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How Paramount’s ‘Smile’ Movie Blended Marketing with Live Sports

Last Updated: July 1, 2023
You might remember those creepy fans behind home plate last baseball season. Boardroom spoke with the mastermind behind Paramount’s unsettling marketing campaign for its Smile movie.

From bus stop posters to actors at live sporting events, Paramount’s Smile movie marketing campaign gave us a new creepy-yet-organic way to get the attention of millions around the globe.

Smile became the talk of the world  — on social media, TV shows, everywhere — after the movie placed several actors at different MLB and NFL games in the months leading up to the horror film’s release on Sep. 30, 2022. Some time later, characters from the horror flick M3GAN were spotted at a Los Angeles Rams game.

Paramount’s innovation was not only genius, it was organic. The biggest testament to the marketing campaign? It cost the studio the price of a normal game ticket, and the movie grossed $216 million worldwide against a $17 million budget.

The Paramount marketing team was tasked with creating a “viral social stunt that would help put the film on the map” said Danielle Kupchak, the Executive Vice President, Global Creative Content at Paramount Pictures. 

The campaign generated more than 160,000,000 organic media views and 100,000,000 media impressions in less than one week. Furthermore, AdWeek named it one of the best ads of 2022 and major sports sites and social accounts elevated the stunt, extending its coverage to TMZ, CNN, national news, local news, and beyond.

Boardroom sat down with Kupchak, the mastermind behind it all, who discussed how she and the team got the idea, what the process looked like, wardrobe specifics, live sporting events, budget, and future innovations.

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Anthony Puccio: How did you and the team come up with this idea?

Danielle Kupchak: A couple of months before release, my boss Marc Weinstock (President of Worldwide Marketing & Distribution) tasked us to come up with a viral social stunt that would put this film on the map. During the brainstorm, my three-year-old saw a poster with one of the stars smiling super creepily, and one day she turned to me slowly with a creepy smile. It was so chilling that I knew at the moment we had to bring that creepy smile from the film to people’s everyday lives in a way that felt personal and unexpected. I thought, ‘this is so scary because a smile is essentially like a global act of kindness and happiness.’

We could’ve just planted creepy, smiling actors on the street and created a montage of what would happen, but you wouldn’t have actually experienced it… and that was the difference. We wanted the largest public events that were televised. We wanted to reach the masses but we didn’t want it to feel like marketing. And we didn’t want it to be like a “brought to you by” [advertisement]. We wanted to feel like it was a discovery where people didn’t feel like they were being marketed to.

At that point, we chose places that the public can attend like the Today Show, NFL games, Major League Baseball games and we just bought tickets to the events.

What makes baseball so unique is that it’s one of the only sports where a section of the stadium is on camera for the entire game, which is why we chose home plate tickets. We bought those tickets and put our actors in neon shirts. Now, there was a debate about whether we do neon or white, but I was sitting at a bar watching a baseball game and it was clear that we had to [do neon] just in case the smiles weren’t registering.

We felt like it was critical to do this over consecutive days, for multiple games in one night, so that it felt like it was happening everywhere and it couldn’t be missed. Casting was obviously one of the most important parts. We needed actors to smile creepily for a whole game. They were obviously allowed go to the bathroom, but we wanted them to hold the smile throughout the process of standing up and walking away because we wanted people to say, “What the hell is happening?” 

Even if people weren’t recording it, they were gonna feel something. If you’re sitting there watching the game and you see something coming through the aisle and up the stairs, you’re going to feel something… We weren’t sure that the actors were gonna be able to do this because that’s obviously a marathon for your cheeks. We actually looked into prosthetics or even makeup just in case they couldn’t do it, but the actors assured us they could do it and they did. 

Then, it just totally hit in a way that was expected. We had a feeling that it would become something in the sports world, but it crossed into the broad media and public, plus TikTok, Twitter — all of social media. It exceeded all expectations.

AP: Other than venturing into public spaces, why live sports? What stood out?

DK: It was around playoff season, so especially with COVID, people were watching these games. Sports are still something people actually watch live, generally speaking, usually a community of people watching together and commenting on what’s happening in real time. Whereas when you do marketing shows, you need to think months in advance with integration. That’s why people love being in sports; it’s live and you can’t really get that anywhere anymore with how people are consuming television. So, it was a really great access point for us to reach all fans and we felt like this movie was for everybody, obviously excluding children.

AP: Did any pro athletes say anything about this?

DK: No one ever said anything to us, but there were definitely some players who had looked over and asked “what’s going on?” You couldn’t ignore it.

AP: Did you target specific big market teams or nationally televised games?

DK: Yeah, we wanted to be with big teams in big markets, but we also needed to do multiple games. We targeted national games, but the goal was to get as many games in one night, so we were somewhat limited to a degree.

AP: Did you have to go through the teams? Or did you just buy a ticket?

DK: We literally just bought tickets! 

AP: How about Mr. Met getting involved. There wasn’t any interaction with the Mets?

DK: No, we didn’t talk to them at all. [The actor] showed up to the game and we pulled her around the fifth inning and then they took action. They have a great team of people there who keep their finger on the pulse of what people are talking about. They organically came in on it which was awesome.

AP: What do you envision future innovations to look like?

DK: This was a unique lesson for us all. We’re working on some things and we have some things planned for future movies, but we don’t wanna necessarily be doing the same thing. It wouldn’t be unique. So, we’re trying to take the learnings that we got from this experience and see how we can evolve, make it make sense for each movie. The task now becomes: How can we make sure we’re doing right by the film and staying within the line of what the film is trying do, all while reaching the people in a way that’s organic and unexpected?

We have some things up our sleeves, so maybe we’ll talk soon.

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About The Author
Anthony Puccio
Anthony Puccio
Anthony Puccio is a former Staff Writer at Boardroom. Puccio has 10 years of experience in journalism and content creation, previously working for SB Nation, The Associated Press, New York Daily News, SNY, and Front Office Sports. In 2016, he received New York University's CCTOP scholarship and earned a bachelor's degree in Communications from St. John's University. He can be spotted a mile away thanks to his plaid suits and thick New York accent. Don't believe us? Check his Twitter @APooch.