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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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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.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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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

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