scream – marketing recap

How Paramount is selling the return of a franchise that never meta trope it couldn’t disembowel.

Scream movie poster
Scream movie poster

It’s been 11 years since the Scream franchise last hit the big screen and 25 years since the first movie upended expectations and genre cliches. Now it’s back with Scream, though it’s colloquially been referred to as Scream 5 or Scream 2.0. Whatever the case, the movie is a continuation of the series, not a reboot or remake. Here’s the official synopsis:

Twenty-five years after a streak of brutal murders shocked the quiet town of Woodsboro, a new killer has donned the Ghostface mask and begins targeting a group of teenagers to resurrect secrets from the town’s deadly past.

Original stars Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette are back as their characters return to Woodsboro to help newcomers played by Melissa Barrera, Mason Gooding, Jenna Ortega and others survive the new threat they face. And once again we’re promised lots of self-referential humor as the screenplay – by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick – skewers what’s come before and more.

announcement and casting

The movie was announced in March 2020, not too long after the filmmaking team had scored a notable win with Ready Or Not. Paramount announced in June, 2020 it would be distributing the film, with casting announcements – mostly involving the return of those involved with the first series – coming out in the following months.

Williamson’s end-of-production announcement also served as confirmation the film’s title was simply Scream.

Late in 2020, Campbell was interviewed about what it took to lure her back to the series, especially given Craven wasn’t involved.

the marketing campaign

Things started in September of last year with a promotional tie-in campaign from Airbnb that let people book the house from the movie, with Arquette appearing in character in the ads to convey that it’s actually his Sheriff Dewey renting the house out.

The first poster, released in early October, just shows a shadowy Ghostface holding a knife to convey the simple message the the series is returning and will look roughly like what audiences have seen before.

Just before the first trailer was released a number of first-look stills came out showing new characters as well as the return of a few from the original movies.

That first trailer (18.2m YouTube views) opens in a very familiar way, with Tara (Ortega) getting a series of mysterious texts followed by a phone call before opening the door only to find Ghostface there. That’s just one in a new series of attacks that leads Dewey to call Sidney and bring her back home. Once again whoever the killer is seems to have a connection to the group of teens they’ve targeted, but this time the kids have the help of experienced adults like Dewey, Sidney and Gale to help guide them and maybe help some of them survive.

Call of Duty promoted the film by adding Ghostface to the game as part of a general “The Haunting” campaign run at the end of October.

TikTok users could make their voice sound like Ghostface’s via a text-to-speech audio filter added to the app.

Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett were interviewed about taking their turn with the franchise with the help of original screenwriters Kevin Williamson and Ehren Kruger, including how their love of the first four movies made them want to do right by the late Wes Craven, who directed all four of those earlier entries. They covered similar ground when the pair appeared on “CBS Sunday Morning” to talk about this movie specifically and scary movies in general.

An exclusive featurette was shared with Buzzfeed that has Cox, Williamson, Barrera and others talking about how the returning characters have evolved over the years, how the new characters come to get involved in the story and how scary and surprising this new installment is.

Lots of profiles started to emerge around this time of costars Ortega, Jasmin Savoy-Brown and others that introduced their characters, focused on how they are fans of the original films and other related topics.

A motion poster was released in late November that has Ghostface in the background while his knife cycles through the faces of the main characters, with copy reminding the audience that “It’s always someone you know,” hinting that one of those seen is the person behind the mask.

Arquette appeared on “Late Night” and made a few other talk show stops to talk about returning to the series.

Moving into December, there were three character posters that showed Dewey, Sidney and Gale all suspiciously and ominously holding the Ghostface mask. Another series, this time featuring the new characters, was released via Collider around the same time as well as an exclusive featurette that leaned into the “it could be anyone” theme of the campaign to date.

Another featurette has the cast and crew discussing why Ghostface remains such a haunting and effective bad guy.

The first TV spot also came out in early December, offering a cutdown version of the first trailer that focuses on Sidney’s return amid a new wave of killings targeting the town’s younger residents.

Picking up on a trend from the first half of 2020, Paramount released a handful of Zoom background images featuring the outside of the original house and some of the rooms in that house.

