Six Digital Marketing Campaigns as Classic Horror Movies


Stories are powerful learning tools… especially scary ones. So in the spirit of Halloween, we thought it’d be a good idea to revisit some hard-earned digital marketing lessons and discuss some new ones we’ve learned over the course of 2019. But this time, we’re taking inspiration from the big screen.

Here’s a rundown of common digital marketing campaigns perfectly illustrated by classic horror movies. (Beware: mild spoilers!)

SEO: Saw

SEO can feel like a game. A frustrating and, yes, sometimes twisted game in which that mysterious thing called Google holds all the power, and you never really know where you stand.

An SEO’s worst nightmare is getting penalized by Google and suddenly seeing their rankings plummet. Sure, the penalty may not require you to saw off any actual body parts, but any SEO will tell you that it can feel like you’re solving impossible puzzle after puzzle in order to keep up with the algorithms and prevent your rankings from going down.

Of course, the challenge of that kind of problem solving is what makes SEO so fun. But if you’re not careful, it can quickly go from keeping you on your toes to keeping you up at night.

Moral of the story: Good SEO practices are all about staying one step ahead of the game, and being able to improvise when the rules change… hopefully while remaining physically intact.

Content: The Shining

Jack Torrance’s situation in The Shining is a content writer’s dream. Three months of basically nothing but rent-free, distraction-free time to craft amazing writing? Sign us up!

Of course, if you’ve seen the movie, you know how well that turned out.

Really, though, Jack’s story is a perfect example of how NOT to approach your content development strategy. Why, you ask? Let’s quickly review the goals of content marketing. Blog articles, case studies, white papers, and other content should inform, engage, and build trust with the reader. Content marketing is about providing real value through useful, trustworthy information that inspires readers to keep engaging with your brand.

How well would you be able to understand your audience, let alone write good, useful content that speaks to their needs and interests if you were all cooped up, cut off from your community, trying to force yourself to write the perfect piece of content? Not very!

Creating engaging content takes empathy, something Jack Torrance was sorely lacking. (Thank you, Understatement Department.) He ignores not only the outside world but also the feelings of his own loved ones. Not a great example of trustworthiness OR empathy in our book.

Moral of the story: Don’t try to create content in a vacuum. Reflect honestly on your past successes and failures, pay attention to your readers’ pain points, and most importantly, don’t listen to the ghosts telling you to murder your family.

Paid Media: Frankenstein

“IT’S ALIIIIIIVE!” – Every paid media marketer when their shiny new ad goes live. No? Just us?

Even if you don’t celebrate like an overjoyed mad scientist, an SEM’s job is actually a lot like Victor Frankenstein’s. You pour blood, sweat, and tears into your project, combining creative inspiration with cold hard data. You’re on the brink of something big this time, you just know it. After days, weeks, or even months of tinkering, fanatically trying to perfect your work, you’re ready for the big moment.

Will it work? Will all your toiling magically transform into high ROI before your very eyes?

Well, sure, sometimes. And sometimes not.

In paid media, your work can easily turn on you. Maybe a chaotic approval process turns your creative into a Franken-ad patched together with too many ideas. Maybe your mortal efforts are just no match for the almighty power of Google Ads.

Either way, it can feel like you’ve spent forever toiling in the dark, only to have the campaign slip from your control in the final hour, turning all that hard work – and ad spending – into a giant waste when there’s no increase in sales.

Moral of the story: PPC campaigns can be extremely effective, but it takes a lot of hard work to get a good ROI. If you’re not careful, your precious creation may turn out to be a monster.

Social Media: The Birds

In Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds, coastal Californians are inexplicably attacked by swarms of birds. Lots of them. With sharp beaks.

You know, kind of like how it feels to get a flood of angry comments on a social media post that backfires?

Fortunately, in real life, there are solutions to this problem. Unlike in the movie – whose characters have no idea why the birds have suddenly turned into flying stab machines – a controversial social media post can be deleted, and honest steps can be taken to address the cause of the outrage. At least, that’s the hope.

But managing a public fallout on social media isn’t always so simple. The damage can be lasting, and it can take some fine maneuvering to regain the public’s trust.

Moral of the story: Social media is a powerful tool, but one that must be used wisely. Think very carefully about your brand and your audience to make sure your posts are in alignment – otherwise, you may have to prepare for some, shall we say, sharp criticism.

Reputation Management: Psycho

Shout-out to the legend Alfred Hitchcock for making it onto this list twice! With his movie Psycho, he gave us the perfect example of a nightmare client for a reputation manager: the Bates Motel.

Some red flags, just off the bat:

  • Dysfunctional relationship between the business owners
  • Super creepy and off-putting Gothic house overlooking the property
  • Multiple murders on the premises

Can you imagine the Yelp reviews for this place?

“It was hard to fall asleep against the sound of the hotel owner screaming at his mother.”

“Pretty sure I was being spied on in my room.”

“Stains on the shower curtain looked like blood?”

Moral of the story: As a reputation manager, it’s your job to do right by your client, even when the going gets tough. But it’s okay to do yourself a favor and avoid working for actual murderers.

Link Building: The Sixth Sense

If you don’t already know how M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense ends, we won’t spoil it for you. But we’ll trust you at least know that it’s about a kid who can “see dead people.”

Now, link building isn’t quite as scary as that. But one of the most challenging parts of the job is actually getting a meaningful response from the leads you reach out to. It can often feel like you’re trying to communicate across dimensions, just hoping for the right person to hear you – just like the ghosts trying to get Cole’s attention in the movie.

On the flip side, you can often feel like Cole himself when working on a link building campaign, trying to home in on signals from other brands and blogs that might just be the perfect match – i.e., the potential source of a great backlink.

Moral of the story: Link building requires marketers to have a kind of “sixth sense” about what kinds of links (and relationships) will be most valuable to both parties.

RMG has your back

As you can see, we’ve digested enough horror movie themes to be experts at even the scariest digital marketing scenarios. If your campaigns are giving you nightmares, no need to sleep with the light on. Just reach out to us!

Author avatar
Stephanie Fehrmann
Stephanie was an SEO content writer before transitioning to a management role. As the co-founder and Head of Content at RMG, she oversees everything from the development of content strategies and content creation to day-to-day office operations. She graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a degree in Journalism, and enjoys showing clients the power and versatility of content.
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