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The genius of Sonic the Hedgehog live-action movie viral marketing campaign — popularity by bad publicity

There's no such thing as bad PR

First and foremost: I'm not a big Sonic fan. All I know about Sonic is that there were "two and a half" incarnations on the character in the games:

  • 2D. For example in my all-time favorites on Genesis: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and 3.

    sonic in 2D
  • "Classsic" 3D Sonic.

    Classic 2D Sonic in 3D
  • "Rad" 3D Sonic. One they've been using for the last... 5+ years, I believe.

    rad 3D Sonic

Compare the three of the well-known designs:

three Sonic the Hedgehog designs

I'm sure this is not news to you. Just like the fact that we now have this one from the April's Sonic the Hedgehog movie trailer:

Sonic the Movie original design

...you can imagine how the internet reacted to this.

Not. Well.

For the past week the web has been boiling with hate, discussions and alternate design propositions coming from every which way. People obviously care about the "Genuine" Sonic the Hedgehog character enough to get enraged over Hollywood butchering the design.

alternate sonic design

But... Did they really intend to release this?

You see, Sonic the Hedgehog may be a popular franchise, but it is nothing compared to Pokémon or Mario for example. SEGA's mascot was a hit back when SEGA was: in the 90's and mid 2000's. Nowadays not many people (myself included) actually care about new games starring the familiar cast.

Movie-making is business. You make a movie to cash in. Throughout the history game-related films never really made any large splashes in the box office, so you need the whole internet to find out about your movie. How can you do that?

By deliberately pissing off the fans and publicly announcing to change the design!

Sonic advice

How can you tell? Simple. Just take a look at the trailer which has been viewed over 22 million times already:

It's obvious not much work went into the "bad" Sonic's appearance in the movie: animation is wonky, in several areas he looks as if lazily "photoshopped" in:

bad sonic shop

At the same time one can tell they tried to hit as many bases as they could to contrast the design with the original as obviously and blatantly as possible:

  • hands instead of gloves
  • "Nike"-looking shoes instead of signature boots
  • blue-haired arms instead of flesh/white-colored ones
  • small, non-bridged eyes instead of well-recognized ones
  • human teeth (oh my...)
  • human-like proportions hitting every checkmark in the "uncanny valley" book.

...and so on. You can't make something like this by accident and have it survive though all stages of expensive pre- and post-production!

So, naturally, people started a real shit-storm on the web and no one really believed that Paramount would listen.

But what's this, Jeff Fowler?

Sonic director replies

Wow! The Director of the movie replied AND listened to us! He's cool! The movie is now cool! I can't wait to tell my friends about this!

The tweet immediately got some serious traction as you can see from the screenshot (taken on May 3rd).

This, coupled with the fact that hundreds of thousands of people who never cared or even knew about the movie are now well aware of its existence, makes for some kick-ass viral marketing campaign.

Now, certainly I'm not alone thinking that everything that happened was a calculated move.

Still. This is one risky, but effective and efficient PR move. Paramount Marketing team, I tip my fedora to you. Great job! sonic fedora tipping