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Cloverfield: What Went Wrong? 

By Bert Ehrmann
February 11, 2008

CloverfieldA few weeks back the “giant monster that attacks New York” movie Cloverfield opened to huge numbers at the box office earning over $40 million and the number one spot in its first week in release. Cloverfield opened so big that most assumed that Paramount Pictures had another movie franchise on their hands and that a sequel would soon be in the works. On the Web site Bloody Cloverfield director Matt Reeves reportedly said of a sequel, “Only time will tell.”

Flash forward to the second week of release. Movie pundits predicted that Cloverfield would once again dominate the box office and retain its number one position for one more week. Except something went wrong. In this second week, Cloverfield dropped nearly 70% in ticket sales earning just $13 million becoming the fourth most popular movie of the week. Cloverfield was beaten out by the likes of a 300 spoof film, Rambo (part IV) and a Katherine Heigl romantic comedy.

Things got worse in the third week where Cloverfield earned just under $5 million at the box office being beaten out by the Hannah Montana movie. (The solution to giant monsters attacking cities? Tween girls.)

I guess time did tell. What went wrong with Cloverfield?

Cloverfield is one of the first movies I’m aware of to be marketed extensively online and through viral means. Though other movies had certainly used some limited viral marketing in the past, to learn almost anything of substance about Cloverfield, fans would have to uncover hidden Web sites, translate text from other languages and discern subtleties of a few photos released through the films official site.

And judging by the huge first week Cloverfield had, it’s seems as if this hidden marketing worked. The “movie-geeks” who had been following this online campaign flocked to the film on initial release and Cloverfield earned millions.

CloverfieldBut there’s one catch with this new type of marketing, it leaves out one important segment of the movie-going public – everyone else.

Those who decide on what movie they’re going to see on a given weekend by reading the newspaper or via TV commercials had to have been more than a bit confused over exactly what Cloverfield was? Simply watching the TV commercials of people running and screaming in the streets, explosions and a lot of “shaky-cam” says nothing as to the plot of Cloverfield.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that these trailers tied with the TV commercials and poster of the Statue of Liberty sans-head might leave some people to believe that Cloverfield was about terrorism in New York, since it’s never exactly spelled out in the marketing materials what’s going on.

I also found it a bit odd of the lack of change and variety in the marketing of Cloverfield. Other than a few variations in the TV commercials and some text added to the movie poster, there wasn’t much difference between the first teaser marketing campaigns last summer meant to introduce the movie to the public to the final marketing effort this winter meant to sell the film to the public.

And let’s not forget the title of the film. Once you’ve seen Cloverfield you learn this is the codename of the beast used by the government/military. Though I’m sure that the “movie-geeks” who had been following the online campaign for months loved the fact that the title of the film was a sort of inside joke by the creators of Cloverfield, this title doesn’t say anything about the movie to people who haven’t spent hours online researching it.

CloverfieldI can’t help but thinking that even with this odd hidden marketing scheme that appealed to a few, if Cloverfield were truly a great movie than surly the “movie-geeks” who saw the movie opening weekend would have come back the second and brought along some of their non-geek friends with them.

The news isn’t all that bad for Cloverfield. The film reportedly cost a relatively low $25 million to make which was easily made back in its first week in release, and that’s not counting foreign releases of Cloverfield all that’s certainly going to be made when the movie is released on DVD later this year.