December 24, 2012

Marketing Lesson from The Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock

By Patrick Mahan

In the new movie, Hitchcock, Anthony Hopkins plays the role of Alfred Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense, in a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Psycho.


I saw the movie today at the old Kentucky Theater downtown. (If you're gonna watch a movie about Hitchcock you might as well watch it in a theater built in 1922. Something about it adds to the experience).

Hopkins was brilliant as usual. And the movie was pretty fascinating. Several things I didn't realize...



The big studios thought Psycho would be a flop, they thought Hitchcock had lost his mind, and they refused to finance it. But Hitchcock believed in the project so strongly that he mortgaged his own home and financed the movie himself... about 800,000 dollars.

He fought the studios and he fought the censors and in the end, only two theaters agreed to show the movie.

Hitchcock knew his only hope to make money, keep his home, and prove the naysayers wrong, was to get people talking.

So he came up with several brilliant, perfectly orchestrated, publicity stunts to promote the film and generate the word-of-mouth buzz that made the film such a huge commercial success.

Hitchcock gave strict instructions to theater managers not to allow anyone to enter the theater once the movie began. He wanted to protect the ending and the many "shocks and surprises". 

He even posted armed guards at the doors to keep the crowds under control and enforce the no late admission policy. Of course the armed guards just added to the tension and hype surrounding the movie.

To avoid being late, movie-goers lined up around the block waiting to get in. And when people were denied admission, it made them want in even more!

Hitchcock also made his cast and crew take an oath of secrecy, swearing not to reveal the plot. He kept the set locked down and wouldn't allow any outsiders in, not even the executives from Paramount Pictures.

And to keep the ending a secret, he wouldn't allow critics to preview the movie. They had to watch it at the same time as the general public.

In the end, the movie grossed over $50 million at the box office and is now considered one of the greatest and most revolutionary films of all-time.

But it never would have happened if Hitchcock hadn't believed in the film (and himself) so strongly. And if he didn't have the guts to fight the censors, break the rules, and challenge the status quo.


A few take-aways:

1. Trust your gut instincts and follow your passion. If you really believe in something, you can find a way to make it work. Even if everyone around you says otherwise.

2. Don't be afraid to go against the grain. Be bold. Be daring. Be different. Be brave. Conventional is boring.

3. Never underestimate the enormous power of word-of-mouth marketing and a well-orchestrated publicity stunt.

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