Paranormal Activity: A Movie Campaign That Shocked the Nation (2007)

Horror, Mystery, Thriller | 86 min

Movie Info

Movie Story

Movies and marketing go hand in hand. Without a film, you’d have nothing to market. While without a solid marketing campaign, the chances of the film succeeding are unlikely. Many times in the past, we’ve seen low-budget films skyrocket to stardom due to their appealing marketing campaigns. One of the most well-known campaigns to prove this success is the 2007 Horror-Thriller Paranormal Activity.
With no name actors starring in the film, it was never expected that it would gross over a million dollars. The film’s shot completely with a hand-held camera and takes place in one house. Since there were little special effects, the budget of this motion picture was only 15,000 dollars. The total worldwide gross of Paranormal Activity to this day is a whopping 193.4 million dollars. So how did Paramount Pictures take such a low-cost film and transform it into box office gold? That’s simple, with an unusual marketing campaign that stood out from other films.

Actress Katie Featherston, Director Oren Peli, and Actor Micah Sloat at screening/ Q&A for Paranormal Activity on October 21, 2015 (Source: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images North America)

The Start Of It All

Paranormal Activity’s production was unusual due to its low-budget cost. Not only was the film shot in one week, but both actors, Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat, were only paid 500 dollars for their work. Also, the film’s director, Oren Peli, had no real film background at all. His day job was as a video game designer until he wanted to take a chance as a director. Luckily for Featherston, Sloat, and Peli; their unknown status in Hollywood was soon to blow up after the film was acquired by Paramount Pictures. Of course, Peli had to get the film noticed before this happened though. The director showed off the film at various film festivals nation-wide. After a year, the film caught the attention of Dreamworks who handed off a DVD version of the film to one of the most successful directors around – Steven Spielberg. The big name director watched the film at his home. Once finished watching, he was so spooked that he was convinced the movie was haunted after his bathroom door locked from the inside. To keep it simple, Spielberg loved the film and wanted to see it on the big screen. Dreamworks was later acquired by Paramount Pictures who put on their thinking caps to create an out of this dimension movie campaign.


Paramount’s initial step in their marketing tactic dealt with the release of the film’s trailer. When we see movie trailers, we expect clips of the film put together in a way that gives us some perspective on film’s plot. While at the same time, the creation of the trailer works to intrigue viewers. The marketing team behind Paranormal Activity didn’t want their viewers to feel as though they are watching just another film. Instead, they wanted them to feel as if they are a part of the experience. That’s why the beginning scene of the trailer shows a line of people waiting outside a movie theater.

Once the crowd’s inside, we see a night vision camera directed towards the audience as they watch the film. Fear, distress, and anticipation fill their reactions as they watch the film. Our human instincts leave us wanting to know more and experience the same fear that we see the audience expressing. Paramount Pictures focused on this human curiosity and designed the trailer around it. Viewers understand that the film is about two people who are experiencing some type of evil paranormal activity in their home. The true selling point of the film was through the reaction of the crowd viewing the film. People were immediately hooked and wanted to watch it too.  

Limited Release and Demand Count

Paramount Pictures figured the best way to market the film was to have the audience to demand to see the film. Instead of following typical movie marketing tactics like television spots and billboard ads to promote the film, marketers connected one on one with viewers through social media. At the end of the trailer, Paramount revealed only 13 locations in the United States where the film would play. If viewers did not live in these cities they could “demand” that Paramount plays the film near them. After the trailer’s premiere, Paramount wanted the demand count to pass a million in a couple days before releasing the film nationwide. This method was more successful than the production company could have imagined. Especially, since this was the first film to let the audience determine where it’s released. Its success was proven when lines of people flooded movie theaters around the country with anticipation to see the film.
The buzz and marketing tactics used for Paranormal Activity were adapted from The Blair Witch Project. The marketers behind Blair Witch were one of the first to use the internet to market a film. Blair Witch marketers treated the film as though it was a real story, and many people actually believed it. They created a website that focuses on the myth of Blair Witch. The marketers behind Blair Witch even teamed with websites like IMBD to change the status of the three actors of the film to missing like they are in the film. Paramount Pictures did not focus so much on their film being real like Blair Witch did, but focused more on the audience’s reaction to their campaign.

Through all these successful tactics, Paranormal Activity turned into a movie franchisee releasing a total of six movies over an eight-year span. It wasn’t surprising that none of the five consecutive movies grossed as much as the first film. Though the preceding films had much larger budgets and made big money, nothing compares to the earnings of the original film. This proves no matter how low-budget a film may be, success comes from innovative marketing techniques. My final marketing rating is a solid 10/10 and a close competitor to The Blair Witch Project

Final Marketing Rating: 10/10

Trailers & Videos


Paranormal Activity Trailer

Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Paranormal Activity Movie Clip - Dragged Out of Bed

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