With John Cusack's War, Inc. doing well in extremely limited release — averaging $27,000 per screen in its first weekend and almost $10,000 its second weekend — some observers are starting to discuss the film as an example of viral marketing helping a critically derided movie find traction with audiences. In Vanity Fair's blog, Vicky Ward calls the movie a "viral smash" — "a model for a new, grass-roots type of marketing, in which a film’s potential audience (with a little help from the director) may be better able to advertise it than the so-called experts are." But is War, Inc. really a "viral smash"? We're not ready to declare critics or the Hollywood marketing machine dead yet. Those per-screen averages have been indisputably great, but the movie's taken in a total of less than $75,000 — and it dropped 60 percent in its second weekend.
We haven't seen the movie — we hated the trailer so much — but we found Spout's Karina Longworth's take on the movie's marketing a smart one. Though War, Inc. has been active on MySpace and the Web in general, its success thus far is largely attributable, in fact, to good old-fashioned blurbs — but not blurbs from New York Times critics. Instead, the movie's been blurbed by a panoply of political and cultural luminaries and semi-luminaries — from Naomi Klein and Gore Vidal to Liz Phair and "Legendary Graffiti Guerilla Assassin Master" Robbie Conal. As Longworth points out, this is smart marketing, but it isn't viral marketing per se. "If there is any real audience-to-audience communication responsible for the film’s continued success," she writes, "it’s got to be the choir preaching to the choir."