As The Wall Street Journal reports, New Zealand-based director Gerard Johnstone was working on his planned film about an evil doll when he suddenly imagined the toy android dancing. The trailer featuring his brainchild, when it arrived in October 2022, was a sensation, with people mimicking M3GAN’s moves on TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter, set to music by Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Megan Thee Stallion. Via official Twitter accounts, the character even took shots at the reigning evil doll of the horror genre, Chucky.
According to The Daily Beast, the trailer worked in combination with blockbuster reviews to lead to box office success. M3GAN, which had a budget of about $12 million, grossed $30 million in the United States and $45 million globally in its opening weekend. Universal touts a statistic that 44% of the movie’s first-weekend viewership was 23 or younger. The upshot could be an onslaught of “in-your-face marketing,” at least for horror flicks.
Michael Moses, the chief marketing officer at Universal Pictures, discussed the M3GAN campaign in a recent podcast with The Ringer. The initiative, as Deadline reports, included a troupe of M3GAN dancers appearing before a trailer for a new Tailor Swift song, at the Empire State Building, on late-night TV shows and during halftime of an NFL game. Fans could “talk” with a “M3gan Bot” over Twitter and Messenger. M3GAN was the lead sponsor for a new Bad Bunny video and TV spots for the film aired during major sporting events over the holiday season. One of the producers said, “When you feel that enthusiasm from marketing as a producer it gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling.”
Another recent horror movie, Smile, also benefited from a “meme-y” marketing campaign, where creepily smiling people were in attendance at sporting events leading up to the film’s release, as TheGamer notes. That film, which cost only $17 million to make, raked in $216.1 million worldwide last fall. The success of these films also raises the question of how broadly applicable such approaches might be.