Why Classic Horror Film Advertising Kicked Ass, Part 2: The Coward’s Burden

Last time on this short series, we went through how the experiential approach injected a ton of persuasive power into the horror cinema advertising of the ’60s-’80s — but there was much more going on in the horror advertising of the period than that single concept…

This time around, we’re going to have a quick look at another angle that worked wonderfully for the most creative genre marketers of the era. See if you can tell what it is as you check out the images below.

Engage your copy brain, and let’s go…

The Conqueror Worm Poster Homicidal Cowards Guarantee Macabre Guarantee The Screaming Skull Poster Tower of London Alternate Poster

Yes, that’s Tower of London again! A campaign that came at you with various types of hook.

I think it’s pretty clear to see what these posters are doing to you when you read them.

They’re pushing your buttons… and pushing you to push others’.

Specifically, they’re calling us out. Sending us back to our school years; the days of “What are ya, chicken??

You can almost see the flashbacks people are having when they look at something like this. That early yearning to prove your worth — to stand up, say “I’m not scared!” and gain the approval and awe of your peers as you do something incredibly stupid.

This is also effective because it’s what could be an early example of “viral” marketing. It gets people talking. It has friends pointing it out to friends, couples pointing it out to each other in a natural dare. Putting everyone back in that schoolyard state and egging each other on.

Are you man enough for this?

It seems peurile, transparent even… but it works. This is also the same kind of tactic you can find employed by hard-selling field salespeople… one wherein they’ll turn one member of a couple against the other, asking “yes” questions to the agreeable one, and then encouraging verbal affirmation that the yet-to-be-convinced partner is being unnecessarily stubborn or not seeing the bigger picture.

A ganging-up tactic. Peer pressure. Pressure that plays on our egotistical need to prove that we aren’t something that’s being painted negatively.

That we aren’t the “other”.

Because no matter what we do in life, we always think of ourselves as the hero of our own story. We don’t make decisions for intentionally bad reasons — even if those decisions may be scornful or abhorrent from a different perspective — and when the situation around us is telling us that we are in the wrong, we tend to try and adjust.

We know that if we don’t, negative consequences or heavy resistance are sure to follow. It’s easier to just fit in.

And nobody wants to be labelled a coward, an outsider — even if it’s for the goofiest of reasons.

This is why this kind of copy is so impactful when used in horror — it hits the thrill-seekers, the hard core and the generally inquisitive… and pushes them over the edge with curiosity.

Roger Corman and William Castle were two stand-out examples of not only film makers, but exceptional marketers who ruled their space through advertising genius and creative gimmickry…

Which leads us to something else that truly put them at the top of their game, and built connections between the genre and — at the time — even mainstream audiences: Sheer showmanship.

Those gimmicks are something we’ll look into tomorrow. But until then, whack a few horror films on. You know you want to.

Or are you too scared, little baby?

Can you think of more examples (even modern ones) of this kind of cowardice call-out in advertising? Shove ’em in the comments below!

(And, quick factoid: Apparently William Castle had issues with his Homicidal refund guarantee, in that people would buy tickets, watch the film, then sit around and wait for the break in the next showing so they could claim their refund. To get around this, he changed the rules at screenings: “Cowards” would now have to follow a yellow line to “the coward’s corner” during the break, and their walk of shame would be highlighted by the theatre speakers blaring “Watch the chicken!” How’s that for leveraging embarassment?!)

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Gareth Jones

Gareth Jones is a freelance copywriter and journalist based in Nottingham, UK. With close to a decade of experience writing content and copy within the film industry, and a background in Enterprise IT administration, he specialises in conversion copywriting and case studies for the Tech, Gaming and Software/SaaS industries. He's also a dab hand at generating leads for locally-focused SMEs through Facebook ads, connecting business messages to their target audience, increasing response and driving revenue. Contact him today and boost the impact of your marketing -- he might look angry, but he's a very friendly bloke. Honest!

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