Why Brands Are Faking Out Consumers With Ads Disguised as Movie Trailers

Taco Bell and Tourism Australia have duped fans, but is it smart marketing?

Chris Hemsworth and Danny McBride star in this fake trailer for a Crocodile Dundee reboot. Tourism Australia
Headshot of Katie Richards

In the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, movie buffs were surprised to find IMDb pages popping up online and unexpected trailers dropping for what appeared to be a reboot of Crocodile Dundee. The trailers for Dundee looked expertly shot, with a dazzling cast of Danny McBride and Chris Hemsworth to match. Viewers soon learned the marketing for Dundee was a sham. There was no movie, but instead fans were watching a campaign from Droga5 for Tourism Australia.

A few weeks earlier, Taco Bell dropped an equally deceptive trailer, starring Josh Duhamel, to announce the addition of fries to Taco Bell’s menu. Other brands have tapped into the growing trend of disguising fake movie trailers as ad campaigns—from a fictitious film trailer by fashion brand Robert Graham, to the NFL’s cinematic trailer, “Hope,” ahead of the 2017 season. It’s keeping consumers on their toes and tapping into humor in a new way that viewers seem to welcome.

“These brands are using self-effacing humor to generate likability between themselves and their audience. … These companies are overtly making fun of themselves and in a marketing climate filled with over-promise and brands that hold themselves up in the highest regard imaginable, the honesty of this approach is a breath of fresh air for consumers,” explained Mike McKay, chief creative officer at Eleven.

One explanation for this new trend is that people can identify more with a film than a traditional ad campaign, Red Interactive CEO Nick Phelps argued. “Few things transcend culture as much as movies and get people passionate. It makes perfect sense to use that for the purpose of your brand,” Phelps said.

While creatives who have worked on these projects argue the process to create a normal ad campaign and one for a fake movie trailer aren’t that different, there’s a lot more attention to detail when marketing a fake movie. So attempting the stunt isn’t for the faint of heart.

Taco Bell payed particularly close attention to how to market movies, when thinking about its creative approach for the “Web of Fries” launch. “We wanted to launch Nacho Fries the same way we would an award-winning movie, by borrowing from the best-in-class movie release playbook. Our goal was for people to legitimately question whether this was an actual movie, which they did,” said Brian Darney, senior manager, advertising and brand engagement at Taco Bell.

That meant building authentic IMDb pages, creating billboards for the fake film and producing believable trailers. Droga5 also noted needing to create a believable world for the Tourism Australia ad, disguised as a Hollywood blockbuster, to live in.

A key part to pulling off the fake movie trailer, according to experts, is finding the right time to release the work. For Tourism Australia, unveiling the faux film’s true identity during the Super Bowl created the perfect storm for success (and nearly 7 million views on YouTube). Taco Bell worked with agency Deutsch to strategically time the release of its faux film to a tent pole event, the NFC Championship Game. The brand also drummed up even more engagement with a Hollywood-style New York premiere of the trailer at a pop-up store, inviting fans and the media to watch it and taste the new fries.

While the fake film trailer has been effective for Tourism Australia and Taco Bell, don’t count on it making its way into every industry, Jarrod Moses, CEO of United Entertainment Group, argued, pointing to financial services and pharmaceutical companies as poor fits for such an approach.

“The brands that work well in the space are brands that also have a lifestyle aspect to their core DNA where there is an emotional connection to the brand versus a tactical or transactional one,” said Moses.

This story first appeared in the March 5, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@ktjrichards katie.richards@adweek.com Katie Richards is a staff writer for Adweek.