Marketing District 9: The Real World Campaign
A Film Feature

South Africaby Mandy J Watson
Posted: 18 September Comments View Comments

The marketing campaign for District 9 was one of the most extensive ever seen... if you lived pretty much anywhere but in Africa, where it didn't exist. Simultaneous campaigns were run in the real world, using traditional marketing techniques that included billboards and posters, and online, using social-networking sites and web sites. This article focusses on the real-world campaign, most notably as was seen in key cities in the US in the run-up to the movie's release.

This is the first in a series of articles we will be posting on the District 9 marketing campaign. In this article I will be focussing on the real-world marketing campaign, followed by the Web- and various social-network-based campaigns in subsequent articles. For South Africans reading this the extent of the campaign may come as quite a surprise as the movie, as I'm sure you are aware, is set in South Africa, features themes particularly relevant to South Africans, and was largely made by South Africans. However, for reasons that aren't really apparent to us but which may be related to some of the issues I discussed in my review of the movie (as did others, both from South Africa and Africa), the movie was not promoted in South Africa at all, bar a Twitter account whose posts were directly relevant to us due to its contemporary cultural references. I saw a trailer for the movie before the latest Harry Potter movie and that, plus a few minor, light articles about it in the local paper, was the extent of my real-world pre-release experience; I didn't even see it advertised on television or see any segments or interviews about it. In fact, our cinemas were so lacklustre about promoting the movie that the cinema poster for the film at my local cinema lists its release date as 14 August 2009, which was the US release date (the movie was released in South Africa two weeks later on 28 August 2009).

So the real-world marketing campaign, which was extensive, expensive, and hit major cities in the US, as well as various other countries including cities in Canada, the UK, and in Singapore, was something to which we were largely oblivious. I personally feel a bit cheated as we didn't get to experience one of the most clever, creative marketing campaigns that's been run in recent years and instead we (well, the few of us that even realised what was going on) were made to feel as though we were being excluded - how ironic as that's exactly how the global community treated us during apartheid, except then it was for good reason.

For lack of any other way to experience and track this campaign all of my research for this article was done online, largely on Flickr thanks to a large group of awesome people who posted media to the site (some of whom kindly enabled me to illustrate this post and are therefore gratefully acknowledged at the end, as well as on their individual photographs). From that I was able to construct a picture of the many elements that comprised the campaign, how it started, where it spread, and what forms it took.

I saw images from numerous key locations in the US, including Los Angeles; San Diego; San Francisco; Independence, Cleveland, Ohio; New York; Boston Road, Springfield, Massachusetts; and Burlington, Vermont, among others. Major elements of the campaign were also run in key cities in Canada but most of the post will focus on the US campaign, with a few international references here and there, and a quick international roundup at the end.

Here's what I've determined (if you know more or can fill in gaps, please post your experiences or links to other photos in the comments - we'd love to read them):

First Contact
The earliest reference I could find of a sighting of the campaign was a blog post from just over a year ago regarding a peculiar sign that appeared outside a restroom at the 2008 San Diego Comic-Con.

At the time few people noticed it as it apparently appeared without any context or explanation as the movie was still being filmed on the quiet (specifically, at that time, in a township in Johannesburg if I have my timeframes correct) and few people knew of the project's existence.

Billboards And Buildings
Billboards started going up in key locations in the US at the end of May 2009 at about the same time as the bus-advertising campaign was launched and a few days before most of the online marketing campaigns were launched. Billboards continued to be erected after the buzz created by attendees of Comic-Con in San Diego in July 2009.

Restricted area for humans only
All non-humans banned from this building!

Restricted area for humans only by Lucius Kwok on Flickr

Restricted area for humans only by Kramchang on Flickr

Above: Two images of the giant image that was painted on a wall in the Meat Packing District near West 14th Street, New York.

Restricted area for humans only by seany on Flickr

Above: The same image on the other side of the country, in Venice, Los Angeles.

Picking up non-humans is forbidden
$10,000 fine
Report it now

Picking up non-humans is forbidden by Walter Haynes on Flickr

This billboard was photographed in New York but it appeared in a few other places, including LAX (Los Angeles international airport). The earliest upload I could find of this design was in district9pics' stream, dated 25 May 2009.

Sunset & Vine for humans only!

Sunset & Vine for humans only! by bindermichi on Flickr

Above: Sunset & Vine is a famous apartment building at 1555 Vine Street and it's named after the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street in the middle of Hollywood. Tourists flock to Sunset Boulevard to glimpse their favourite stars out for a day of shopping. You can find out more about the area at the Sunset & Vine Business Improvement district web site. If you're interested in the Sunset & Vine building, visit Yelp's dedicated page or watch the trailer (yes - it's a building with its own trailer - only in Hollywood!).

This area for humans only!

This area for humans only! by agent j loves agent a on Flickr

Above: According to a note posted on this image's Flickr page this billboard is situated "left of the 59th Street Bridge when facing Manhattan on 12th Street in Queens" (New York).

