Horror movies claw into our minds to exploit our worst fears. Ghosts, zombies, monsters, clowns, girls with long black hair, gremlins… the good ones are hard to shake, no matter how hard we try.

You want the same thing for your business, right? Sure, you might not want people to break out in a cold sweat when they think about you, but you do want them to remember you.

Try any of these horror movie marketing strategies to make that happen!

#1:  The Blair Witch Strategy

source: amazon.com

The Blair Witch Strategy: Pulling a fast one on your audience so they’re not sure what’s real and what’s not.

By all intents and purposes, The Blair Witch Project doesn’t really hold up as a “good” movie. The film has stood the test of time, though, due to downright clever marketing at the time of release.

The team behind the movie defied expectations and scared the pants right off the audience before the movie even came out! This helped build the hype up to the release of the movie, and may have gained this indie sleeper hit interest that it wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Here’s what the marketers for The Blair Witch Project did to bring attention to the film and make everyone question whether or not it was real:

  • Posted missing person posters around college campuses
  • Created a website with 20 million page views that detailed the urban legend of an evil witch
  • Interviewed the “victims’ families,” making it seem like they were real people
  • Fed false information into threads on popular internet forums

This guerilla marketing strategy paid off in spades! The Blair Witch Project is one of the most successful independent movies of all time. It not only earned $250 million at the box office, but also landed a spot on Esquire’s Scariest Movies of All Time. Paranormal Activity followed the same “real or not” marketing strategy 8 years later, which helped it also become a sleeper hit.  

How You Can Steal This Strategy

Go viral by building hype up to the release of something, whether it’s a new product or a weird pop-up shop you’re opening. Think of it like leaving a bread trail so your fans can follow you all the way to the end project.


#2:  The Hereditary Strategy

source: imdb.com

The Hereditary Strategy: Getting authentic, positive attention by relying on social media and word-of-mouth.

Hereditary owes a lot of its success to word-of-mouth. A24, a growing movie studio, gave out creepy dolls and heart monitors at midnight screenings of the film. As a result, people went crazy on Twitter and Facebook, and before long, millions became interested in seeing the movie.

The SYFY Channel had this to say about seeing Hereditary in theaters!

source: @SYFY, Twitter

The creepy movie also single-handedly made director Ari Aster a household name. Case in point, the box office return for his next film Midsommar was at a respectable $42.3 million. This is an incredible feat as Midsommar has no recognizable actors, a hard “R” rating, and a longer-than-average 147 minute running time.

How You Can Steal This Strategy

Get a few ambassadors to talk about you on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Also, take it a step further and offer samples or some kind of gift to everyone and anyone. People are going to notice if you have something good, and word will spread as a result.


#3:  The Psycho Strategy

source: shudder.com

The Psycho Strategy: Keeping a few surprises up your sleeves so people stay interested.

When Psycho was first released, director Alfred Hitchcock was super guarded and secretive about his movie.

He wouldn’t let anybody come into the theater late to watch it as he didn’t want to spoil the movie’s big twist (Janet Leigh, the star of the movie, is killed off early in the famous shower scene). This was a groundbreaking move at the time and something he didn’t want ruined for the audience.

There’s no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”

Alfred Hitchcock

Psycho is a pioneer in the world of horror movies. It’s considered the first slasher, paving the way for future films like Friday the 13th, Scream, and Halloween. It also made about 61 times its budget back at the box office with $50 million! A lot of credit goes to Hitchcock’s ability to take his audience by surprise.

How You Can Steal This Strategy

Keep your customers on their toes at all times. Offer new products in your lineup, but only hint at what they are, or run a one-day promotion out of nowhere. Whatever you do, make sure it’s interesting and completely unexpected.


#4:  The IT (2016) Strategy

source: imdb.com

The IT strategy: Choosing a face for your company and making sure there’s a ton of cool merch to go with it.

Pennywise is the face of IT, and in many ways, his creepy look is what made the movie a success. He became a horror icon and not just another villain.

