How do you market a movie built around such a self-consciously extreme provocation as a 10-year-old member of the Hitler Youth having a cartoonish version of the Führer as his imaginary best friend? It’s a problem that Fox Searchlight, owned by Disney since March, has struggled with regarding Taika Waititi’s WWII satire Jojo Rabbit—although someone in the publicity department clearly has gotten the hang of it based on the parody clickbait chumbox that the studio is currently using to promote the film.
Offering “Cool Posts From Around the Web,” the banner ad serves up a batch of knowingly inane curiosity gap headlines whose answers are all basically “There’s this movie out, called Jojo Rabbit, you see.” (Whichever you find yourself compelled to click on, be it “The ONE Thing Vampires, Thor, and Hitler Have in Common,” “This 10 Year-Old Boy’s Imaginary Best Friend Will SURPRISE You,” or something else, they all lead to the tickets page of the film’s official website.)
Arguably one of the more effective and sophisticated things about this campaign is that it twists the primary charge made against the film by its critics—namely that Jojo risks trivializing the horrors of the Third Reich and the Holocaust—back onto the relentlessly trivializing force of the digital attention economy. Of the top 50 news websites in 2016, 41 drew revenue from “chumbox” ads, according to a study by the nonprofit Change Advertising. (Slate is one of them.) It’s a multibillion-dollar industry that helps keep much of the free world’s digital news media afloat, and its two reigning titans, Taboola and Outbrain, just announced a rather ominous merger last week.
The campaign is certainly a step up from some of the studio’s more cautious and ham-fisted approaches, like prominently telegraphing the film’s thematic subtext with posters and trailers branding Jojo Rabbit “an anti-hate satire.” But, that said, it’s in the same ballpark as its brilliant resurrection of the Hitler outburst from Downfall meme last July:
According to sources who spoke to the Washington Post earlier this year on the condition of anonymity, Rupert Murdoch himself “expressed concern” about the film behind the scenes before Fox’s entertainment wing stopped being his problem. More recently, Disney has had executive-level meetings in recent months, per the Post, gaming out their strategies over the film’s potential fallout. You won’t believe what happened next.