What Horror Movies Can Teach Us about Marketing

What Horror Movies Can Teach Us about Marketing

These films have some scarily good lessons for all marketers out there!

If you need to know anything about your dear writer, it’s that I love horror films and naturally have fueled this passion by consuming almost all the cult classics. One of the fascinating things about horror films is that even the lowest-budget films (like The Blair Witch Project) have a chance of success at the box office. In fact, horror has emerged as one of the most profitable film genres, with films like Paranormal Activity having a public budget-to-profit ratio of over 20,000%

All of this is to say that there is something to be learned from how these films leave their mark on people’s minds, a skill that most marketing executives out there are vying for. Here is a cliff notes version of some horror genre staples and what marketers can learn from them.

Creating an immersive experience

Customers are the most important part of any marketing strategy, and no one knows that quite as well as the people behind the horror film Hereditary. The film features a family plagued by strange occurrences following the death of their grandmother. The film heavily uses the creepy doll motif, and both the daughter and the mother in the story are shown making dolls. When the film was first screened at the South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival in 2018, everyone who watched it woke up with a doll at their doorstep the next day. This tactic pulled the viewers back into the world of the film, doubling down on the chilling effect that the film had. 

Your marketing strategy should thus focus on creating experiences that hold people’s attention. Such tactics not only pull your customer in but also help generate buzz and get you coverage on prominent news media websites, as with Hereditary.

Creating a “face” for the brand

From tweeting like a real person to posting behind-the-scenes pictures and videos, many top brands today are trying to appear more human to their customers. This can take the form of adding a particular voice or personality into the brand’s social media content to become more relatable to the audience.

Horror films are especially good at creating a recognizable character (albeit usually a villain). Perhaps the best example is the horror film IT (based on a Stephen King novel by the same name), of which many consider Pennywise the Dancing Clown the face of the IT franchise. By revealing the face of Pennywise in the trailers and marketing the film with a signature red balloon tied to various sewers across the U.S., the film grabbed massive attention even before its release. 

Like what IT has done, having a face for your brand will make you more trustworthy and memorable. Some of the biggest brands, like McDonald’s and Burger King, have mascots that raise brand awareness and remind people of their spirit. This is a good place to start if you want to build a close connection with your customers. 

Being funny to get more attention

Everyone likes a good laugh. Research suggests that people have a better memory performance when looking at humorous content than non-humorous content. While horror movies aren’t inherently funny, some films subvert the genre by incorporating humor into their stories. 

One such film is The Cabin in the Woods. The film has every classic horror movie trope—a virgin, a jock, a dumb blonde and a junkie all stuck in an isolated cabin where something horrifying will happen. The film actively acknowledges the stereotyped characters and shows us why events in typical slasher horror films occur in the same order. It creates a universe where these events are conducted by an organization that votes on how the film’s lead characters would die, making fun of the seriousness of a typical horror movie.

Incorporating comedic elements the way The Cabin in the Woods did can give you a high recall value and can help you stand out, particularly in a saturated market. If your marketing campaign makes customers laugh, they’ll be more likely to gravitate toward it. 

Whether you love or hate them, horror films always elicit a strong response from their audience, which is precisely why they are packed to the brim with marketing lessons. Just like how the protagonists try to survive in a horror film, the marketing landscape is hard to navigate, with life-threatening mistakes always around the corner. However, that shouldn’t stop you from trying; instead, you should act just like the final survivor of every horror movie: think quickly on your feet and make unique marketing choices that others might not be brave enough to try. 

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Header image courtesy of Freepik

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