What the viral Cocaine Bear trailer teaches marketers about the power of absurdity
PR pros and marketing experts weigh in on the cultural cachet of a coked-up bear on a killing spree.
The trailer for the forthcoming comedy-thriller Cocaine Bear – which is loosely based on the real-life story of a bear that overdosed after coming upon a duffel bag of cocaine in the woods of Tennessee – has gone viral since it was released last Sunday.
The weird, wacky adaptation, directed by Elizabeth Banks and produced by Universal Pictures, imagines the bear going on a drug-fueled rampage as local law enforcement attempt to figure out what’s going on.
The film’s trailer is making its rounds on Twitter and Instagram to the surprise and delight of users everywhere. A common refrain: it’s so crazy that it’s simply got to equal success.
The trailer (and the film, too, we’d guess), evidences a growing trend in creative industries spanning entertainment, content and advertising: leveraging the absurd and the irreverent to generate buzz. It’s the Liquid Death playbook. It’s the ethos underlying much of what Ryan Reynolds is doing with his production agency Maximum Effort.
“The more outrageous and unique a story, the more it will generate attention,” says Dr Karen Freberg, a marketing expert and professor of strategic communications at University of Louisville. “Attention is the currency of today, and people are craving new entertainment to distract them from other elements.”
Other experts agree that the viral success of the Cocaine Bear trailer comes as little surprise considering the content. “From a sponsorship view – hell, from any marketing point-of-view – everything is about buzz,” says Robert Passikoff, the founder and president of market research firm and consultancy Brand Keys. This trailer in particular, he says has “all the elements a buzz-worthy film requires these days: violence, drugs, blood, gore and a bear.”
Suggested newsletters for you
In a sector that’s become in many ways obsessed with purpose and values-focused messaging, the frank absurdity of creative projects and marketing strategies embodied by Cocaine Bear stand in contrast, promising guilt-free levity. “It’s precisely what it positions itself to be. A film about a bear on cocaine. It’s not an anti-drug platform, and it probably doesn’t have much dialogue beyond the shrieks about the fact that there’s a bear on cocaine,” says Passikoff.
He suggests that while brands may be more hesitant to take a similar approach due to brand safety and suitability concerns, there's certainly money to be made there. “There’s very little chance that any PR efforts will be able to snatch victory from the cocaine-fueled jaw of defeat associating themselves with what’s bound to be a commercial success.”
Freberg, however, is somewhat skeptical that creative projects and campaigns in this spirit will prove to be much more than a flash in the pan. “This certainly has captured the attention, but for how long? It might be something for the short term, but time will tell if this strategy is something to do for the long term.”
For more, sign up for The Drum’s daily US newsletter here.