Tron Legacy Uses Viral Marketing to Build Fan Awareness

How do you advertise for the sequel to a movie that, upon initial release, caused Disney stock to drop 4% in active New York Stock Exchange trading?  This same movie went on to garner mixed reviews and became a moderate box-office success.

This very same movie is then astonishingly ignored by the Motion Picture Academy at Oscar time in the area of visual effects because of the use of computers in creating ground-breaking effects work.  The Academy felt that the filmmakers had "cheated" by using computers instead of miniatures and matte-work used by films for the previous 50 years or so.

Tron Movie PosterTron Movie Poster

This film was Tron, of course.  At the time of its release (1982) it was considered visually stunning but ridiculous.  The notion of avatars and virtual reality.  These concepts would not become popular until the publication of Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash (which introduced the term "avatar" as a computerized representation of an individual) and films such as The Matrix.  People simply weren't ready to embrace the concept that a computer could be a dynamic environment, more than just a number crunching machine.

Tron...  Looks a bit dated...Tron... Looks a bit dated...

If you look at the film now, it is a bit of a product of it's time - but it is also eerily prophetic.  Though personalized, the characters in the film are accurate representations of different aspects of computer software.  If you strip the story down to it's basic elements, it is essentially about inserting a virus (Tron) into a large mainframe computer, causing it to crash.  Your main characters are the viral software.  Your bad guys are the "evil," power hunger denizens of the main frame, including the Master Control Program (now we call that Windows).

So now it's 28 years after the release of Tron.  How do you take film this old and breath new life into the concept to entice a whole new generation to the theaters?

The key to advertising for a cult film is to strike at the built-in fanbase.  A brought marketing campaign with multiple television commercials can come later.  First you have to get all of us geeks, us forty-somethings who loved the first film, excited.

And boy, did they succeed (at least with me).  They took one of the most exciting segments of the first film and ramped it up for the 21st Century.  Compare these two sequences.  The first is from 1982 Tron.  The second is the teaser trailer for 2010's sequel, Tron Legacy:


This was released online and (if rumors are true) is attached to Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland flim.

The second step in raising geek-consciousness about the film is to create a display at a giant comic book convention... oh, let's say the largest one in the U.S., the San Diego Comic-Con.  In this case (and possibly because it's Disney), the display is a fully functioning video game arcade.  The games are based on concepts used in the orignal Tron film.  See, the main character (Flynn, played by the always awesome Jeff Bridges (Dude!)), owned an arcade.

Sign at San Diego Comic-Con for Flynn's ArcadeSign at San Diego Comic-Con for Flynn's Arcade

A very cool light cycle could be seen here as well:

Light CycleLight Cycle

The third step brings the Tron Legacy marketing campaign into viral territory.  As was done with The Dark Knight, and Watchmen, we are now given news articles and other press releases set in the world of the film.  Check out this "newspaper" article:

Viral marketing through fake newspaper articleViral marketing through fake newspaper article

Then come the interactive games.  A viral site with a very Tron-like countdown design expired on February 24th to reveal a list of 25 cities throughout the world.  Each city is to play a part in a Tron-based game of some sort.  From what I gather, these are the cities that will premiere the film upon release.

Something tells me that this is just the tip of the iceberg, my friends.  With Tron Legacy set to debut on December 17, 2010, there's still plenty of time for the massive marketing machine to crank into full gear.  Action figures, fast food tie-ins, towels, lunch boxes, socks, t-shirts, comic books, novelizations, light cycle tricycles... You know the routine.

I'll do a follow-up once the toys come out.  Hopefully they'll be as cool as Mattel's Avatar line...

SOURCE: Wikipedia, Latino Review, First

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Mar 2, 2010
by Anonymous


"The Academy felt that the filmmakers had "cheated" by using computers instead of miniatures and matte-work used by films for the previous 50 years or so."

such narrow-minded people.
how do you "cheat" at creating an optical illusion like television/cinema? is there a "real" way to trick people into thinking there are little people in the box?

Mar 2, 2010
by John P. Barker
John P. Barker's picture

I know...

I remember when the film was slighted in the effects area.  It really got me mad, because it made no sense at all.

Mar 2, 2010
by Anonymous

Trailer & viral

The video you have for Tron Legacy is not the trailer, but a visual effects trial that was shown at Comic Con the last two years. The official trailer was shown at 5 locations globally on 2/27 as a reward for the players of the current part of the viral marketing campaign. Its this trailer (that hasn't been released online yet) that is rumored to be attached to Alice. Since I didn't get to go to one of the 5 screenings, I will be in line to see it on Alice 3D IMAX (which should be a good movie in its own right). I have to admit that being a big fan of the original Tron movie, I was sucked in by the viral marketing campaign event on 2/24. Not being anywhere close to the locations of the events (27 locations globally) all I could do was to follow those that were through the game website (, twitter and other ARG (alternate reality games as they call these campaigns) web sites ( The best part is... there's going to be more games & marketing events for the new movie.. so stay tuned!

Mar 2, 2010
by John P. Barker
John P. Barker's picture

I've seen other versions...

... of what I deemed a trailer.  They were shorter, more experimental.  The one that I link to is what Disney offered as an online trailer--the equivalent of a viral trailer, as it gained quite a bit of coverage last year.  And yep--it's some of the same stuff played at Comic Con.

Until the new stuff is up (what you're talking about), that's all I got!  But I can't wait for more!

Feel free to chime in on the marketing campaign!  I find it quite exciting and hope the film lives up to the slowly mounting hype!