SUPER 8 viral campaign: trick or frozen pop treat?

Earlier this year, audiences were confronted with the suspenseful, ominously moody teaser trailer for J.J. Abrams’ upcoming sci-fi thriller (and early-Spielberg homage) SUPER 8, which Abrams’ brand Bad Robot and Paramount plan to unleash in theaters next summer. A secret transportation of classified materials from Area 51 is derailed by a fiery collision in the night. Something locked within a military train car breaks out of apparent captivity. A viral website titled Scariest Thing I Ever Saw arises…

Something wants to escape from this military train wreck in the tense SUPER 8 teaser trailer

And the viral icon for this E.T.-gone-bad mystery is a frozen juice pop sold by a spiffy spaceman?!

Captain Coop gives his Space Age thumbs-up for Rocket Poppeteers frozen treats in the SUPER 8 viral game campaign

As the viral marketing campaign and Alternate Reality Game for SUPER 8 rolls out via the launched Rocket Poppeteers website, many fans and film junkies are probably asking the burning question: what does a retro-styled ice pop treat campaign aimed at kids have to do with Abrams’ scariest thing escaping from Area 51? Is this unlikely juxtaposition between baby boomer Space Age pop culture and a dark sci-fi thriller part of the most clever viral marketing campaign yet in J.J.’s repertoire?  Or is it a devious misdirection designed to catch ARG players wildly off-guard?

You might think it’s both.  If you followed the elaborate, puzzling ARG campaign for the Abrams-produced monster hit CLOVERFIELD, you know that game also centered on Slusho, a frozen frothy treat promoted on the website of a fictitious Japanese manufacturer, Tagruato. The backstory told the tale of a mysterious deep-sea ingredient mined from the ocean floor which, if kept frozen, made an irresistible slushy drink product. But there was a dark side to this story too, as the mining of this mystery ingredient from the ocean floor may well have disturbed or unleashed the CLOVERFIELD creature to wreak havoc on the world. The kinetic disparity between Slusho corporate commercialism and scientific terror made for an intense ARG-playing experience which no doubt propelled CLOVERFIELD’s off-season success at the 2008 box office.

CLOVERFIELD's Slusho campaign resembles SUPER 8's Rocket Poppeteer frozen treats in ARG concept

So are those following the SUPER 8 alternate reality in for a similarly intricate and surprising campaign over the next year? While it’s too early to tell, the thematic connection to pop culture consumerism (literally) is unmistakable. But will this frozen food theme translate into another human-consuming creature from the dark depths of Abrams’ monster-loving imagination?

This viral calm before the feature film storm reminds FilmEdge of another food-related misdirection from horror cinema: after a potentially disastrous find on an alien planet, a crew of space travelers finally get to shake off their tense crisis by gathering in the galley for dinner. After a couple minutes of friendly banter, one of the crew starts coughing and choking on his meal. Director Ridley Scott turned spacefaring consumerism into a horrific nightmare.

A classic scene of horror misdirection that took space age consumerism to the extreme

Is the nostalgic innocence of the Rocket Poppeteers viral campaign a brazen act of misdirection, playing on the iconic comfort of all-American astronaut Captain Coop just to sucker punch ARG players when the film’s true story is revealed? Space Age-styled frozen pops look sweet now, but will SUPER 8 sneak up on fans to bite them with a big surprise in the future?

Fans of storyteller J.J. Abrams might suspect that all this icy pop goodness may not be as simple as it seems.  Don’t be shocked if Captain Coop’s starship course makes a sharp left turn toward uncharted territory as the ARG proceeds. After all, Abrams has a track record of throwing film fans for a loop in his star trekking adventures — just ask the population of the planet Vulcan.  Oh wait, you can’t.

Writer/director J.J. Abrams begins production on SUPER 8 this September with a theatrical release date sometime in Summer 2011.

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