Monday, October 1, 2018

I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell (Trust Me I'm Lying)

A notable lesson from the following excerpt is how negative press - especially that which was generated by female detractors - boosted interest in the film.
In creating outrage for the movie, I had a lot of luck getting local websites to cover or spread the news about protests of the screenings we had organized through anonymous tips. They were the easiest place to get the story started. We would send them a few offensive quotes and say something like "This misogynist is coming to our school and we're so fucking pissed. Could you help spread the word?" Or I'd e-mail a neighborhood site to say that "a controversial screening with rumors of a local boycott" was happening in a few days.

Sex, college protesters, Hollywood - it was the definition of the kind of local story news producers love. After reading about the growing controversy on the small blogs I conned, they would often send camera crews to the screenings. The video of the story would get posted on the station's website, and then get covered again by the other, larger blogs in that city, like those hosted by a newspaper or companies like the Huffington Post. I was able to get the story to register, however briefly, by using a small site with low standards of newsworthiness. Other media outlets might be alerted to this fact, and in turn cover it, giving me another bump. At this point I now have something to work with. Three or four links are the makings of a trend piece, or even a controversy - that's all major outlets and national websites need to see to get excited. Former media critic Jake Shafer called such manufactured online controversy "frovocation" - a portmanteau of faux provocation. It works incredibly well.

The key to getting from the second to the third level is the soft sell. I couldn't very well e-mail a columnist at the Washington Post and say, "Hey, will you denounce our movie so we can benefit from the negative PR?" So I targeted the sites that those kinds of columnists were likely to read. Gawker and Mediabistro are very media-centric, so we tailored stories to them to queue ourselves up for outrage from their audiences which happen to include reporters at places like the Washington Post. And when I want to be direct, I would register a handful of fake e-mail addresses on Gmail or Yahoo and send e-mails with a collection of all the links gathered so far and say, "How have you not done a story about this yet?'' Reporters rarely get substantial tips or alerts from their readers, so to get two or even three legitimate tips about an issue is a strong signal. So I sent it to them. Well, kind of. I actually just did more of the same fake tips from fake e-mail addresses that worked for the other sites-only this time I had a handful of links from major blogs that made it clear that everyone was talking about it.

At this point something amazing happened:
The coverage my stunts received began helping the twenty-thousand dollar- a-month publicist the movie had hired. Rejections from late-night television, newspaper interviews, and morning radio turned into callbacks. Tucker did Carson Daly's NBC late-night show for the first time. By the end of this charade, hundreds of reputable reporters, producers, and bloggers had been swept up into participating. Thousands more had eagerly gobbled up news about it on multiple blogs. Each time they did, views of the movie trailer spiked, book sales increased, and Tucker became more famous and more controversial. If only people had known they were promoting the offensive Tucker Max brand for us, just as we'd planned.

With just a few simple moves, I'd taken his story from level 1 to level 3 - not just once but several times, back and forth. Ultimately the movie did not do nearly as well at release as we'd hoped - this supplementary guerrilla marketing ended up being the entirety of the movie's advertising efforts rather than a small part of it for reasons outside of my control - but the attention generated by the campaign was overwhelming and incredibly lucrative. Eventually the movie became a cult hit on DVD.

Once you get a story like this started it takes on a life of its own. That's what happened after vandalized Tucker's billboards. Exactly one week later, inspired by my example, sixteen feminists gathered in New York City late at night to vandalize I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell posters all over Manhattan. Their campaign got even more coverage than my stunt, including a 650-word, three-picture story on a Village Voice blog with dozens of comments (I posted some comments under fake names to get people riled up, but looking at them now I can't tell which ones are fake and which are real). From the fake came real action.

I Hope The Serve Beer In Hell Trailer