Behind Sony’s Digital Marketing Coup – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Trailer

It depends on what camp you are in as to which story you are willing to swallow about what happened this past weekend surrounding the “release” of the first “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” trailer.

In fact, there appears to be only one camp that suggests this weekend’s release of an alleged “bootleg” of the trailer was…well…a “bootleg”. The Hollywood Reporter cited a spokesperson from Sony who claimed the trailer had been pirated from somewhere in the US. Apparently, the trailer was shown before “The Hangover II” in some US theaters.

Now, the majority, if not everyone else is in the “Sony did this” camp. Why is that? Let’s explore some of the facts and what we know happened.

1.) The first leak about the trailer was from Deadline.com on Wednesday, May 25th, who claimed the “red band” trailer was going to be played in select theaters in the US on the upcoming weekend. They expressly say the trailer was not going to be online.F

2.) More news surfaced next on an IMDB discussion board. The individual responsible for the post claims to have seen the trailer. This was before it was released in the US. They then point out what a shame it was the trailer could not be seen online and adding a little disinformation by saying the trailer was not showing in US theaters. Where did they see the trailer?

3.) The trailer was allegedly posted by a user registered on You Tube from the Netherlands on Saturday morning, May 28th. By Monday morning May 30th, the trailer had been viewed over 750,000 times. Some time that day YouTube staff put a content restriction on the video. This restricted viewing by anyone under 18 years old.

4.) On Tuesday morning the trailer had been viewed close to 1.5 million times. It is safe to say at the rate the views were climbing the views would have reach over 2 million by late Tuesday afternoon.

5.) At about 6:00 PM (PST) Tuesday evening, Hollywood Reporter published a post that quoted a Sony spokesman denying any involvement in the trailers release. The Sony spokesperson claimed that the trailer must have been copied during a showing the newly released movie “Hangover II”.

6.) At almost the same time Monday evening, YouTube took the trailer down saying “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim “Sony Pictures Movies & Shows.”

What happened suggests Sony had a hand in this. Was this orchestrated from the beginning?

1.) The timing was impeccable. The video went up Saturday AM on the Memorial Day long weekend in the US. This heightened the likelihood it was less likely that any action would be taken until the following week. Maximum exposure and plausible deniability.

2.) The video was uploaded by someone alleging to be from the Netherlands. The early reports suggested that the “bootleg” trailer video was taken in a European theater. The account on YouTube had never been used to upload anything before this trailer. It was the first time. Anyone can create an account in the US on YouTube and input that they are from the Netherlands. This suggests the account was set up for the singular purpose of releasing this “bootleg”.

3.) The “bootleg” trailer had a few seconds of what appears as a jittery hand movement at the beginning. That settles down and we see the rest in hi-resolution and hear great quality stereo. When you watched it at 720P in a full screen it looked like it was produced professionally. Absent from the video where the tell-tale signs typically associated with a bootleg shot in a crowded theater. There were no voices in the background, no excuse me, no people walking in front of the camera and no backs of any patron’s heads. Any bootleg I have seen almost always reveals some kind of evidence like this.

4.) Where did the video come from? Sony made no reference to the “bootleg” coming from Europe as had been earlier suggested. Sony claims the “bootleg” must have been shot prior to a showing of the “Hangover II” stateside. That film premiered at midnight showings on Thursday night, Friday morning. We know most of those showings were sold out. The theaters would have been packed. Given the quality of the “bootleg”, if this was recorded in the US, it would have had to come from an employee of a cinema exhibitor. They would have had to run the beginning of the film in an empty theater and recorded it. Notwithstanding those unlikely circumstances, it strikes me as quite a risky decision on behalf of that employee. Given they would risk losing their job (and more) if they were to be discovered, why would they do it? What would their motive be? They could never claim any responsibility.

5.) If the “bootleg” did come from a theater in the US as Sony claims and they knew it, why didn’t Sony ask YouTube to take it down earlier? Why did they wait until Tuesday night a whole four days and 2 million views later, after it went up? They did not make any moves to because everything that happened benefited Sony.

Why the release of the “bootleg” was a “win win” situation for Sony?

1.) The “bootleg” was a “Red Band” version designed to be seen by audiences 18 years and older. This release enabled a “work around” of the MPAA’s strict rules for what individuals could see the trailer because of the rating. Sony could not release this version on any of their website properties nor could any other websites if they followed the rules. For most of the time it was up on YouTube any one of any age could see the trailer.

2.) Despite denying responsibility, Sony was able to build huge momentum leading up to the release of their official “Green Band” trailer on Thursday June 2nd for the film. In the process they have pissed a few people off. The best argument was made by S.T. Vanairsdale at the Hollywood Reporter;

But from a media perspective, it’s dealing in bad faith. As noted above, Web sites and studios have an implicit agreement to work on the latter’s schedules; we withhold obviously pirated or leaked material from our readers until an authorized, theoretically superior version is available. It basically reduces us to another Hollywood marketing arm, but at least we have the prerogative to tell you if the campaign is stinky or ineffective. (Or great, which, at face value anyway, this Dragon Tattoo trailer kind of is.) And by observing that unwritten rule, we retain a friendly relationship with studios and their publicists eager to control how, when and where their message is received and shaped.” ( Read more)

Up to now there doesn’t appear to be any “smoking gun” related to the events surrounding the release of the “bootleg” trailer. It is likely there never will be. Someone once described the difference (for us legal neophytes) between hard evidence and circumstantial evidence this way;

When you go to your front porch on the morning after a heavy snowfall looking for your mail, the mail is there. You didn’t see the mailman deliver it. That would be hard or eyewitness evidence if you saw the mailman. What you do see is, footprints in the snow from the sidewalk down your walkway. Those footprints then cross the front of your yard going over to your neighbor’s front porch and you can see mail sticking out of their mailbox. The footprints then lead back to the street. Now, at no point did you actually see the mailman, but there is very strong circumstantial evidence that it was the mailman because of everything you saw. Who else could it be?

As it relates to the release of “bootleg” trailer, Sony is the “mailman”. There is no hard evidence but their “footprints” are all over this and why not? They stood to gain so much, touché.

It is likely we will see this stunt repeated again with some other film. It is unlikely that it will enjoy the success this one did. At the end of the day, the individual who would be most proud of what happened would be WASP a.k.a. Lisbeth Salander. This cyber “sleight of hand” was right up her alley. Who knows? Maybe it was Lisbeth and not Sony. You decide.