Guerrilla Marketing Brightens Up the Berlinale

303bus Berlin - H 2018

Inventive filmmakers behind entries such as '303' and 'Isle of Dogs' have taken to the streets to promote their work.

With more than a thousand films screening in Berlin — some 400 in the festival’s various sections and another 700 plus in the European Film Market — it’s hard to stand out.

Most producers and sales companies make do with posters, flyers and one-sheets — plastered around the German capital and piled up in hotel lobbies. But a handful are taking a more inventive tack to grab the attention of buyers and film fans.

To promote 303, his road movie about two students traveling from Berlin to Portugal, director Hans Weingartner parked a huge Hymer 303 motor home — the one used in the movie, and which gives the film its title — on Stresemannstrasse, between the festival headquarters on Potsdamer Platz and the EFM.

The director tacked a handwritten note on the passenger door imploring people to check out the film or talk to reps from Global Screen, who are selling the film worldwide.

“We just don’t have much money to rent advertising space so I thought why not mobile advertising?” Weingartner tells THR, adding that his left-field marketing move has been a huge success. “Everybody stops. The bus has a very positive vibe to it and people respond to that. They respond to the idea of hitting the road and going to the sea and the sun.”

The director bought the RV for $6,200 and spent over $18,000 getting it road-ready for the movie. After Berlin, he’s going on his own trip with 303. “Then I’ll park it in the garden and sleep in it because I love to sleep in it; I can sleep much better in it than a house.”

Right across from 303 is another clever bit of underground marketing. “How Come, You Have Not Visited Us Yet?” reads the red billboard, done in the style of the signs in Oscar-nominated Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

“The ad is targeted at industry people who are cinephiles,” says Ewa Bojanowska of New Europe Film Sales, which came up with the ploy to drive people to its stand. “They appreciate that we communicate with them using a code understood by  film lovers, like if we were wearing T-shirts with quotes from The Big Lebowski.”

Even 20th Century Fox, which opened this year’s Berlinale with Isle of Dogs, isn’t above some clandestine marketing to stir up interest in the Wes Anderson animated feature.

Scotch-taped to lampposts around the city are what look like homemade lost-dog posters, with a cartoon image of Spots, one of the film’s canine stars, and a promise of a reward for anyone who can help find him. Anyone who writes via the email or WhatsApp number on the poster’s tear-off tabs gets entered into a contest for free movie tickets.

An email response, ostensibly from Isle of Dogs lead Atari (Koyu Rankin), promises “a dog bowl full of tickets” for the winner and reminds fans to check out the movie on its German release May 3. — additional reporting by Elizabeth Fry

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Feb. 19 daily issue at the Berlin Film Festival.