10 Cloverfield Lane and its predecessor, Cloverfield became cult favorites not only because of the films themselves, but in large part due to the mystery and speculation that accumulated around their respective viral marketing campaigns. Cloverfield of course wasn’t the first film to utilize viral marketing as a way of generating buzz (most people would likely point to The Blair Witch Project for that title), but it’s fair to say that the marketing for the original Cloverfield perfected the strategy.
The first teaser trailer for what would eventually be known as Cloverfield was shown in front of screenings of the first Transformers film. The trailer didn’t even include the title of the film, only a release date. From there, the mysterious journey began. Interested fans soon unearthed several websites connected to the release date and other details from the trailer (none of which can be linked to currently because most were running on an outdated version of flash which is no longer supported by almost all computers.)
Once these websites were discovered and decoded, word spread to various film blogs, news, and entertainment sites. The intrigue around this project grew and grew up until the day it was released. Eventually, the first Cloverfield was produced on a $25 Million budget, and made $170 Million at the box office worldwide.
The first teaser for 10 Cloverfield Lane was released during the super bowl in February of 2016, with a release date showing the film was going to come out only one month later. With its connection to the original Cloverfield, fans of the film knew there was more to the story. They unearthed an official full trailer as well as an electronic correspondence between two of the film’s characters. All of this immense detail was revealed without ruining anything regarding the plot of the film itself. 10 Cloverfield Lane went on to earn $108 Million at the box office on a $15 Million budget.
Utilizing a strategy of viral marketing on the first Cloverfield was an extremely risky move. Cloverfield wasn’t an established brand and had no recognition whatsoever. There was no guarantee viewers would find, or even be interested in finding, the secret websites set up to advertise the film, however both of these films were great successes. Why? J.J. Abrams famously describes his method of storytelling as the “mystery box” where the filmmaker keeps as many elements as secret as he or she can so as to amaze the audience when the mystery is finally revealed. Creating a campaign of viral marketing around a film or other piece of media made with this “mystery box” mentality brings viewers deeper into the mystery itself, often revealing more questions than answers. This makes viewers invested in the story and the film before it’s even released, virtually guaranteeing that their interest will translate into ticket sales.
We’ve seen since the late 90s that viral marketing can be a great way to cheaply create buzz and excitement around a low budget film through word of mouth and free publicity. With its intricate and interconnected branches of its marketing strategy, Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield perfected the art of essentially spending as little money as possible for the greatest reward.