The found-footage thriller ‘Cloverfield’
When the first trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane arrived in January, the movie appeared to be operating from the same playbook as 2008′s Cloverfield, also produced by J.J. Abrams. 10 Cloverfield Lane, directed by newcomer Dan Trachtenberg, stars John Goodman as an unhinged survivalist who may or may not be telling the truth about a worldwide attack. Though not billed as a sequel to that earlier monster movie — it’s more of a distant cousin, it turns out — the mystery surrounding their productions felt similar.
Like Cloverfield — a found-footage thriller about a monster running amok in New York City — 10 Cloverfield Lane was shrouded in secrecy and came into existence with few people knowing exactly what it was about. (Originally, the film was called The Cellar and later, Valencia, which enabled its connections to Abrams and his Bad Robot production studio to fly under the radar.) That first trailer, which generated a great deal of media attention, was attached to screenings of the Michael Bay movie 13 Hours, much the way that the first Cloverfield trailer also generated a lot of media attention after screening in front of the Bay’s Transformers. But just as the plot and storytelling approaches between these two releases differ, their marketing strategies diverge in some important ways as well.
To understand how, let’s travel back in time to 2007, when the country was still more than a year away from electing President Barack Obama and the word “tweet” still reminded most people of noises made by actual birds.
The Marketing Campaign for Cloverfield Started Much Earlier Than The One for 10 Cloverfield Lane
While 10 Cloverfield Lane announced its presence just two months before its release date, the Cloverfield hype machine kicked into gear six months ahead of time. Though Ain’t It Cool News had already tipped off readers that Cloverfield existed, mainstream audiences didn’t fully catch on until that deliciously vague first trailer hit theaters in July of 2007. The sneak preview didn’t even announce the name of the movie. All audiences knew was that it was a Bad Robot production, with J.J. Abrams behind it, and that it apparently had a release date of 1.18.08. They also knew it would involve some kind of unseen force wreaking havoc on New York City, as captured by the trailer’s “whoa” moment: a shot of the Statue of Liberty’s head barreling down a Manhattan street. There was so much deliberate mystery around the project that a Bad Robot staff member close to Abrams “feigned ignorance” of the trailer when Variety attempted to get more information.
The Advance Media Buzz About Cloverfield Felt Louder, Perhaps Because It Lasted Longer
In the months between the July debut of the first trailer and the movie’s January release, the film generated lots of media coverage. The release of every tiny tidbit of new information — including the unveiling of the movie poster at 2007′s Comic-Con — provided more fodder to be processed in the blogosphere. (Yeah, blogosphere was a word we used a lot back then.) Even a call sheet that was obtained by Vulture from the final day of shooting in August 2007 was treated like an extremely important clue.
10 Cloverfield Lane has certainly gotten its share of media hits as well, but because its journey from reveal to release has been briefer, it hasn’t turned into quite as much of a mainstream online obsession. There may be a reason that Paramount has played it that way.
The mayhem in ‘Cloverfield’ (Paramount Pictures)
The Cloverfield Hype Built Before Social Media Was Such a Dominant Force
In 2007, Twitter was just a year old and still catching on as a platform. Facebook existed, but hadn’t blown up just yet. Seriously, this is where we were with social media trends when Cloverfield came along: a core component of its online marketing campaign included MySpace pages for each of the movie’s characters. The overall strategy for Cloverfield was to maintain an element of mystery while also getting people talking about the movie for months before it opened.
That’s not radically different from the approach to 10 Cloverfield Lane, but perhaps because of social media, there’s an extra sensitivity about the movie’s mystery element getting pre-emptively ruined. A recent tweet from the 10 Cloverfield Lane Twitter feed promoted the movie, saying: “See #10CloverfieldLane in theaters before you get spoiled.” While leaks have always been a concern, they are an even greater one now, which is all the more reason why it made sense to hold back 10 Cloverfield Lane until the eleventh hour.
Cloverfield Took Great Advantage of It’s Distant Lost Roots
When the intense interest in the unseen beast of Cloverfield started to build, a lot of people had one thought: It must be the Smoke Monster from Lost! Lost was still a huge TV phenomenon at the time, and one that obviously had connections to J.J. Abrams, one of its co-creators and producers. While Cloverfield detectives quickly figured out that this found-footage flick wasn’t going to solve any mysteries about the Dharma Initiative, they started to dig into the alternate-reality games (ARG) and network of websites — including Tagruato, a site focused on a Japanese deep-sea drilling company, and Slusho, a nod to the Slurpee-esque beverage that pops up often in the Abrams universe — that seemed to be dropping potential clues about Cloverfield in a style similar to The Lost Experience, an ARG related to the mythology of the series.
All this viral online, Easter egg-y stuff still felt novel at the time and also helped keep interest in Cloverfield alive.
10 Cloverfield Lane has gotten in on the ARG game, too. As Slashfilm explains, there have been numerous updates to the Tagruato site that appear to be dropping hints related to the new movie. (Look who was one of the employees of the month in February — a guy who looks a lot like John Goodman.) On Reddit threads and blogs like Cloverfield Clues, which has existed since the first Cloverfield, Bad Robot Sherlocks are busily trying to figure out what it all means.
But ultimately, given its tight window to build awareness, 10 Cloverfield Lane might be helped most by more traditional means of marketing. Variety reports that commercials for the post-apocalyptic thriller topped all TV ad spending for last week. Now that the movie has screened for critics —who cumulatively, so far, have given it an extremely high score on Rotten Tomatoes — good reviews and positive word-of-mouth may be what makes the movie a hit.
When Cloverfield opened on Jan. 18, 2008, putting an end to all the mystery surrounding it, it became the No. 1 movie in America. We’ll find out soon whether it’s distant, equally mysterious cousin finds the same success.
Watch the trailer for ‘10 Cloverfield Lane:’