‘Get Out’ Marketing Tapped Into Relationship Between Racism and Horror

Universal's recent hit pushed the public's buttons and hit nine figures at the box office

Chris Washington (DANIEL KALUUYA) is the
Courtesy of Justin Lubin

Universal’s marketing campaign for “Get Out” pressed all the usual buttons for a low-budget R-rated horror film, with creative that emphasizes scares and media buying focused on genre devotees. But that base alone didn’t carry the movie to its No. 1 ranking with $33.4 million in domestic box office for its opening weekend in late February.

The studio mounted a parallel campaign punching up “Get Out’s” serious cultural commentary with a different messaging and placements outside of typical horror-film media.

“Clearly, [writer-director] Jordan Peele was rubbing against a nerve that the culture isn’t truly post-racial,” says Josh Goldstine, Universal’s president of worldwide marketing. “He exposed a truth that lies beneath the culture and did it in the form of a horror film.”

The movie centers on a young black man who becomes increasingly unnerved when visiting his white girlfriend’s family for the first time in an upscale neighborhood with a dark secret. The film received excellent reviews, so commercials presenting those critical kudos ran in TV programs viewed by mainstream moviegoing audiences, such as “24: Legacy” and “The Bachelor.”

In addition to running before such genre pictures as “Split” and “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” the “Get Out” trailer was paired with serious films, including “Fences.” This association with high-brow fare “reframed how people perceived” the movie, Goldstine says.

Amplifying the buzz that “Get Out” is a genre film to take seriously, the New York Times published a story headlined “Jordan Peele on a Truly Terrifying Monster: Racism.” It ran the week before the film’s debut and featured a lengthy interview with Peele.

Goldstine notes that Peele — already well known from his comedic turns — generated publicity in a serious vein in the mainstream press, which “is not something you ordinarily do with a horror film.”
“Get Out” was produced by Jason Blum’s horror filmmaking enterprise, Blumhouse Productions, giving the film its strongest brand association in the thriller genre.

“One of the many advantages of micro-budget filmmaking is that it gives the marketing department the ability to take risks,” says Blum. Universal “embraced everything that is unique and subversive about Jordan’s movie.”

Reports say the film cost under $5 million to make.

The “Get Out” trailer, which debuted in October, generated 66 million views, which Universal says is two to three times the norm for an original horror film. Its wide circulation is partly the result of users sharing it with friends.

“It created a conversation,” says Goldstine. “We saw that in the organic-share numbers and general play-numbers.”

Feeling that “Get Out” would be well received, Universal scheduled about 200 pre-release screenings to cultivate favorable word-of-mouth. Audiences were recruited online and at movie theaters. Chance the Rapper hosted one of them.

Once “Get Out” was in theaters, Universal fanned the flames of fan-generated content. Users posted videos on Twitter’s #GetOutChallenge that re-create a scene of a young man running menacingly toward the camera before he veers aside at the last moment. Among those posting: Golden State Warriors basketball star Steph Curry.

A satire video titled “Get Out of the White House” on the Funny or Die website soon piled up more than 3.7 million views.

Clearly, the cultural relevance for “Get Out” expanded its audience exponentially and gave it far more staying power at the box office. The movie passed $100 million domestic after just 16 days in release, achieving blockbuster status.

“We created a certain amount of heat going into it,” Goldstine says. But “when you are part of the cultural conversation, that’s when the audience thinks ‘I’ve got to see this.’