Marketing Lessons from The Interview

In a series of events that culminated in Sony’s cancellation of the highly anticipated Christmas release of The Interview, data was breeched, terroristic threats were made, and theaters quickly backed down from their plans to release the film as scheduled next week.

Were our lives truly at risk, or has Sony taken viral marketing to the next level by turning a mediocre Seth Rogen/James Franco flick into a must-see for freedom-loving Americans?

There’s ample information to support both sides, but if you’re looking for evidence that indicates marketing – rather than terrorism – is afoot, consider the following.

If Sony sets a new release date or chooses a direct-to-television route for the film, you can bet people will be clamoring to see it. Was that their goal from the start, or has the company actually been terrorized by North Korea’s dictator? While only time will tell, those of us in marketing can already take some lessons from the events of the past few days.

Consider your audience. If this is all an elaborate marketing campaign to raise awareness about a perfectly average, forgettable comedy, Sony couldn’t have picked a better way to do it. All good marketers know that the best way to win over an audience is to appeal to their emotions, and being denied a freedom we count on because of an international threat is nothing short of emotional.

Don’t forget the basics of psychology. Marketing studies typically include a foray into human psychology, and if we know anything about the way our minds work, we know this: people don’t like to be told “no.” Knowing that we can’t have something only serves to make it more appealing. By the time “The Interview” gets released, people who had no previous interest in the movie will be lining up to see it.

Be newsworthy. Give people something to talk about, whether it’s an offbeat commercial, a big charity event, or bomb threats from a despised nation. (Be original, too – we don’t recommend including the latter in your next marketing campaign). The best publicity is free publicity, and when you give people something to talk about, free publicity is exactly what you’ll get.

Jump on that bandwagon. As a sidebar to the movie’s cancellation, The Alamo Drafthouse, a popular cinema with a location in Ashburn, VA, made headlines today when it announced plans to offer a free screening of Team America: World Police in place of The Interview. The arguably more offensive film came out ten years ago, and the Alamo’s popular quote-along format is sure to draw audiences back to the theater for a repeat viewing, all while garnering attention as part of the Sony scandal.

These marketing lessons will serve us well, whether Sony intended to teach them or not. We’d love to hear what else you’ve learned from The Interview.