15th Aug 2006, by Andrew Barr

Snakes on a Plane - Viral Campaign or Cyber-Nature at its best?

Unless you have been hiding under a real life rock (rather than a cyber rock) you can not have failed to hear about the soon to be release film Snakes on a Plane, starring Samuel L Jackson.

Much has been said about this being one of Hollywood’s most comprehensive viral marketing campaigns but really, is it a planned viral campaign or has the film studio just got lucky?

There is no doubt that the film has captured the imagination of browsers, bloggers and surfers everywhere, but only time will tell if it was seeded deliberately by a viral agency, or if it really did just take off due to its catchy title.

Industry commentators have naturally drawn comparisons to the 1999 film, Blair Witch, and the viral campaign that was seeded by agencies acting on behalf of the film makers. There are huge differences between these two films and the vial surge surrounding them.

The Blair Witch team deliberately set out to start a campaign spreading the word that the footage used in the film was real (duh - it wasn’t), and that the events that happened were real… (duh, it did not really happen – hmm, yet I still fell for it!). In contrast, the buzz around Snakes on a Plane is simply that it has a catchy title that has spun off into many different areas such as fake trailers, fake merchandise and fake lines from the film (that ended up being used, but more about that later).

The first traces of the internet becoming aware of Snakes on a Plane was when Screenwriter Josh Freidman talked about it on his blog on 17 Aug 2005, where he wrote “I ask my agent the name of the project, what it's about, etc. He says: "Snakes on a Plane." Holy s**t, I'm thinking. It's a title. It's a concept. It's a poster and a logline and whatever else you need it to be. It's perfect. Perfect. It's the Everlasting Gobstopper of movie titles”.

It is then rumoured that the star of the movie, Samuel L Jackson forced New Line Cinema (the makers) to change the title back to the original working title, Snakes on a Plane after they had proposed changing it to Pacific Flight 121. By this time interneters were all over the movie, something that Josh Friedman claims he predicted.

I am guessing that by this stage, with 10m hits coming back from a Google search on the film title, the film company realised something had to be done to harness the power of the viral activity in order to make it a bigger success. They saw all these fake trailers, Snakes on a Plane blog sites, fake merchandise and alike and needed to act swiftly to keep momentum going. They kept a close eye on what was being written and eventually gave further funding to the director to go and film extra shots, incorporating the lines and plot suggestions written on the web.

One of the most significant changes is that the film was bumped from the UK equiv of a 12 Certificate to an 18 Certificate, along with Samuel L Jackson being asked to say a line that fans across the net had been asking for, “I want these motherf**king snakes off the motherf**king plane!”. Good stuff.

In March 2006 the film company took its viral efforts to a new level by setting up a Snakes on a Plane site that had a competition to find the number one fan. To be the number one fan contestants had to post as many links as possible about the film on blogs, forums and websites etc and then encourage the users of those sites to vote for them.

This was coupled with an innovative initiative by VeriTalk whereby visitors to the site could get an automated system to generate and send a message in Samuel L Jackson’s voice to a recipient of their choice, with of course, the obligatory plug for the film. Slick.

On top of this the site ran competitions to find the best song for the soundtrack and merchandise suggestions, a unique and rare collaboration of fans and film makers.

Since then Samuel L Jackson himself has taken every opportunity to promote the film, most notably in June 2006 where he said the following whilst presenting the Best Movie award at the MTV Awards, “I'm here tonight to present the award everyone's been waiting for: best movie. Now, this award holds a special place in my heart because next year I'll be winning it for Snakes on a Plane. Now I know, I know that sounds cocky, but I don't give a damn. I am guaranteeing that Snakes on a Plane will win best movie next year. Does not matter what else is coming out. The New James Bond ... no snakes in that! Ocean’s 13... where my snakes at? Shrek the Third... green, but not a snake. No movie shall triumph over Snakes on a Plane. Unless I happen to feel like making a movie called Mo' Motha-fuckin' Snakes on Mo' Motha-fuckin' Planes”.

Jackson then attended the London premierre of his film, Miami Vice, wearing a Snakes on a Plane t-shirt, something that the UK tabloid media claimed did not go down well with the Miami Vice film makers.

As I said at the outset, only time will tell if this really was a very well orchestrated campaign or if cyber-nature (the modern day replacement of ‘Mother-Nature’) did just become infatuated with the title to the point where the first film has been made that was largely driven by movie goers.

Whatever happens, I am going to see the film, after all, by writing this blog post I am adding to campaign. :-)

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