Two days ago, a Redditor posted a grocery-store photo of a DVD of The Martian placed strategically over baskets of potatoes. The thread has since become a subreddit of the month and is doing the viral rounds with Olympian-level speed.
People who've seen the movie, or read the book, will get it: One trial of protagonist Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon, whose whole career right now revolves around being stranded on other planets) is his effort to grow potatoes in hostile Martian soil. So, this is a smart, in-the-know play—the kind of thing that's random at best to people who don't get it, and explosively awesome for those who do.
And while it would be easy to write off as a smart marketing coup by an enterprising grocer, this is surprisingly much bigger than that: The Albert Bartlett potato company actually inked an official partnership with Twentieth Century Fox for the right to use The Martian and Matt Damon's face to sell rooster potatoes (which are red … like the Red Planet!). The DVD/Blu-ray version of the film also comes packed with an Albert Bartlett ad.
"We've been working with Albert Bartlett for 12 years, and it was one of our regular team who first flagged up that The Martian was coming out, which struck everyone concerned as an opportunity too good to miss," Alfredo Marcantonio, executive creative director at Albert Bartlett's ad agency, Hobbs Holmes Marcantonio, tells The Independent.
Sadly, though, it isn't Albert Bartlett's potatoes in the film.
"Unfortunately, by the time we contacted the production team on location in Eastern Europe, they'd finished the potato sequences," Marcantonio admits. "But it got us thinking. And a cheeky suggestion that we produce a disclaimer for the film's end assuring audiences that 'No potato was harmed during the filming…' gave us an in with senior executives out in L.A., who allowed us to view all potato-related scenes ahead of the film's release in secret."
The result of those surreal discussions was a promotion for U.K.-based fans. With help from Fox, Albert Bartlett offered them the chance to win a free trip to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to take part in the Astronaut Training Experience, which includes a briefing from a veteran NASA astronaut and physical space flight preparations using simulators like the Micro-Gravity Wall, Multi-Axis Trainer and the 1/6th-Gravity Chair, which lends the impression you're walking on the moon.
The program concludes with a simulated space mission and a tour of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
The promotion is now over. And while it's safe to say we've never felt any particular loyalty to a potato brand, Albert Bartlett set its stake in the map by cashing in on just a pinch of geek cred.
If you're stocking up on rooster potatoes for some Mars-style home terraforming, you'll have to find your own source of human feces, though. (Editor's note: We don't recommend it. Seriously … don't.)