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CLOVERFIELD Proved Marketing Can Make Monsters

It’s not a particularly “hip” movie these days, but Cloverfield came out 10 years ago (that’s bananas, FYI) and it’s worth noting how sort of revolutionary it was. While The Blair Witch Project certainly began the found-footage movement in earnest, and Paranormal Activity made it a phenomenon of low-budget capabilities, Cloverfield showed it could be used in a huge, cinematic fashion. And perhaps more relevant, it upped the game of Blair Witch‘s viral marketing campaign, to the point that the movie itself became part of the mystery.

The very first trailer anyone saw didn’t even have a title, just a release date:

I vividly remember seeing this trailer for the first time. What on Earth is this movie about?! Could it be a terrorist attack? Is it aliens? When the head of the Statue of Liberty crashes down in the middle of the street and slides to a halt, while somebody screams “Oh my God! Oh my God!” you’re saying “Holy crap, what’s out there?! What is it?! What is this movie?!?!?!” And we don’t find out. All we get is that it’s produced by J.J. Abrams, who at that point had a name that meant mystery and intrigue thanks to Lost, and the release date of 1.18.08.

Immediately after this trailer dropped, the internet went bonkers trying to find out what it is. Eventually, the word “Cloverfield” kept popping up. What did this mean? It was in reality just the name of a street, Cloverfield Blvd, in Culver City, CA near the Bad Robot offices. Whether they intended the name of the movie to be Cloverfield or not, this was the only name people knew, and thus it stuck, all from viral marketing. The monster in the movie was even dubbed “Clover” thanks to this. It literally means nothing.

The movie’s website was made to seem like it had uncovered the truth about strange occurrences that eventually led to what we’d see in the movie, including fully produced news broadcasts about something attacking oil derricks and Japanese fishing boats. This led a lot of people to assume that Cloverfield was actually going to be a new Godzilla movie given the obvious parallels. I remember going to see the movie opening night with friends in a packed Denver cinema, and several people got up and left when the monster was finally revealed and it was not, in fact, Godzilla. Also maybe because the movie made them nauseous. It made me nauseous. Hud was a bad cameraman.

Viral marketing campaigns for movies (again, another innovation from the Blair Witch Project days) have since become a way for smaller genre movies or movies without a built-in name or audience to get buzz. It doesn’t always work, but the trailer for Cloverfield started a mystery the public wanted to learn more about. That’s J.J. Abrams whole bag! And as the movie was a January release–traditionally where studios exile all of their less desirable movies. Cloverfield ended up making $170 million worldwide on a $25 million budget, and I don’t think this ever would have happened without the intrigue of the marketing campaign.

It’s also created a whole brand unto itself. When 10 Cloverfield Lane came out in 2016, it was to almost no lead up or fanfare, but when you see a trailer that has the word “Cloverfield” in it, suddenly there’s interest from people who want to know what the hell’s going on.

So, love it or hate it, Cloverfield was a moment in movies, and people are still debating what each and every Easter egg could mean and where the monster actually came from. That’s staying power.

Images: Paramount/Bad Robot

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. He is the writer of 200 reviews of weird or obscure films in Schlock & Awe. Follow him on Twitter!

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