I was pretty certain it would be impossible to excite me about a fourth dose of The Matrix, but a smart bit of marketing was enough to make me shut up and take my meds.
It’s been 22 years since Neo swallowed the red pill for an answer to the question ‘what is The Matrix?’ – and 18 since he received a painfully complicated answer. Concordantly, Warner Bros. believes enough time has passed for me to forget The Matrix Trilogy and, ergo, deemed it appropriate to assiduously convince me a return is appropriate, vis-a-vis, The Matrix Resurrections.
Overly verbose mockery aside though, while I do respect The Matrix trilogy for its massive cultural impact in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I’m just not much of a fan. The first film has some good ideas (largely other people’s), but I’ve always found it to be an ugly film that never quite deserved the praise it received. And, the one thing I do think worked about it – the strong, satisfying, open ending – was undone the moment Warner Bros. rushed two CG-drenched sequels into production, for its 2003 ‘Year of The Matrix’ campaign.
I guess what I’m saying is, I didn’t think there was anything that could excite me about a return to that universe. And I’m not alone. For admittedly different reasons, even one of the trilogy’s co-directors, Lilly Wachowski, said she found the prospect of returning to The Matrix “expressly unappealing”. Yet here we are. The other half of the directing duo, Lana Wachowski is back, and so too are Keanu Reeves and Carrie Anne Moss – in a plot that apparently reveals at least one of them has forgotten everything that came before (lucky them). But after what I just saw, I might be ready for another dose.
Following the first showing of Resurrections footage behind the closed doors of CinemaCon last month, Warner Bros this week decided to quite literally ask the question ‘what is The Matrix?’ of us once again – with a brand new teaser website and one of the smartest and most interesting marketing tricks I’ve seen in quite some time. Visitors to the website whatisthematrix.com are told that, as in the first film, they face a choice – take the blue pill and see the story end, or take the red pill to stay in Wonderland and see how deep the rabbit hole goes…
Choose the blue pill and you’ll be treated to actor Neil Patrick Harris narrating over some teaser clips, where he explains you have found yourself here because you’ve “lost your capacity to discern reality from fiction”. He adds that the only thing you can really trust is that the time is, well, whatever the time is when you clicked on that blue pill. The smart part though, he actually says the time – before going on to say that the sense of confusion you are experiencing is dangerous and “we don’t want anyone to get hurt… do we?”
Now, as if this wasn’t enough to mess with you enough to hit refresh and go through the whole journey once again (and it absolutely is), there’s also realisation that when you do – and Neil Patrick Harris confirms that it is indeed one whole minute later than the last time you questioned your sanity – you’re actually being served slightly different teaser clips. ‘Holy crap,’ you exclaim, ‘if I do this again will it give me more different clips?’ Click.
So by this point, the Warner Bros. digital marketing team have succeeded in making you watch a carefully crafted ad for The Matrix Resurrections at least three times now – and you haven’t even found out what happens when you click the blue pill. So then you have another decision to make. Go back and find out or copy the link and share it with everyone you know? Perhaps there’s a significant other or offspring in the other room you can impress with this digital marketing wizardry? Go ahead. The blue pill will wait.
So yes. Bravo Warner Bros. This was a very clever little trick and the entire marketing team deserves a firm handshake. In terms of video views, site dwell time and social sharing, I’d guess that this has to have at least tripled or quadrupled the kind of metrics that would have been returned by just a short teaser using the footage used and, in terms of awareness for the upcoming trailer, that has to be a job well done.
In the long-term, I have to say I reckon this will be one of those campaigns we look back on and say: ‘Remember when we went crazy just because The Matrix reboot website knew what time it was?’ in the same way we now kick ourselves for thinking The Blair Witch Project was real… But for now, Warner Bros. has played an absolute blinder. Ergo, I’ll be back in two days vis-a-vis, the new trailer (I’ll never forget!).