Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

5 Horror Movie Marketing Tactics You Can Steal for Your Brand

Have you ever wondered why people spend money for a good scare? Are you curious why even some of the terrible ones make millions? Marketing has a lot to do with it!

Horror movies are marketed through social media channels, traditional methods like billboards, and viral campaigns, but there’s one method I’d like to focus on: Trailers.

One could argue that any movie trailer uses these same tactics, but I chose to focus on horror film trailers because I think many of them are particularly well done (especially since I’m a scaredy-cat).

**Warning: If you’re easily scared and/or avoid violence at all costs, then these embedded videos might not be for you!**

1. Mystery is Your Friend:

In my opinion, the best trailers are the ones that leave me slightly confused. Not confused in a “I don’t understand what just happened” kind of way, but confused in a “Wait, that wasn’t what I was expecting” kind of way. Mystery has its place in horror movies because it tends to hook potential viewers.

Example: Cloverfield

Was that enough mystery for you? The second the trailer ended, I wanted to find out what was responsible for those attacks. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one, either, since the film pulled in $170 million at the box office.

How to steal it for your brand: Gradually add content and build loyal customers. Social media channels like Facebook or Tumblr offer suspense-building opportunities, even if your company isn’t as exciting as a dark terror that overtakes a city! Hold a promotion or a contest and spread out their chances to win, and they’ll be equally hooked. You just have to find the perfect balance of mystery and honesty — enough to whet viewers’ appetites. If you do it right, they’ll take your clues and search for more details on their own (which will strengthen that bond even more).

2. Resist the Urge to Immediately Reveal Everything:

This one is similar to my first point, but slightly different. You want to intrigue potential customers with the mystery you’ve built, not tell them every boring detail right from the start. Have you ever seen a trailer that seemed to show the entire plot in 2 minutes? Don’t follow that strategy because it’s not a good one. Instead, give the people what they want!

Example: Cabin in the Woods

Cabin in the Woods‘ trailer starts as a typical secluded location horror film and then builds to something more. What’s actually going on? Who’s trying to kill them? You’ll have to see the movie to find out (I highly recommend it), but let’s just say it’s not a run-of-the-mill, formulaic horror film.

How to steal it for your brand: Look, you might value your company’s detailed history and think it’s the most important thing ever, but your audience probably couldn’t care less. They want to know what’s in it for them, just as horror movie viewers want to have an idea of what they’ll be paying to see. Keep it simple and focus on the details people really care about: the blood and guts.

3. Show a Few Characters:

Movies are only as good as the characters in them. Faceless entities and silly slasher concepts have their place in the world of horror, of course, but that’s not what I mean. The best movies use actors to the fullest and force audiences to care about whether they live or die. How would you feel anything if there wasn’t a connection with at least one character in the movie?

Example: Let the Right One In

See what I mean? Yes, it was scary, but it also gave more than a few glimpses of the main characters. I connected with them in a short segment, and it piqued my interest enough to watch the film. Even if that’s not what they were going for, it totally worked.

How to steal it for your brand: Don’t be shy about showing off your employees. You wouldn’t have a company without employees, so why not make them the stars of your organization? Ask them if they’d like to be a part of videos, social media, your blog, or equally important front-facing roles. Doing so will humanize your company and give it some heart!

4. Broadcast Audience Testimonials and Ratings:

Would you be more likely to see a movie if a trusted friend or colleague recommended it to you? Most people would. Take a page out of a horror film trailer’s book and use credible testimonials to your advantage.

Example: The Blair Witch Project

Just look at all those recommendations! It’d be hard to avoid getting sold on The Blair Witch Project after watching glowing testimonial after glowing testimonial.

How to steal it for your brand: No one likes blatant self-promotion all the time, but it’s quite effective when used in moderation. There’s nothing wrong with asking for feedback! Ask valued customers to leave reviews of products they’ve purchases or services they’ve used and let them do the talking for you. People place value on other people’s opinions and it’ll only help you stand out.

5. Be Creative with Your Budget:

So many movies have proven that a multi-million-dollar budget isn’t necessary to produce a huge success. The first Paranormal Activity had a $15,000 budget and went on to gross more than 193 million at the box office, making it one of the most profitable movies of all time.

Example: Paranormal Activity

The filmmakers used simple equipment to bring their creative vision to life, and it worked much better than anticipated. Sometimes the scariest things are the ones that could possibly exist in reality, and what could be scarier than an invisible threat in your own house during the night?

How to steal it for your brand: Small businesses don’t need media budgets of huge corporations to be creative, that’s for sure. You can do a lot with store-bought cameras and DIY setups! All you need is a group of creative people and the will to make something meaningful. I’m sure your employees would be more than willing to help, too!

Like them or not, scary movies tend to rake in box office money: especially around Halloween. Use these 5 tactics to your advantage and toss them into your marketing! You might be endlessly successful, too.

Which of these tips works best for you and your brand? What’s your favorite horror flick?

Expand Your Brand!

Image credit to CarrieLu.


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  1. Keith

    Solid article! It pulls at my heat strings with Halloween not so far away. The trailer is definitely what makes a horror before it is actually released. You do not want to give too much away especially if you have a unique twist to it. Sometimes trailers give so much away I feel like I just watch the movie pretty much. Paranormal Activity is definitely the best movie that made use of social media to boost peoples interest.

    • Jill Tooley

      Thanks, Keith! Glad you liked it. I’m trying to overcome my fear of horror movies so I’ve been more open to them lately. Paranormal Activity is the only one on my list I haven’t seen (aren’t you proud?). There’s a lot to learn from them because many are experts at building suspense! 🙂

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