The movie was released in 2016, and that same year, $292.9 billion was made from licensed merchandise sales! Pennywise even had his very own online store.

source: prdaily.com

The clown really helped create excitement for the film’s premiere. People were even leaving floating red balloons tied to sewers in various cities around the country.

Stephen King’s IT is 1,138 pages long, so it’s safe to assume that not everyone read it. Still, that didn’t stop 2016’s film adaptation from becoming the highest grossing horror movie of all time. It also helped lead to respectable returns on other King properties like Pet Sematary and Doctor Sleep.

How You Can Steal This Strategy

Your company’s logo is just like Pennywise. Slap it on literally everything – t-shirts, hats, water bottles, pens, inflatable pool toys… The more useful and stylish the item, the better your chances of turning your company into an icon.


#5:  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 Strategy

source: amazon.com

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 Strategy: Use comedy and parody to bring more attention to your product.

Following the success of the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre was going to be a tough feat. Director Tobe Hooper decided to go a completely different route and make the sequel a comedy instead.

source: ebay.com

It was a weird choice, and this entry in the franchise sticks out like a sore thumb because of it. However, you’ve got to give props to the filmmakers for going a different route and trying something new.

To stick with the humorous vibes, the marketing team ripped off The Breakfast Club’s poster. With just one image, they were able to show the audience that this would be a very different Texas Chainsaw movie.

While The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 got really bad reviews, that hasn’t stopped it from being well-loved. Today, the sequel is a cult favorite and has a legion of fans.

How You Can Steal This Strategy

Be a little silly and don’t take yourself too seriously. Humor is linked to
higher recall, which is a big deal if you’re trying to bring attention to your company.


Final Thoughts

The world of marketing can be a scary place, but it doesn’t have to be. Here’s a quick recap of what you should’ve learned from these horror movies!

  • The Blair Witch Project teaches us that you can go viral by messing with your audience’s expectations.
  • Hereditary teaches us that social media is your friend, and if people like something, they’re going to talk about it.
  • Psycho teaches us that you shouldn’t give too much away right away. Surprise is a great way to get attention.
  • IT teaches us that merchandise can turn your company into an iconic and trendy brand.
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 teaches us that humor can generate interest and make you memorable.

There’s nothing to fear out there. Go forth and be brave about how you market your company. It can make all the difference between your survival and your untimely demise!

References

D’Alessandro, A. (2019, April 3). Ari Aster’s ‘Midsommar’ Moves to Midsummer – CinemaCon. Retrieved from, https://deadline.com/2019/04/midsommar-ari-aster-moves-to-midsummer-release-cinemacon-1202587868/

Duran, H. (2018, June 12). ‘Hereditary’ Guerilla Marketing Helps Box Office Success. Retrieved from, https://www.alistdaily.com/entertainment/hereditary-guerrilla-marketing-helps-scare-up-box-office-success/

Stewart, R. (2016, September 23). How the Original Blair Witch Project Ushered in a New Era of Viral Movie Marketing. Retrieved from, https://www.thedrum.com/news/2016/09/23/how-the-original-blair-witch-project-ushered-new-era-viral-movie-marketing

Szalai, G. (2017, May 22). Licensed Merchandise Sales Hit $262.B in 2016. Retrieved from, https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/licensed-merchandise-sales-hit-2629b-2016-boosted-by-star-wars-1005108

Click, J. (2019). Texas Tuesday: Ingenious Marketing of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Retrieved from, https://1428elm.com/2018/06/26/texas-tuesday-ingenious-marketing-texas-chainsaw-massacre-2/

Badli, T., Dzulkifi, M. (2013, November 6). The Effect of Humour and Mood on Memory Recall. Retrieved from, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877042813036756

About the author

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is a promo expert with over four years of experience in the industry. She is the Lead Copywriter at Quality Logo Products and has had work published for the Promotional Products Association International and the Advertising Specialty Institute.