The ad campaign for the movie 2012 has two goals. The first goal is to convince people that they are going to die in two years when the world ends. The second goal is to then convince those people that their remaining time alive is best spent sitting through two hours of CGI explosions and John Cusack’s acting.
I think the 2012 advertising is my favorite movie advertising of all time. It takes the cheesy disaster movie advertising of the 90′s and tries to amp it up for a society desensitized by actual disasters like 911 and Katrina. The result is a mix of ridiculous advertising stunts with a fucked-up undercurrent. Here in Philadelphia, companies advertise on big billboards next to the bridges. The idea is that when you’re stuck in traffic, you can stare at gigantic pictures of burgers until your stomach bursts through your skin and takes the wheel. The dollar menu was actually created so people had money left to get their stomachs stitched back in.
The marketing team behind 2012 decided that they too would advertise on the big bridge billboards. But unlike McDonalds and Mattress Giant, the 2012 campaign is advertising a movie about earth-ending natural disasters that wipes out humankind. And they are advertising this on a bridge. A fucking bridge that’s just swaying in the evening smog. The last thing people on a bridge need to think about is scenes from the end of the world. Guess what isn’t going to survive the end of the world? Bridges.
The marketing company in charge of this 2012 campaign knows this. They know it’s fucked up to advertise mankind’s downfall on a rusty bridge, so they check themselves by making the ads as cheesy as possible. The billboard ads for 2012 don’t say “2012: We’re Fucked” or “In Thee Year 2012, God Eats Your family” or “2012: Who Will You Bury First?” The ads read “2012: We Were Warned.”
We were warned? Oh I see, the whole idea that the world is going to end is based on some myth about the Mayan calendar. So the Mayans tried to warn us about the end of the world even though they had no idea our civilization would exist. Even if they were trying to warn us, what were we supposed to do? Pray more? Construct a backup planet out of wire mesh? Shutdown every sports team and funnel the saved money into personal safety bubbles for every man, woman, and child?
These ads work in a strange way. At first you’re like “wait a second, I’m on a bridge and I’m not John Cusack, so I’m fucked.” But then you read the “we were warned” and you’re like “this movie is going to suck.” It’s a delicate balance, but the 2012 team managed to pull it off. It’s like seeing an ad for a movie called “Global Terrorist Kills Everyone” but then finding out the terrorist character is played by Carlos Mencia.
This balance probably won’t help 2012 do well at the theaters, but it stops people from setting the billboards on fire.