Call Toll-Free! Movie Marketers Are Standing By!

Call Toll-Free!  Movie Marketers Are Standing By! (photo)

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FOR HELP CALL 888-743-4335.

If you live in an area with a lot of movie billboards, you’ll probably see one that looks like that this week and mentions in smaller print at the bottom that the poster is, in fact, a sneaky advertisement for “The Virginity Hit,” a mockumentary about a teenager trying to lose his virginity. Calling the number gets you “The Virgin Helpline” where you’re greeted by an automated message from Zack Pearlman, one of the film’s stars, and a bunch of options for button presses (1 if you’re a virgin, 2 if you know a virgin and so on).

Deadline reports that the billboards are causing a “nationwide controversy,” though I think what they mean to say is that Columbia is hoping to manufacture a controversy which will then bring attention to a tough-to-market movie made by and featuring total unknowns. The only people I can imagine really getting upset about this are real-life Andy Stitzers who call expecting genuine help.

“The Virginity Hit”‘s technique here is nothing new: using a genuine phone number to advertise a fiction is one of the oldest tricks in the movie marketing book (I suppose the fact that “The Virginity Hit” is a fiction masquerading as a documentary ads an element of meta-ness, if nothing else). In recent years, viral campaigns for films have sent curious fans on wild goose chases that included phone numbers to call for clues or information. Texting a number found on “Cloverfield”‘s website sent a ringtone of the movie’s monster to your phone. Ads for the slasher movie “Vacancy” included an 888 number designed to sound like the automated operator of the fictional hotel where the film was set. One elaborate promotion “The Dark Knight” involved encouraging people to go to bakeries and asking for items left for “Robin Banks.” According to one description of the stunt, “Once they arrived at the location (always a bakery) they were given a box with a cake and a phone number on it. Inside the cake was a phone, a charger and a Joker playing card with instructions. The cakes were distributed on a first come first served basis. Callers got through to ‘Rent A Clown’ and then received a text telling them to keep the phone at all times.

Of course, phone numbers in the movies themselves are still usually of the fake 555-1234 variety. But once in a while, movies will drop real numbers in, knowing attentive viewers will call. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia,” the number provided on Frank Mackey’s (Tom Cruise) informercial took you to a recorded message from Cruise in character. And all the way back in 1932, Stan Laurel included his real private phone number in the film “Helpmates.”

09012010_virginity2.jpgThis technique is no guarantee of good word-of-mouth, though. In a scene from 2003’s “Bruce Almighty,” God leaves Bruce (Jim Carrey) a page with a phone number to call. And since God in all His omnipotence wouldn’t be caught dead with a phony phone number, He used a real seven digit extension. The producers made sure the number wasn’t valid in the Buffalo area where the film was set, but didn’t take into consideration that numbers are recycled with different area codes all around the country. Before you could say “And on the seventh day, God pranked a crapload of people,” people with that number started receiving phone calls for The Lord.

The terminus for all this may be a movie that Gizmodo first reported on back in March: a German horror film titled “Last Call,” which uses the gimmick in reverse. Instead of providing fans with a number to call, it asks the fans to supply the movie with their own number. Then during the screening, a computer randomly selects one audience member to call, who then gets to instruct one of the characters how to react to the danger onscreen. Presumably, their advice does not include “Turn off your phone when you’re in the movie theater.”

So why do movie ads resort to phone numbers? In his book “The Tipping Point,” Malcolm Gladwell talks about the way that marketers use interactivity as a means of enhancing a message’s “stickiness,” or the degree to which an advertisement is memorable and lodges itself in the audience’s brain. Essentially, when you have the target of your advertising participate in that advertising (by calling a phone number, for example) you are requiring a level of active attention that helps distinguish your ad from the hundreds or thousands of others surrounding it. Frankly, the phone number or whatever is waiting for you on the other end of line is less important than the sheer act of piquing your interest and making you go through the trouble to call it.

At this juncture, please refrain from any and all sticky puns used in conjunction with “The Virginity Hit.” Thanks.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.