Rant: 'Limitless' Viral Video Spreads, But Fails to Promote the Movie

March 18, 2011

Limitless Viral Video

Most people know I'm a huge fan of viral marketing, which has had its ups and downs recently, with The Dark Knight viral being one of the greatest ups, and lack of quality virals being the down. But this is a weird story. I was shown an awesome video on YouTube tweeted by @DanaBrunetti just the other day. It shows a man with an iPhone and electronic device he built that allows him to take over the video signal, effectively "hacking" into any Times Square screen he wants and putting his video up instead. It spread quick and even sparked a debate about it being fake. But get this - it's actually a viral video… for a movie! But which one?

It wasn't until I received an email this afternoon from Relativity that I learned this video was not only fake, but actually a viral for Limitless, that Bradley Cooper flick about a pill that makes you smart. Now, I wish I had the poor box office to back me up, as Limitless could still be a hit this weekend, but I seriously doubt it. So why was this viral an epic fail? As a self-proclaimed fan and expert in virals, I'm the first that should be able to pick up on them; I even sometimes get caught up in video game or TV virals. But after watching this video numerous times, sending it to friends, posting it on Facebook, I never once thought about Limitless at all. Or any movie for that matter. Apparently there was an ad somewhere on or in the video? I didn't see it.

Here's where it gets really interesting. Not only was this revealed in the email today, but apparently it's old news. Yea, the NY Times wrote an entire article about it, so did THR. How the heck did I miss these? Ohh right, because I already disconnected that awesome video from having ANYTHING to do with entertainment or movies at all. I expected to see articles on Engadget or Mashable or, as I wanted to know if that technology really exists (and how the heck I can get my hands on it). But isn't that part of the success? The fact that I'm even writing about it now should be an important part of its success, since I am bringing even more attention to the video and Limitless. Here is how the creators explained the concept (via NY Times):

The two men, founders of a viral marketing company called Thinkmodo, are tapping into a growing desire among marketers to attract and keep the attention of online viewers with videos that get shared on social Web sites like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. The strategy for Thinkmodo is to make videos that viewers will think are clever and authentic without overtly pushing or mentioning a product, Mr. Percelay said.

"We're pushing the engagement of an idea which leads you then to the product," he said. "It just is a whole new mind-set where you don’t have to wrap everything up in a bow and if you don't, people are going to be a lot more interested in you and what you're selling and what your message is."

He makes a good point and I agree with that, but they're going about this entirely wrong. I didn't get "lead to any product" at all. This is exactly the lazy marketing he's talking about! No one knows the video has to do with anything until, oh right, you read a huge article telling you EXACTLY that. When I first got the email, I didn't believe it. I believe more that they bought it after it became a success and are now claiming it ties in. They have no proof otherwise! As producer Dana Brunetti joked to me when I sent this to him, "I'm going to announce that Rebecca Black is a viral video of mine for my next movie, but not saying which." It baffles me that they're even using the view count on YouTube to show how much this is a success. I can pretty much guarantee that 90% of the 1,437,052 viewers did not know this was for Limitless and STILL don't know it is.

As someone who watched the video over and over and even got excited sharing it with others, I still consider this one of the biggest viral marketing failures. If you're going to promote a product, don't forget to actually promote that product, or at least tie it in somehow - and definitely don't do it in reverse, after the fact. What the hell does this even have to do with Limitless? Some awesome could-be-real technology about taking over video screens has nothing to do with a pill that makes people smart. Plus, did they really think all of these obviously coordinated articles in mainstream media would be the end "viral" result they were looking for? I don't think it's going to make a difference at all. In fact, I'm not going to be seeing Limitless this weekend.

Despite all of this criticism, there is one area where this is a success. What they have gained is additional word of mouth thanks to this exact kind of article. But that means jack shit. Some marketing person can go home happy today knowing they sent off a report to their boss with the YouTube view count and a bunch of links to sites that wrote about it. Hooray! But that doesn't mean your movie is going to be a hit. Money well spent? Hardly. I love virals and I continue to support them, but the backlash this reverse "unbranded viral" is receiving from me alone is enough to prove it didn't work as a promo for Limitless. Our friends at Movie Viral covered it briefly in their post, too: "Unbranded marketing is always a dangerous road to travel…"

What I've learned reading and researching is that this video is the first major movie-focused "unbranded viral", as in creating a viral that has no brand connection or identification. I like that concept, it opens up the possibilities to so many great ideas, but this is an example of that kind of marketing failing. Or at least having a complete opposite effect and not actually properly promoting and building interest. They can't just announce on the day of release that this was connected to a movie, it doesn't work that way. At the bottom line, how can they consider this effective if a huge supporter of virals (me), who saw the original video and loved it, turned completely against the entire viral and the movie after finding out what it was "really" for?

And Thinkmodo, if you want to actually run a viral that effectively builds good buzz for a movie, please get in touch as I can certainly help with that, or just look at how 42 Entertainment does it. I know it's being a bit hypocritical and supportive of the viral to include the original "hacking" video below, but I really wanted to include it anyway, because despite its totally bullshit connection to Limitless, it is still an awesome video.

