The original Cloverfield (2008) used found footage and a limited cast to create a compelling small film inside a larger world under attack by mysterious monsters. Almost more significant than the film itself (which used a technique popularized by The Blair Witch Project in 1999), was the marketers use of an Alternate or Augmented Reality Game (ARG) to create effective marketing campaign. After a teaser featuring nothing but a release date-based website (1-18-08.com), the viral marketing campaign caught fire.
Curious folks followed little clues in the short trailer, such as the Slusho! t-shirt – recognizable from other J.J. Abrams ventures like Lost – to the website. One puzzle piece led to another, pulling captivated viewers to Slusho’s umbrella company, Tagruato, the environmentalist group T.I.D.O. Wave, and social media accounts created for characters in the film and effectively filling in the backstory – the 90-minute film itself did not. The viral nature of this ad campaign built Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield into an unparalleled success. Now, with Dan Trachtenberg‘s 10 Cloverfield Lane heading to theaters soon, the studio is overhauling its ARG marketing campaign to recapture that same old feel.
Recently, according to /film, emails to the long dormant Tagruato website are being mysteriously answered by the company’s January 2016 employee of the month – the mysterious Vanessa Gwon. In addition, the trailer for the J.J. Abrams’ produced "blood relative" of the original includes shots of the entire cast, John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and John Gallagher Jr., hunkered down in a bomb shelter, piecing together a puzzle, and drinking Swamp Pop. When devotees ordered the soda from Swamp Pop’s website, they received a little bonus prize – puzzle pieces which determined Redditors found to be of the Eiffel Tower. The Swamp Pop site also featured a "long-term shelter supply" for sale, which was selling $4,813 (the number of jukebox track listing Goodman plays in the trailer) until the site pulled it from the market due to "Eastern seaboard" supply issues.
Of course, neither the puzzle, the off-the-market bomb shelter supply, nor the trailer itself necessarily indicate much, thanks to J.J. Abrams renowned secrecy. And recently, 10 Cloverfield Lane star Mary Elizabeth Winstead sat down with EW to discuss the film and Abrams’ notoriously clandestine productions:
"We were making this movie in this little bubble where nobody else knew what we were doing and there’s really only three actors in the whole thing, so it kind of felt like this really intimate experience. Now that it’s about to come out, it’s sort of crazy — like, ‘Oh yeah, people are excited to see this movie.’ I forgot that that was going to happen."
The actress also explored the challenges of making a thriller with such a small cast:
"It’s so much about just the actors interacting with each other and that tension that builds, just all wondering if they are who they say they are, if they’re telling the truth or not, and really wondering what’s outside,” Winstead said, adding that the cast “know where it’s all leading to."
And finding out whether a horrifying post-apocalyptic world, a beastly hunting ground, or both awaits the small band will likely pull in a lot of intrigued fans. The secondary mystery, of course, is the status of the cast, which the trailer sets up as either family members, random strangers forced together by circumstances, or something more sinister – as hinted by the shackles (presumably) around Winstead’s ankle. Since Abrams kept the existence of the film under wraps until mid-January, all that followers really know are the few clues they can gather about the backstory from the marketing campaign and the trailer. Even if the studio chooses not to release any more trailers, these hints will likely be enough to drive curious viewers into the theaters.
However, confusion surrounding the film could hinder interest, as much as the mystery compels it. Without knowing whether they’re getting a sequel, prequel, or only loosely related film (“blood relative” is pretty vague), fans may be put off by having to run through the rigmarole of DIY marketing all over again. Still, Abrams’ recent teaser-heavy film was well worth the price of admission.
10 Cloverfield Lane opens in theaters March 11, 2016.