In mid-December the studio kicked off the #12ScreamsForTheHolidays campaign, promising a new treat for fans each day leading up to Christmas Day. That began with the release of the final poster (via IGN) showing the entire cast arrayed above the town of Woodsboro as Ghostface looms in the background. “The killer is on this poster” the poster promises.

That campaign and theme was continued in a series of short character-centric videos, with each one mysteriously donning the killer’s mask.

A Dolby-exclusive poster featuring Ghostface’s mouth as a highway’s entrance to a cave or mountain pass was also part of the campaign, as was a Fandango-exclusive featurette timed to when tickets went on sale, an NFT collection, a 4DX-exclusive one-sheet and more.

Among all that was a featurette with Williamson, the directors and the original cast praising the genius of Craven and how integral he was to the first movies as well as how he inspired them to make this new one as good as they could.

The filmmakers participated in a Facebook Group live audio chat toward the end of December where they discussed making the movie and teased fans with what they could expect. Also on the Facebook front was an AR lens for FB, Instagram and Snapchat that added Ghostface to the user’s environment.

Around this time there were also a number of retrospective pieces with actors like Matthew Lilard, Jamie Kennedy and others as they reminisced about their participation in the original movie and discussed why it remains such a milestone piece. A profile of Arquette also had him discussing his up and down career and how he’s matured over the years, working past some of the struggles he’s endured.

The holiday campaign culminated with a new TV spot with a musical stabbing beat.

More TV ads encouraged fans to prepare for what lay ahead, called out the legacy of the franchise and characters and more.

Urban Outfitters ran a sweepstakes for the retailer’s loyalty club members that awarded a hometown screening for the winner and a group of friends.

Another feature piece had Arquette, Cox and Campbell all discussing their continued relationship with the movies and what it was like to return for this new installment.

Paramount had created a movie-branded Spotify playlist of holiday music in late 2021 and continued advertising on that streaming platform, including sponsoring a personalized list of the “songs you played to death.

Campbell and Arquette made a handful of other media appearances on late night and early morning talk shows and elsewhere. That included on “The Drew Barrymore Show”, with Barrymore reenacting her famous opening scene in the promotion of that show. More of the cast, especially the younger new additions, also stopped by that show later on.

While planned press screenings did happen in early January – including cast photo shoots and interviews – a planned red carpet event in Los Angeles was canceled in the midst of the ongoing Covid surge sweeping across the country.

Why the three original cast members were intrigued enough to return was covered in a new featurette.

A VR SurviveScreamHouse.com site was setup that let you drag your cursor around the house and have a text conversation with Sidney (with preloaded responses to send her) to see how long you can survive before Ghostface gets you. Costar Dylan Minnette hosted an episode of “MTV Cribs” that explored the same house.

The final trailer (2.6m YouTube views) came out just days before the movie’s release. It opens with Dewey explaining the rules for survival to the kids and continues to show Sidney determined to finish all the killing once and for all.

Regal Cinemas had an exclusive video interview with the main cast.

A partnership with Reddit had the studio asking people there to make their predictions as to who would live, who would die and who the real killer might be.

Some of the cast participated in a livestream of themselves and others playing the video game Among Us, which also added movie-themed character “cosmetics.”

overall

Projections have the movie scoring around $30m at this weekend’s box office, which might be enough to turn around the narrative that Spider-Man and similar super hero franchises are the only thing that audiences will come out to see. The positive reviews, which have earned the movie a 75% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, should help with that.

As for the campaign itself, it hits a few themes consistently enough that they become ingrained in the public perception of the movie leading into opening weekend:

  • The house is pivotal: There’s so much focus on the house, from the Airbnb promotional campaign to the “MTV Cribs” tie-in and more, it’s clear the studio wants to use that house as a way to tie current audiences to what’s come before.
  • The killer is in plain sight: Messages to that effect are prevalent throughout the marketing, from posters to trailers and more. It’s a nice way to clue the audience in from the outset and make the journey about which one it is, not just the more general “who could it be?” That also plays nicely with the overall self-aware nature of these movies.
  • David Arquette is ready for his comeback: That message is repeated frequently, and I’m all for it.
  • The technology has changed but the threat hasn’t: Seriously, just don’t buy any smart home appliance or other tool.

Scream Movie GIF by Scream - Find & Share on GIPHY

Author: Chris Thilk

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist with over 15 years of experience in online strategy and content marketing. He lives in the Chicago suburbs.

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