It’s been fascinating watching the advertising campaign unfold for Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. On the one hand, the film’s trailers have been presaged by a breathless pre-release campaign — advertising for advertising, the definition of a hard sell.
On the other hand, Fox has also undertaken a viral campaign for Weyland Industries, the mega-corporation behind the film’s exploration to discover the roots of humanity, that barely acknowledges its connection to the movie at all. The first volley in this campaign features Guy Pearce as company head Peter Weyland, giving a TED talk in 2023 about advances in artificial intelligence. The second is just starting to trickle out into the Internet, an advertisement for Weyland Corporation’s latest creation: David, a completely lifelike android who just happens to look like actor Michael Fassbender — who plays an android called David in Prometheus. Check out what looks like a sneak peek at the viral ad below:
Yesterday at the WonderCon fan convention in Anaheim, Calif., EW caught up with Ridley Scott and screenwriter Damon Lindelof and asked about how the faux-TED talk came about. For Scott, it all derives from an important tenant of advertising: Don’t try to sell what you’re trying to sell. That lesson dates back to Scott’s famous 1984 ad for the Apple Macintosh that played during the Super Bowl. “Steve Jobs was pissed off because we never showed a computer, and we never talked about a computer, which to me is the best form of advertising,” Scott says. “At the end, all it said was, ‘We’re going to show you why 1984 isn’t going to be like 1984’ — full stop. I think I’m accurate in saying [Jobs] didn’t like it. [After it aired], it cleared his stock I think in about three weeks, and thereafter Steve Jobs firmly believed in [that kind of advertising].”
So when it came time to brainstorm how to introduce audiences to some of Prometheus‘ headier ideas — What is the origin of humanity? What constitutes life? — turning to the highly addictive TED talks made perfect sense. “Our thinking was, if we’re going to use another brand that we feel is synonymous with what Prometheus feels like to us, it was TED,” says Lindelof. “And because TED had never been used as a marketing tool before, we weren’t really looking at it as viral marketing, although that’s what it was. It was a way to introduce Peter Weyland and his ideas — because that’s what TED talks are — into the movie.”
Of course, the tricky part about viral advertising is allowing people to discover it themselves. Just as Lindelof is finishing the previous thought, Scott pipes in: “There’s another [ad] coming, selling a product of Weyland Corporation which is for all intents and purposes a human being, called David. We talk about the Weyland Corporation and we never mention the film at all. But at the end, he puts his finger on the screen –“
Lindelof interrupts: “Don’t give it away!” So when will we see this full ad? “I don’t know what the plan is,” Lindelof says, shooting Scott a wide-eyed look. “I didn’t even know we were allowed to talk about it.” Scott grins: “Oh dear.”
Ultimately, Scott recognizes that traditional advertising is still necessary in today’s marketplace. “You need to have the poster, and you need to have the TV presence,” he says. “But it’s astronomical what it costs. Viral [ads] are free. You pop it on there, and 100 million people see it for nothing….That’s enough to create conversation, and that’s word-of-mouth.”