Not-So-Stupid Marketing Tricks: Bruno vs. Eminem

Bruno (Sacha) sells his movie

Bruno (Sacha) sells his movie

How do you solve a problem like the “Bruno” movie? You let life imitate art. Sacha Baron Cohen pulled off one of the year’s great publicity stunts Sunday at the MTV Movie Awards, in the clip viewed round the world. Susan Boyle who? Between Sunday night and Monday, it was all about the backless chaps and Eminem’s outrage—at least until the target audience discovered E3 had started.

The actual event was not all that shocking for the venue. Howard Stern also ascended in backless chaps from the rafters way back in 1992 to promote Fartman, a movie he never got around to making. Older viewers may also recall Eminem’s 2002 MTV Movie Awards showing, in which he made homophobic comments about singer/producer Moby and attacked Triumph the Insult Dog, essentially throttling a puppet.

Over the top aerial stunts? Homophobic reaction? Mock(?) outrage? In short, we’ve seen this show before. And yet, it worked. Within 20 minutes of the moment airing live on the East Coast, blogs (including mainstream entertainment sites) were buzzing about the confrontation. #Bruno and #Eminem began trending heavily on Twitter. And everyone tried to add the clip to their Facebook.

As the day progressed, bloggers studied the video like it was the Zapruder film. Everyone agreed that Baron Cohen’s descent was carefully planned and rehearsed. But why didn’t Eminem move? There was plenty of time for him (or anyone in that section) to get out of the way, but they all stayed frozen in their seat. Conclusion: He was in on the joke.

By late Monday morning, the Internet had decided, and “sources” had confirmed, that the rapper knew Bruno would be descending into his lap. He just didn’t know it would dressed like a fallen angel from the West Hollywood Victoria’s Secret. We all know the rapper is a homophobe—remember Moby? And the “Bruno” persona is all about bringing out the worst in homophobes for laughs. Match, point, game over.

At least, that’s what the social networkers decided for a couple hours. By late day, yet more insiders (my money is on people from the Universal Studios, MTV and possibly Eminem camps) had leaked that the entire thing had been planned, and everyone knew everything. Yes, even that. The audience had been mass punk’d.

E3, perhaps the only event on the planet save Comicon that could have pushed this out of the Internet zeitgeist, took over the early afternoon. By late afternoon, Bruno and Eminem were overtaken by Left 4 Dead 2, Xbox 360 Facebook integration and other news from the event. By the time you read this, it will be old news.

And it’s almost exactly 24 hours since the whole thing began.

So what did we learn?

1. You can still reach a mass audience in today’s splintered entertainment world. Between 500+ cable networks, Internet radio, iTunes, Hulu and the gazillion social networking sites, it has become almost impossible to reach everyone. The stunt may have been in bad taste and NSFW, but you can bet it was passed around heavily today.

2.Traditional marketing doesn’t always rule. Bruno, a comedy, is set for a July release in the U.S. If this was say, a Judd Apatow release, you would have seen the trailer approximately 10,502 times by now. Yet until just a few weeks ago, Bruno’s only real exposure was a Red Band (restricted) trailer on MySpace. Even with a regular trailer in theaters, you’re unlikely to encounter it with the same painful frequency as say, “Land of the Lost.” The clip of “Bruno” landing face first in Eminem’s lap is likely to stay with you a lot longer than the sleestaks, however.

3.Your target audience doesn’t have to be watching for you to reach them. You don’t have to be a Disney-level marketer to figure out that the squealing young girls who sent Twilighters to the stage time and again are NOT the target audience for either Bruno or Eminem. Nor are they old enough to enjoy either one without an adult to buy the ticket or album. It doesn’t matter. All it takes are a few high-profile blogs and tweeters to describe what happened, often with colorful descriptions of Baron Cohen’s outfit, to get the Internet abuzz. You may not have seen the New Moon cast, but by now, you’ve seen Bruno’s full moon.

As the stunt fades into the distance, the question becomes, “who won?” Well, let’s examine the not-so-scientific evidence:

  • Baron Cohen and distributor Universal Pictures will have to wait until July to see if the movie enjoys any bounce, or if people are so over Bruno by then. (Universal expects a small opening followed by long legs, similar to Baron Cohen’s Borat film.)
  • Eminem was nowhere to be found on the iTunes top 100s the day after, but his fans might be more likely to buy a physical CD than go to iTunes. Or perhaps they just want to discuss his behavior—his musical performance does not appear to be the topic of conversation. Which leaves…
  • MTV, which managed to squeak a buzz-worthy moment out of an overall lackluster, and often dull, show. By cracking down early and often on illicit video postings, MTV controlled where you could go to find the video. I found plenty of places where I could view it other than MTV.com—but the official videos were clearly imprinted and credited to MTV. The network is also no doubt counting on a bounce for future showings. Eminem’s attempt to beat down Triumph the Insult Dog gave a nice bounce for repeat viewings—but that was before the Internet became a television set.

So hats (pants?) off to a marketing trick that managed to be both smart and stupid at the same time. I for one can’t wait to see Bruno.

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