Movie Marketing and Murderball

The other night I watched a movie called Murderball that was sent to me by Participant Productions, a company I have written about in the past. Both the movie and the way it has been promoted are notable.

First, the movie – wow. Picture gladiators in wheelchairs. Mad Max playing rugby. These quadriplegic rugby players do not fit the standard stereotypes of people in wheelchairs. They are anything but fragile, banging into each other and knocking over opposing players’ chairs. Without helmets, no less.

The documentary follows the rivalry of the American and Canadian quad rugby teams and gives us a glimpse into the lives of some of the players. The ways that the men came to be in a wheelchair are as varied as the personalities of the men themselves — by a car crash, childhood meningitis, bar brawl, gunshot. And that’s the point. People in wheelchairs are as different from each other as anyone else and should be treated as individuals. But what brings this group of guys together is what they have done with their situation. They have as much, if not more, testosterone as every other man, and their competitiveness and desire to excel drives them to do what nobody would ever expect. They drink, curse, have sex, harshly discipline their children…this is not a romanticized view of the “brave disabled person.”

And because of this, I think that even more important than mainstream audiences seeing this film is having other quadriplegic people see this film. The most touching scene in the movie was when Mark Zupan, one of the American players, went to a rehab hospital to talk to the people there who had recently become paralyzed. The visit captured the imagination of one of the patients, a young man whose main love was motorcycles, when he was able to try out a competition wheelchair. It helped him see that his enjoyment of life did not have to be over just because he was in a wheelchair, and by the end of the movie he was saving up to buy his own rugby chair. A copy of this DVD should be sent to every rehab hospital in the country to give patients a glimpse of what is possible in their new life.

So, yes, I liked the movie. But I am even more impressed with the way Participant Productions is promoting it (as they seem to do with most of their movies). They have created a campaign called “Get Into the Game” that ties in a disabilities awareness theme with a cause marketing piece. They are distributing free screening kits so that organizations or groups of friends can screen the movie and raise money for the US Paralympic team for wheelchairs for needy athletes. The kits include the DVD, discussion questions and tips for having a successful screening. They have also provided a way for people who get involved with the campaign to create a blog talking about what they did and to become part of a community that is addressing this issue. And they are bringing in bloggers (like me) who write about social change to spread the word as well.

These are all things social marketers could do, related to any movie or TV show that positively portrays the kinds of messages we are promoting in our programs. Besides the communities of people who are affected by the issue, this would be a good opportunity to reach the fans of the show or actors in the movie to educate them and involve them in your strategies. Are there any entertainment programs or movies out there that you can tie into your own campaign?

In the spirit of raising awareness and spreading the word about this movie, I will be passing along my copy of the Murderball DVD for others to watch. So, (and here’s the catch!) the next person to register for Social Marketing University will get the Murderball DVD. Don’t all crowd on at once!

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