Cannes Lions

Smile Viral Stunt: Reaching Fans in Unexpected Ways


Case Film
Original Content
Case Film






Launching an original film with unknown IP is incredibly challenging. To get people to care enough to go see it in a theater was a gargantuan task.

The film is centered around characters being haunted by smiling apparitions. A gesture that is a universal symbol of happiness is anything but that in “Smile”. It’s a smile so unsettling that you just can’t look away.

We knew we had to bring that terrifying smile to the public. We were confident that actors smiling menacingly in the real world would create a reaction, but our challenge was how to reach as many people as possible with very little budget. We had to create the “noise” on our own with no partnerships or influencers.

Our objective was to find placements with uninterrupted camera time and have smiling actors look straight into the camera. Give people an unexpected experience in an unsuspecting place.


The goal was to bring the menacing smile from the film to mass audiences in locations where the marketing would take people by surprise.

We identified locations where we could get broadcast exposure but open to the public like The Today Show in New York, and sporting events where all we needed was a ticket like any other person would do.

Baseball was targeted because it is one of the only sporting events where the cameras are fixed on fans behind home plate the whole game, which is highly visible for viewers at home. The “creative” from this stunt was exclusively user-generated reactions to what we had done, as well as news coverage, press coverage, etc.

We created an unsettling discovering moment for people which raised questions that they wanted answered. We created a canvas for the media and public to paint their own perceptions on what was happening.


Our strategy was to make viewers feel like they were seeing our apparition everywhere they looked that weekend.

Extensive research was done on placements. Baseball was a prime target because of the increased primetime viewership due to playoffs and the possibility of season records being broken. We watched games to choose seat placements so that we had optimal camera time at each stadium.

Casting was extremely pivotal. The actors needed to have intense smiles but also be able to hold them for hours. We prepped our actor to have multiple shirt options on hand so they could change on the fly if needed.

We intensely monitored conversation online so that we could be as agile as possible to make adjustments and keep fans guessing where we would be next. This helped to expand and broaden the experience for fans, who were on the lookout and wanted them at their games.


Between Sept 22nd and Sept 27th, our stunt went into action across 5 MLB games, 2 NFL games, and 1 appearance behind the glass at “The Today Show”. Going into the weekend, people began to take notice of the smiling actors and took to social channels to find out what was happening.

Conversation began to heat up on Reddit, Instagram, and tweets from fans watching the games. One salient sighting was at a Mets vs Athletics game, where the film crew in the stadium zoomed in on our smiling actor putting her on the live broadcast.

The activation was picked up by a number of online publications and started to achieve viral notoriety. Celebrities and athletes, like LeBron James, started to take notice and engaged in the conversation. By the time of our final appearance there were fans taking selfies, Jumbo-tron appearances, and people were chanting Smile at the stadium.


The stunt became a viral sensation, culminating in numerous articles from top worldwide news publications, countless UGC posts, and dominated online sports conversation with posts and articles from SportsCenter, Sports Illustrated, and more.

It generated substantial engagement via social media with over 3.5B media impressions, 160M organic views, and 14M social media engagements. Adweek named the stunt as one of the top 6 advertisements of 2022.

The stunt created huge word of mouth for Smile’s opening weekend. With 19% of Post-Trak exit polls listing the activation as a driver for seeing the film, helping to drive the film to a $22.6M opening weekend on a $17M production budget with numerous trade sites and reports listing the stunt as a key driver in the film making over $200M worldwide. From that success, Paramount Pictures has lined up a sequel and a larger first look deal with first time director Parker Finn.

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