Marketing case study: ’28 Days Later’

Fox Searchlight brings auds to a Boyle

Britain may be quarantined with a devastating zombie rage disease in “28 Days Later,” but in reality, it is proliferating in the United States.

And it’s not about the film going wider every weekend, but about Fox Searchlight’s team in the U.S. tapping the Brit marketing plan.

Pic opened in the U.K. in November, but it didn’t bow Stateside until Sundance in January. “We didn’t know if its Britishness would translate,” says Nancy Utley, Searchlight’s marketing prexy.

Good reviews and audience reaction followed, and Utley didn’t need to tweak much of the material. She kept the one-sheet art — a black-and-red motif of a hazard symbol, as well as much of the ad copy.

Utley’s team did, however, add a few twists to get the $8 million Danny Boyle pic to over $40 million at the domestic B.O. by midsummer:

  • While most marketing teams now shun the Web, Searchlight has spent over $1 million on banner ads.

    It didn’t buy primetime spots, even though it was going to open on 1,260 screens. And Searchlight hardly bought any mainstream print media for the initial release on June 27.

    “For this movie, we spent a lot of our budget on banners,” Utley says.

  • Before the film’s opening, Searchlight tried to cement an audience base with a series of sneak previews in 28 cities. To test the campaign, Searchlight went viral, posting messages on the Web telling potential attendees that if they wear a red shirt to the screening, something would happen. About 40%-60% of each audience came wearing red, and received T-shirts as a reward.

  • After the British DVD release, fans in the U.S. heard about some of the extra features, which include an alternate ending that is bleaker than the original. Fox Searchlight decided to re-release the film with the new ending tacked on — while the film was still in wide release.