The horror movie Smile was a breakout hit of 2022 – in no small part due to an especially clever viral marketing and promotional campaign by Paramount Pictures. Smile used the core distinctive part of its premise (a demonic entity that imitates people, stretching their mouths into horrific smiles) to smash through the noise of the modern world and social media, and freak people out in ther process. Anecdotes of people scrolling through their social feeds. only to be ambushed by freaky gifs of grinning people sparked big word of mouth; the film made national headlines when it used Major Legue Baseball in its campaign!
if you don't recall: In late September 2022, just as Smile was about to hit theaters (September 30th), the film hired actors to place at every major MLB game being played in the or more leading up to release. The actors were seated just behind home plate (and subsequently dead center of the TV broadcast) where they sat with the unnerving smiles on their faces throughout the whole game, while wearig Smile promotional shirts. If that wasn't enough, other Smile "plants" popped up in places like The Today Show audience, creating a sustained viral buzz that first captured attention by genuinely freaking people out, then generated the subsequent explanations in the press. That marketing and promotional strategy only helped sell Smile to the masses, after Paramount originally saw it as just a Paramount streaming release.
In terms of box office, Smile ended up being highly successful, earining over $215 million wordwide on a budget of just $17M. It made breakout talents of both writer/director Parker Finn, as well as Sosie Bacon, the daughter of Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgewick. In a new interview, Parker Finn reflects on how that one-of-a-kind baseball marketing idea for Smile came together:
All the departments at Paramount are amazing experts at what they do, and they're really good at thinking outside of the box," Finn told THR. "Marc Weinstock sits in the highest chair of the marketing department at Paramount, and there's a reason why he's there. Brian Pianko is the head of creative advertising, so all of the professionals working over there are amazing.
And when that idea to put smilers at baseball games came up, we talked about it maybe five or six weeks before it happened. And I just loved that they wanted to do it truly guerilla and not put their thumb on the scale. They were like, "If people catch on, they catch on. If they don't, no harm, no foul. It's not going to cost a ton of money to do it." And the smilers first happened when we were down in Austin for our premiere at Fantastic Fest, and watching it go viral was just so incredible and gratifying and exciting."
Finn also addressed if the success of Smile could lead to a sequel film (Smiles?):
"I do think that there is still a lot of interesting stuff to explore in the world of Smile. There certainly are stones that I left unturned by design. And then there are other things that I, at one point or another, wanted to put in the movie, but they didn't end up in the movie for whatever reason. So those things are still exciting to me, but if there's more to be done with Smile, I would never want to just repeat myself or retread the same ground. I'd want to make sure that there's a new, exciting, fresh way into it that the audience isn't anticipating. I also want to find some new ways to scare them and unnerve them.
But as far as how it may connect to the first one, if we were to do it, I'd want that to be surprising as well."
Smile is available to stream on Paramount+.