The Do’s And Please-Don’ts Of Horror Movie Marketing

I’m one of those weirdos who enjoys both incredibly gory horror movies and 50s musicals at the same time. This year, I’m happy to see that 2016 might be a great time for both.

Horror movies in particular are enjoying quite a lot of buzz due to mostly good films. The Witch, The Conjuring 2, Lights Out, Don’t Breathe and Blair Witch are some of the titles that have been released so far. Many of these have received surprisingly high scores at Rotten Tomatoes during what has been a mostly disappointing year so far.

It’s a great moment for horror genre films. As fans, we can only hope that the winning streak will continue –although Rings doesn’t look all that promising so far.

With Halloween just around the corner, we can expect a few more horror releases. It’s the perfect moment to make some pleads to big –and small- studios preparing their movie marketing campaigns: please, don’t ruin our experience!

Here are some tips to keep in mind when you are advertising a horror film:

The Do’s And Don’ts Of Horror Movie Marketing

Do: Tease The Monster

There’s no horror movie without a monster. Whether it’s an actual creature, an immaterial entity, a psychological representation or an ambiance…there’s something lurking in the story. It’s what makes people scream, squirm and tremble as they watch the movie.

Teasers, trailers and posters must do a great job at giving us hints of what the monster is. After all, their job is to get us in the theater, pronto!

Horror movie marketing must focus primarily on teasing. Building a mystery, showing us hints and intriguing us are the main objectives of any horror film advertising. All promotional materials must give us the eerie sense that there’s an unnatural, menacing force that is coming for us. The monster must be there: mostly invisible, but still present.

Don’t: Show Us Your Best Scare

So you’ve teased the monster, the horror, the oppressing atmosphere that the characters are experiencing. Now, as you continue to cut your trailer, you decide to add a little punch by showing how scary your film is. A couple of great jumpscares, a major frightening scene, and done!

Congratulations! You have now spoiled the movie.

There’s a very thin line between building up the mystery and flat out showing the audience your cards. The art of horror movie marketing consists in finding the balance between the two. It’s a common mistake among horror film marketers to try to convince viewers through shock-value.

Studios need to be careful when it comes to showing elements of their horror movies during the campaign. More often than not, later trailers will reveal key moments of the plot, the monster itself, or pivotal scary scenes. By doing so, you risk showing your best cards and completely underplaying the element shown during the movie itself.

If your audience sees the monster before they’ve reached the theater, your movie loses half its scare power.

Do: Take Your Experience Offline

Some of the greatest marketing campaign for horror movies have been experiential. Just this year, the film The Woods revealed its association with the Blair Witch franchise through an activation at Comic-Con. The event was widely praised, catching critics and fans by surprise.

Rumors of creepy clowns that might -or might not- be linked to Rob Zombie’s next film have also been flowing around… All in all, taking your horror movie marketing campaigns offline is an effective tactic.

From Devil’s Due to The Walking Dead, many horror franchises have surprised their audience through in-person events. It’s a great way of creating buzz around the film, and giving people a small taste at the horrors that await them.

Don’t: Forget Safety

Look, I love zombie movies. Every Halloween I watch Dawn of the Dead and Shaun of the Dead religiously. Zombie flicks are one of my favorite horror movie subgenres. However, if I see someone dressed up as a zombie near me, I’ll probably pass out.

Experiential marketing is fun, and it’s a great way of provoking a good word-of-mouth. If people live a real-life horror experience with your activation, they’ll probably think your movie is equally scary, right?

Well, you still have to consider people’s well-being.

Nowadays, when actual terror can be hiding around any corner, marketers must be careful. Not everyone is a fan of horror movies, and people’s responses might vary drastically. While some might try to flee when faced with something shocking, others might try to fight back.

Think safety first!

Do: Be Honest About The Movie

Although creating a mystery is an important part of any horror movie marketing campaign, so is staying true to the tone of the movie. For films that tither on the verge of other genres -such as Krampus or The Babadook- a campaign that hides their nature can ultimately hurt the public’s perception. Likewise, pretending to be “the first to” use any technique is especially tricky nowadays.

While movies like The Blair Witch benefitted from lying to the audience, it’s more the exception than the rule. Make sure that your film can actually meet the expectations it creates throughout the marketing campaign.

Don’t: Try To Trick Your Audience

Marketing a horror comedy? Embrace it! Promoting a psychological thriller? Focus on ambiance. Advertising an extremely gory film? Make sure your audience knows.

Skip unpleasant surprises, and focus on what your movie has to offer organically.

Horror movie marketing is not easy. As genre films, horror films are divisive by nature. It’s up to marketers to sell an experience that people won’t want to miss.

Marketers, filmmakers and studios must face the challenge head on. Unfortunately, one step too far and they might risk revealing everything or not showing enough. It’s all about balance.

The world of horror movie marketing consists in teasing the hell out of people, while teasing people with hell!

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