, easily turning the focus to them, quickly and effectively. Pair this with the supernatural and creepy feel, and viewers will naturally want to share this with their friends, turning to social media to post the scary sightings.

Creating a ripple-effect, the constant growing exposure builds up like a snowball until it has reached a worldwide digital audience. This being said, the film SMILE is the talk of the world and with this all happening on the weekend before the release date, people are going to have the incentive to watch it, driving sales and bookings. The success of the campaign has proven to be evident! With an opening weekend box office gross over its projected sum as well as the film production costs, it is safe to call the film a certified success, all for the price of a few matchday tickets.

Here at Champions, we can help you promote an upcoming release of a product or service in a creative way just like this. If you have already got some ideas that you want to turn into reality or if you are just getting started on a new project, get in touch today to see how we can help you maximise your sales.

Champions can help you to create a successful, result-driven social media strategy. Contact us today to discuss your requirements and our team will be on hand to help.