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Call Toll-Free! Movie Marketers Are Standing By!

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

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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.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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