How ‘The Gift’ Used Bloggers’ Personal Histories and Periscope to Go Viral

Some 50 bloggers, writers and disc jockeys received a blast from the past this week in the form of creepy gifts.

From lamb chop puppets to a He-Man hat, the packages contained a note from a high school friend, “Gordo,” that referenced trips, obsessions, phobias or other personal trivia and tidbits. No, this was not a case of media stalking on a grand scale.

Rather it was an attempt by newly launched movie studio STX Entertainment to market its upcoming thriller “The Gift.”

“We wanted to convey the cleverness and creepiness of the film itself,” said Oren Aviv, president and chief content officer of the motion picture group at STX. “You have to create a sense of urgency and the more personalized the material, the more people will talk about it.”

The gifts arrived a day before the release of the first trailer for “The Gift,” the story of a couple (Rebecca Hall and Jason Bateman) who are menaced by a childhood friend named Gordo (Joel Edgerton). In the movie, Edgerton’s character gives Hall and Bateman a series of gifts that veer from the thoughtful to the disturbing.

In order to find out information about the bloggers, writers and other influential media personalities, the team at STX spent weeks combing Facebook, Twitter and other sites for obscure stories or anecdotes that the recipients had shared publicly. They were careful not to include information about people’s children or families so that the gifts wouldn’t take on a menacing air.

STX’s marketing team created a Twitter handle for Gordo and engaged the gifts’ recipients in a back and forth about the packages.

The marketing rollout is indicative of the challenge facing studios today. The panoply of available entertainment options in the home — from YouTube to HBO — makes it harder than ever to convince consumers to leave the comforts of the couch for the local multiplex. It’s tough enough for comicbook movies or special-effects driven productions, but for mid-budget films, such as the ones STX is making, the obstacles are even greater.

“You have to cut through the clutter in today’s busy world,” said Jack Pan, president of motion picture marketing at STX Entertainment. “We thought one of the key hooks for the film is the question of if your past is ever really past in a world where everybody has a big social footprint.”

In order to amplify the impact of the trailer, STX Entertainment partnered with iHeartRadio and Twitter. In the case of iHeartRadio, which counts Ryan Seacrest and Mario Lopez among its roster of hosts, it made sure that DJs would talk about “The Gift” promotions on their program.

It also exploited the launch of Twitter’s new Periscope service, an iPhone app that shares live video on the micro-blogging site. Lopez hosted a chat with Bateman and producer Jason Blum tied to the trailer’s release that was streamed on Periscope.

STX Entertainment estimates that the trailer has been viewed 5 million times in 48 hours, and hopes that the number will continue to rise after this weekend when it will screen in front of “Furious 7.” It also helped inspire stories about its innovative marketing in the likes of People and Fast Company, further driving awareness. Aviv told Variety that the company had an internal target for how many trailer views and comments it hoped to receive, and it had exceeded those goals by 50%.

A lot was riding on its success. “The Gift” marked the first trailer debut of an STX Entertainment release. The company was founded last year by veteran producer Robert Simonds and just this week announced it has partnered with China’s Huayi Brothers to co-finance at least 28 movies. Other upcoming projects include “Secret in Their Eyes,” a remake of the Oscar-winning Argentinian film of the same name to star Julia Roberts, and “The Free State of Jones,” an action drama starring Matthew McConaughey.

Marketing is going to be a big emphasis for the company. Aviv said that STX has combined its marketing and production arms so that every decision is made with an eye toward how a particular project will be promoted. In addition to Aviv, who was a top marketing executive at Disney and Fox, the studio has tapped former Universal Pictures chief Adam Fogelson to oversee the company. Fogelson rose up the marketing ranks.

“We all believe that the audience gives you points for doing something different that’s never been done before,” said Aviv. “The only risk is that it doesn’t get shared as much as you’d like.”

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