SNITCH TRAILER: Engagement, empowerment and activism by socially networked audiences.

Attending Transmedia 4: Spreading Change last Friday at UCLA, I listened as Alden Stoner, VP of Social Action Film Campaigns at Participant Media described the efforts her politically progressive production company undertook to support this 2013 Dwayne Johnson thriller, in which US Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Statutes provide the backdrop against which a harrowing, disturbing and true story is dramatized.

This years Transmedia event, a joint USC-UCLA conference, was devoted to the topic of transmedia storytelling as an agent and medium of social and political change. In the course of four moderated panel discussions featuring eminent researchers, marketers, activists and executives, the design and construction of brand communities around agendas of social change, over and above the creation and inhabitation of immersive and expansive imaginary worlds, was analyzed, explored and criticized.

So, rather than another analysis of a loud, kinetic trailer starring the Rock, I thought it might be interesting to look at the social action website (with infographic!) for Snitch, that’s available on the Participant site (categorized under the film title), which provides either an “about the film” link or a “social action” one.

In Snitch, a joint production of Summit, Participant, Exclusive & Imagenation, the plot is “inspired by true events” which, conveniently, involves Dwayne Johnson infiltrating a vicious drug cartel in order to obtain information to lessen his son’s legal jeopardy as he faces a 10 year mandatory minimum for a drug-related first offense.

On the landing page, you are invited to watch trailers, learn about the film, and read news, charts, graphs and factoids pertaining to the cost of the federal prison system, demographic makeup of inmates and horror stories of the “snitch” program, whereby those facing mandatory minimums are coerced into partnering with authorities, in dangerous, not to mention, inappropriate contexts. On this page, a visitor also has the option of participating by signing a petition, printing (liking or sharing) a fact sheet and joining a networked community of likeminded persons. Thus is social action engendered and organized.

So, for the film’s marketing, in addition to a traditional 2:30 action and suspense packed trailer, Summit has provided a website that offers context, engagement and activity, news, information and resources for further inquiry. The film has been positioned so that it’s not just another thriller about a courageous man caught between a rigid, unfeeling legal system and vicious gangsters as he seeks to protect his family. Now, it’s a story of an everyman  in an extreme situation under enormous pressure, but one that is not actually far-fetched or irrelevant to you–whether as a parent, recreational drug user, taxpayer or citizen. A political reaction (outrage? disbelief? disgust?) is anticipated, one which will, the marketers hope, embed your interest in the film’s storytelling with feeling of engagement in and action on behalf of the social, ethical and political issues involved. This is powerful interactive marketing.

Leaving the conference on Friday, I felt–and I can’t imagine I’m alone among my fellow attendees–a strong sense of ambivalence and disease. If, as the conference suggests, the consumer-citizen is our new change agent, is this truly cause for celebration? Is revolutionary advertising revolutionary or merely co-optation, the commodification of subversion and the reproduction and representation of political activism as an experience? Or is it the optimum way forward for entrepreneurial non-profits and NGO’s. And what if it’s both?

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movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

About Frederick Greene

Entertainment Copywriter & Visiting Assistant Professor, UCLA Dept. of Theater, Film & Television. I teach a graduate seminar in new movie marketing, which focuses on the history, contemporary practice and likely future of a/v advertising for motion picture entertainment.
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