In recent years Hollywood studios have been embracing an increasingly varied assortment of marketing techniques to promote their biggest tentpole releases, in the era of social media and a landscape of entertainment options that’s only growing more competitive by the day. Whether it’s releasing teasers for trailers (as is now common practice), teasers for posters (as Lionsgate did for Power Rangers earlier this year), and/or using the viral marketing strategies that were pioneered by The Blair Witch Project back in the late 1990s, movie studios are continuously seeking to find new ways to harness the power of the Internet to bring attention to their biggest projects.
Paramount Pictures tried its hand at one such unconventional marketing technique recently, when it unveiled a series of enigmatic teasers for its Ghost in the Shell live-action film adaptation during commercial breaks for the Mr. Robot season 2 finale, before releasing those same clips online. The anime/manga-based Ghost in the Shell is being directed by Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) and takes place in a futuristic version of Japan – where a cyborg known as the Major (Scarlett Johansson) leads an elite task force known as Section 9, being responsible for stopping criminals and terrorists seeking to do away with any and all advancements made in cyborg technology.
Paramount co-president of domestic marketing, Rebecca Mall explained the logic behind this marketing strategy to Deadline, saying “[‘Ghost in the Shell is] a movie about glitches and technology, and that fits well thematically with Mr. Robot.” The decision to launch the film’ teasers with the Mr. Robot season 2 finale has other perks too, as noted by Paramount president of worldwide distribution and marketing, Megan Colligan:
“The great thing about season premieres and season finales is that they’re like live sporting events: People want to watch them in real time. Because of the social media explosion, there’s a fear of missing out or having a plot detail spoiled. We knew with the Mr. Robot finale we’d get that extra boost of people who would be sharing on social.”
Collegian also noted that the “glitches” are a key element of the Ghost in the Shell storyline, and that this makes the film’s unconventional “glitch” marketing all the more appropriate:
“Ghost in the Shell is so original in its own right that it had to have a special execution to kick it off. We needed a launch that was as unique and original as the property itself. You’ll soon learn about the glitch, it’s one of the most important parts of the film’s storytelling. It was important to present the earliest advertising for this film as a glitch instead of something more traditional.”
The Ghost in the Shell property was created by Masamune Shirow in 1989 and explores the parallels between the flaws of humanity and technology (among related concepts), so “glitches” as a plot point is indeed one that should be important in the live-action movie version too. The Sanders-directed project also appears to be paying homage to the visual aesthetic and style of the original Ghost in the Shell manga’s illustrations, with many of the shots featured in the movie’s teasers resembling panels from Shirow’s source material (as well as screenshots from its animated feature counterpart). So, in these respects, Ghost in the Shell is aiming to be a relatively faithful re-interpretation of the original property for a larger audience.
This brings us to the not-so-faithful aspects of the movie and its biggest sticking point with fans thus far: the casting of Johansson as the Major, in what many fans view as an example of white-washing (despite the claims of the Ghost in the Shell publishers to the contrary). The movie’s producers have attempted to counter those criticisms by playing up the fact that the film’s cast includes people of several different nationalities; but seeing as Johansson is only going to be increasingly featured as the face of Ghost in the Shell‘s marketing, further attempts to sweep the controversy under the rug may not play out well for Paramount. With the film’s “glitch” teasers having proven quite successful in terms of online views so far, Paramount may be all the more inclined to try similar unconventional marketing strategies hereon forward, for related reasons.
Ghost in the Shell opens in U.S. theaters on March 31st, 2017.