The Most Audacious, Funny, Weird and Bold Movie Promotions

These days movie promotions are standard affairs, and even children know the drill by heart: theatrical trailers, television ads, websites, and toys for sale. But once in a while, a movie promotion is so wacky that it takes on a life of its own, totally apart from the film it’s supposed to be selling.
“The Simpsons Movie”:
When “The Simpsons Movie” (2007) was approaching its release date, Fox secured a brilliant deal with the 7-Eleven chain of convenience stores. For an entire month, twelve 7-Eleven stores in cities throughout the United States and Canada were given facades and interior redecorations so they’d look like Kwik-E-Marts. Kwik-E-Mart is the fictional convenience store franchise from the “The Simpsons.”
Fox also held a contest for the cities across the U.S. named Springfield. Each community could create a short video expressing its love for “The Simpsons” – which takes place in a town called Springfield and in a state that’s never been identified. Fans would then vote online for their favorite entry, and the winning town would host the movie’s premiere. The competition was fierce; Sen. Ted Kennedy even participated in the Springfield, Massachusetts, entry. But in the end, a last-minute contestant prevailed: Springfield, Vermont. Wahoo!

“House of Wax”:
The horror movie remake “House of Wax” (2005) starred heiress Paris Hilton, whose popularity at the time was ebbing. Producer Joel Silver capitalized on that fact, however, by selling T-shirts that explained how the movie let viewers “See Paris Die.” Perhaps those shirts should have included the phrase “Spoiler Alert.” In addition, the makers of “House of Wax” allowed a documentary crew from MTV to record all the behind-the-scenes footage they wanted, from the first day of shooting to the last. That kind of backstage access to a major motion picture was unprecedented. Despite these efforts, the film was not a hit in the U.S.

The movie “Borat” (2006) is a unique blend of scripted comedy, documentary, and improvisation. It features an extremely vulgar, comedic character named Borat, a journalist from Kazakhstan embarking on a series of adventures across America. Borat interacts with many real-life people on his voyage, people who had no idea they were “acting” in a movie. Given its unusual characteristics, “Borat” called for a different kind of promotion. And so the actor who played Borat, the comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, gave interviews in character on many different TV talk shows, and even appeared in the New York City Halloween parade. Most daringly, Borat went to the White House and attempted to talk his way into a private audience with President George W. Bush; Borat wanted to invite Bush to see his movie. Not surprisingly, the Secret Service intervened.

The three wild movie promotions described above are all from the twenty-first century. Don’t get the wrong idea, though: Crazy movie promotions have been going on for decades. Consider the publicity stunt for the mostly-forgotten musical “Down Missouri Way” (1946). Someone in Hollywood hit upon the idea of having a studio employee guide Shirley, the trained mule from the film, down Fifth Avenue and into a Rockefeller Plaza restaurant for a meal. The restaurant’s employees didn’t want to play along, though, and they declined to feed poor Shirley. They must have felt the same way the Secret Service officers felt when Borat showed up.

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