The cg-animated feature Rally Road Racers debuted in U.S. theaters over the past weekend following a one-of-a-kind marketing campaign led by the film’s director Ross Venokur (Charming, Get Squirrely).
According to Venokur, Rally Road Racers bowed in 2,000 theaters nationwide. The film’s distributor, Viva Pictures, hasn’t release box office numbers yet, and the film hasn’t received any reviews from major media outlets, but among 14 film critic reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, it has generally been well received as entertainment for the kiddie set.
But what we’re most interested in is the non-traditional way that Vanokur decided to market his film.
On April 12, the filmmaker “hired” ChaptGPT to manage his social media accounts for the month leading up to the release of Rally Road Racers. At the time, he committed to doing everything that the AI program suggested for the duration of that month.
Venokur’s prompt reads:
My name is Ross Venokur. I am the writer/director of the upcoming family animated film Rally Road Racers. You are my social coordinator. I currently have 1,090 followers on Twitter and 125 followers on Instagram. The film is being released on 2,000 screens in America on May 12 (one month from today). It is an indie film with a very small budget and an even smaller marketing budget. Your job is to launch a social media campaign on my Twitter and Instagram accounts to raise awareness of the film, drive people to watch the trailer online, and, ultimately, see the movie in theaters. You create the campaign, and I will do everything you suggest. The campaign starts… now!
His digital assistant “Alex” replied with a step-by-step, week-by-week plan for Vanokur to follow. The two “spoke” regularly, with Venokur following Alex’s instructions to the best of his abilities.
The relationship did not end up lasting as long as Venokur had hoped. Nine days after launching the AI-led campaign, the director suspended the experiment and “fired” Alex.
— Ross Venokur (@RVenokur) April 21, 2023
“Tonight, some extremely important people asked me to stop interacting with ChatGPT, even if it is funny (and I guess that, itself, is debatable),” Venokur posted on his social media accounts, without indicating who the important people were. He went on, “I will head to ChatGPT one more time, but only to terminate my account. Silver lining here is that Alex was terrible at this job, so though I now must soldier on alone, it is with the knowledge that I can’t possibly get worse results.”
To get an idea of Alex’s impact on the director’s campaign, Venokur now has the same 1,090 followers on Twitter and added a mere 26 followers on Instagram to reach his current 151. It’s easy to see why he was disappointed with Alex’s work.
That said, Alex’s disappointing performance still led to objections, and that’s hardly surprising given the current climate surrounding the use of AI in the entertainment industries. Venokur’s use of AI was playful and experimental, but given the ongoing writers strike (upcoming when Venokur launched his campaign) and a general concern about the impact AI will have on the screen industries, objections to a ChatGPT-led marketing campaign were inevitable.
It’s worth noting that Venokur’s experiment didn’t take away work from any humans. All of his AI-influenced activities were supplemental to the film’s existing marketing plans and were executed by Venokur himself. That said, the implications of an AI-driven marketing campaign could have real-world impact on larger films with greater marketing budgets.
After announcing his decision to let Alex go, Venokur mused on his experience using the software and his feelings about it, saying, “Maybe this will all get you thinking and cause you to question, and possibly terminate, your own relationship with ChatGPT.”