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Godsend Institute

Project type:
Movie promotion
In support of:
Godsend (Lions Gate Films)
Date:
February 2004
Description:
Godsend was a horror/suspense movie about a family who attempts to recover from the death of their young son by having him cloned. They soon find out that just because something can be done doesn't mean that it should be done....

The movie gets its name from the fictional Godsend Institute, which is the source of the scientific and medical knowledge needed to carry out the cloning. And, indeed, the Internet component of the marketing for the film included a fake web site, www.godsendinstitute.org, which purported to be the public face of the Institute. It's a fairly simple site, offering visitors about six pages of promotional information about the Institute, including a biography of the founder (who appears in the movie), testimonials from happy customers, and a few links to cloning-related pages. It changed little during the promotion of the movie. Interested visitors to the site were encouraged to call a phone number and ultimately leave a message on a voicemail system to get more information about the Institute and its work. The site was publicized in a number of ways, including the purchase of cloning as a high-priority Google AdWord.

I have mixed feelings about this campaign. The research institute was an obvious candidate for a faux web site; my concerns lay in the context in which people discovered the site, the content of the movie, the connection between the site and the movie. The use of the Google AdWord, while potentially powerful, meant that people could stumble onto the site as a result of doing a search for information on cloning, and not realize the promotional nature of the site. And, in fact, a number of people in the same situation as the parents of the movie found the site and called the phone number. This mistaken perception could be a harmless or even funny result of the site visit -- "Oops, they fooled me!" -- but not when the movie is about the death of children. The result was that the movie caught quite a bit of negative press, and the studio found themselves with a PR problem they certainly weren't expecting.

Since the time of the bad-press eruption, the AdWord has been dropped, and the connection between the faux site and the "official" site has been strengthened a bit (but only a bit). Other movies have built promotional campaigns around fake sites for organizations from their storyline, and managed to be clear about the promotional nature of the site and its connection to the promoted movie. (For instance, consider Gattica and Lacuna, Inc. / Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.) What's worse is that the vast majority of people who entered the faux site through the Google route went away with no connection to the movie, so the studio gained no promotional benefit from the site at all.

Overall, I'd have to consider this site to be a good example of how not to do an immersive campaign. Several problematic things came together in this one, and the result was a black eye for the studio and the movie. Unless you really do believe that there's no such thing as bad publicity...