The Smile dominates the box office after a scary but effective marketing campaign

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The Smile dominates the box office after a scary but effective marketing campaign

By Kelly Christ

Los Angeles, California – The new horror film Smile topped the box office this weekend and at least part of that success is due to a viral marketing campaign.

Smile’s unusual marketing campaign has gone viral on social media. © Collage: screenshot/TikTok/stuffaboutadvertising, screenshot/TikTok/relayts

To promote the film, Paramount sent actors into the crowds of several live events, primarily Major League Baseball games. The actors stood in the background of the action with an ominous smile frozen on their faces.

Smile features a supernatural force that possesses people and makes them do terrible things while smiling in the same creepy way as actors.

The horror film, which stars Sosie Bacon, topped the box office in its opening weekend, taking the top spot with $22 million in ticket sales.

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Smile may owe much of this success to its unusual marketing tricks.

MLB fans were spooked by the smiling actors

Several TikToks discussing the marketing tactic went viral in the past week.

Several TikToks discussing the marketing tactic went viral in the past week. © Collage: screenshot/TikTok/ethan_simmie, screenshot/TikTok/screenoffscript

Baseball fans were collectively freaked out by the smiling actors placed in the crowd last week. A virus video, taken at the Oakland Athletics and New York Mets game on Sept. 23, showed one of the actors in the front row of the crowd smiling directly at the camera during the telecast. Smiling actors were also spotted at New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers games.

A TikTok with over 3 million views features a smiling Smile actor amidst a swarm of fans, some cheering while others give hilariously horrified looks at the cameras.

And it wasn’t just the viral posts that got the word out. TikTok users have also made videos responding to the spooky campaign, praising its innovation and creativity.

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In addition to the cast, the marketing campaign also included a website created specifically for the film called smilesightings.com.

The website features the slogan “Once you see it, it’s too late” and invites visitors to “Report that smile”. Visitors can submit photos of “real-world” smile sightings or share a selfie using a Smile Snapchat filter. If you stay on the page for more than a few seconds, you’ll encounter a terrifying jump scare.

Smile director Finn Parker had his doubts about the campaign

Director Parker Finn speaks at the Los Angeles premiere screening of Smile at the Aero Theater on September 27.

Director Parker Finn speaks at the Los Angeles premiere screening of Smile at the Aero Theater on September 27. © PHILLIP FARAONE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

Smile manager Parker Finn revealed he wasn’t entirely sure the marketing tactic would even work. “I have to say Paramount marketing was very smart with some of the tricks they had for this movie,” Finn said, per Entertainment Weekly.

“It was something we had discussed a short time ago and we were all kind of like we were crossing our fingers that someone noticed.”

Finn needn’t have worried, as the film’s box office success proves. It’s also not the first time that marketing teams have taken such a bold route.

The found footage film The Blair Witch Project gained traction thanks to a clever promotional tactic that aimed to confuse the minds of potential audiences. The marketing team posted missing persons posters featuring the characters on college campuses, created a website to explain the urban legend surrounding the Blair Witch, and wrote posts on online forums drawing attention to legend and missing persons. The campaign was a huge success, with the film grossing $248.6 million at the box office on a budget of less than $1 million.

Smile’s similar real-world infiltration shows the lasting publicity impact of The Blair Witch Project more than 20 years after its release. By placing actors at live events, Smile deftly brought the strategy into the social media age, targeting both the older demographics who likely watched MLB games live on TV, as well as younger audiences who would react to photos and videos of the actor shared online.

If Smile’s success is any indication, we should brace for even scarier — and even more real — horror movie marketing campaigns to come.

Cover photo: Collage: screenshot/TikTok/stuffaboutadvertising, screenshot/TikTok/relayts

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