Update: I also found out that Relativity released a "follow-up video" showing how the guy did this, but he says it was just NZT, the "drug" from the movie. The point of the viral was to gain viewer's interests with this first video, then follow it up with the "how to" video we were supposed to also watch (I didn't even know it existed). At the end of that video, they show a trailer for Limitless, so it does all eventually connect, if you watch that one. But up until then? Nothing. And it's obvious from some of the comments below that a lot of other people had a similar experience. I commend Relativity for being bold and trying this, but I still think it's a complete failure. Only time will tell in seeing how well Limitless does at the box office this weekend.

Find more posts: Editorial, Opinions, Viral Marketing



Wow, I saw it a few days ago too and I had NO idea it was viral marketing. Epic FAIL indeed.

DarkWish on Mar 19, 2011


Interesting stuff. Shame it was wasted on Limitless. Oddly enough, I was fantasizing about this being for a new awesome tech-savvy hacker film while I watched it-- you know... just to stop feeling embarrassed for the creators.

Cracky on Mar 19, 2011


That was exactly my response too, like holy hell where did this technology come from, because I want to use it! But... that has no connection to Limitless... like at all.

Alex Billington on Mar 19, 2011


actually, i understand all now, the oriental dude says that he will upoload another video "soon" explaining how he did this,to keep people interested, the video is up now, and in the other video he actually shows that Limitless pills, and, if people didn´t get it, they put the "Limitless" trailer at the end of the video. But at the end, all of this is funnier than interesting

BaSs1l on Mar 19, 2011


can you not call asian people oriental? it's offensive you ignorant idiot.

Derek on Mar 23, 2011


This was almost brilliant, those advertising company guys need one of that pills for next time

BaSs1l on Mar 19, 2011


I saw this a couple of days ago, the morning after I had been to a press screening of LIMITLESS. I had no idea this video was even designed as 'viral' let alone that it was supposed to be promoting the movie. I *still* don't see the connection between the plot of the film & hacking the Times Sq. video-walls...

Hugh Lilly on Mar 19, 2011


Well said rant. And sure, wth is the point of an unassociated viral?

Descrier on Mar 19, 2011


maybe articles like this will be put on bigger movie sites and picked up. regardless, it's a cool idea, something small and creative. So way to go, the scheme also fits the movies themes mildly. Not a lot, but more than say Thor.

lane on Mar 19, 2011


thought it was real... cause asians are smart...

Roderick on Mar 19, 2011


when he plays over the big screen, it's a limitless trailer playing before he "takes it over"

BBROWN on Mar 19, 2011


Uh yes, but this is Times Square, there are thousands of other video ads all around him, that doesn't mean anything! Now that you know about it, you're looking for Limitless, but watching this days ago, it has no connection at all. They're only making that connection now and it's backfiring on them bigtime!

Alex Billington on Mar 19, 2011


i thought it was something interesting, no idea it was a viral for a movie. I don't know Alex, you sound kind of bitter we didn't see it here first or that's just my impression 😛

Redguy on Mar 19, 2011


cool idea but yh fail for marketing

A5J4DX on Mar 19, 2011


Talk about stupid marketing. Saw this days ago, and never even considered Limitless at all. Now that I understand what lengths they are going, sounds like Limitless will prob turn out to be a crappy movie.

cougar on Mar 19, 2011


i saw it too awhile back and like everyone clue.

Anonymous on Mar 19, 2011


Great write up. But, I don't see how the failure of the viral equals a failure at the box office. Or that the failure of the viral warrants a boycott of the film. Granted, the viral fell flat on its face. I don't think that is the fault of the film.

Anonymous on Mar 19, 2011


First off... I'm not that big into viral advertising. Maybe I just don't have the time. Wish I did but I don't. I did see the film on Thrusday night and I have to tell you, I thought it was great. To see an actor like Bradley Cooper take this roll and straight run with it was fun to watch. Not sure another actor could have pulled that off. It was fun, entertaining and scrary all at the same time. Check it out for yourself.

Marc Walker on Mar 19, 2011


Agreed, I saw it a few weeks ago and didn't make the connection at all. The movie looks stupid regardless.

fem!anon on Mar 20, 2011


If the point of the video was to garner publicity like any other publicity stunt, and you are writing about it, haven't they succeeded? And while you may not agree with the strategy, the fact that a story that does is on the frontpage of Yahoo kind of legitimizes their decision. I don't think it was the greatest execution, but if everything was made to cater to us the hardcore movie crowd I don't think Hollywood would survive much longer.

Howard on Mar 20, 2011


the chinese are 500 years ahead of us if the come here they can take over time square advertisements with a cell phone and balloon

Staticdb1 on Apr 5, 2011


I watched a lot viral videos in .They are more hilarious. Such as sperm bank, ANGRY BIRDS theme, Jeff Dunham Achmed. You can take a look that will enlighten your gloomy day.

Harry Z on May 31, 2011

New comments are no longer allowed on this post.



Subscribe to our feed or daily newsletter:

Follow Alex's main account on Twitter:

For only the latest posts - follow this:

Add our posts to your Feedlyclick here

Get all the news sent on Telegram Telegram