This photo is the third in a series of three showing the entire double billboard. The other two images are here and here.

The Flickr account district9pics has a few other examples of billboards, including:

Restricted area
For humans only
here, which has also been used on posters, and

Be alert!
Non-humans seen in the vicinity

Busses, Bus Benches, Bus Stops, And Subways
The bus campaign ran concurrently in key locations in Canada (example) as well as the US.

Bus stop for humans only
Report non-humans
Non-humans banned!
Bus stop for humans only by Tim Dorr on Flickr

Above: There is another good image of this design here, which was also taken in San Francisco.

Bus bench for humans only
Report non-humans
Beware: Non-human secretions may corrode metal!
Bus bench for humans only! by bindermichi on Flickr

Bus bench for humans only by Yipski on Flickr

Bus bench for humans only by Subspace on Flickr

Bus bench for humans only by bindermichi on Flickr

This bus for humans only!
This bus for humans only! by bindermichi on Flickr

This seat is reserved for humans only
Non humans banned!
This seat is reserved for humans only by Jussi Mononen on Flickr

Above: This sign appeared on the metro in Finland.

Window Posters, Signs, And Stickers
Posters, signs, and stickers began appearing at malls, comic stores, and later at movie theatres.

Restrooms for humans only
Report non-humans
Non-human waste may be potentially explosive!
Restrooms for humans only by Darren Barefoot and professor evil on Flickr

Above: The restroom sign started appearing in a few places before Comic-Con 2009 (although it officially debuted briefly a year earlier at Comic-Con 2008, as I mentioned above).

For humans only
Report non-humans
This establishment reserves the right to refuse service to all non-humans!

Window posters started appearing in locations such as comic-shop windows at the end of May. district9pics has two examples - here and here - but they aren't very clear.

Theatre for humans only
Report non-humans
This establishment reserves the right to refuse service to all non-humans!
Theatre for humans only by Carlos E. Restrepo on Flickr

Above: Movie-theatre signs started appearing around the time the film was released in the US on 14 August 2009.

Report non-humans
All non-humans are encouraged to use the stairs!
This sticker was photographed at a theatre in San Diego on 27 July 2009.

Newspaper Ads

Warning: Reading materials for humans only
Please report and non-human reading this publication immediately
Warning ads (not movie ads) started appearing in some newspapers in key markets in the US in June, such as this ad, which appeared in LA Weekly on 11 June 2009.

Social Media Creates Buzz
Although the first instances of the online marketing campaign can be found on YouTube from 14 May 2009 and the Web from possibly as far back as September 2007 (although I presume items were backposted and they actually went live around the same time as everything else did) most of the high-profile social-media campaigns were activated at the beginning of June 2009 where they ran quietly until the public finally began to notice them in the runup to the large-scale promotion of the movie at the 2009 Comic-Con in July (Twitter, Facebook, and the Web sites) and the movie's US release in mid August (YouTube). The social-media campaigns widened the scope of the real-world marketing campaigns, which were only concentrated in key cities, primarily in the US in order to try and push viral word-of-mouth marketing to the rest of the world, as was evidenced that the term "District 9" trended daily on Twitter for about a month before its release, and has subsequently trended almost every Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday as the movie has opened each weekend in new territories around the world.

That's just the context for how it all fits into the real-world marketing campaign. As I mentioned previously, I'll get into the specifics of the Web and social-media campaigns in subsequent posts.

The 1-866-666-6001 MNU Hotline

Call 1-866-666-6001 (toll free)

Unfortunately by the time we thought to test the hotline, about a week after the movie was released in the US, it seems it had shut down, having fulfilled its purpose (we presume). Jase Luttrell tried numerous times to call it to record the audio but always hit an engaged tone instead of the prerecorded message. We assumed that it had been switched off rather than actually being permanently engaged due to popularity (how likely would it have been that so many people would be calling the line after the movie's release that it was always engaged?), especially since the social-media campaigns were abruptly terminated at about the same time (19 August 2009) but were left in existence rather than deleted.

Luckily someone on Flickr thought to record a portion of the audio so you can hear it here.

Comic-Con International, San Diego, July 2009
Filming continued in secret in South Africa until at least December 2008, which makes the fact that they were already subtly promoting the movie six months earlier at the 2008 Comic-Con even more impressive.

The big promotion of the movie happened at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con. A riot-control vehicle reminiscent of a Casspir was parked outside and signs appeared all over the convention restricting access to non-humans. There were also panels that featured the filmmakers and the movie was screened publicly for the first time at the convention, which set off the massive buzz on the Internet and brought the film to the attention of people in other parts of the world for the first time.

Warning: Public roads for humans only
Report violators
Warning: Public roads for humans only by Loren Javier on Flickr

Warning: Public roads for humans only by ToFuGuns on Flickr

Warning: Public roads for humans only by Al Pavangkanan on Flickr

Above: The riot-control vehicle that was parked outside Comic-Con and was a huge hit with the crowds. You can also see a full view of the side of the vehicle here (and lots and lots of photos of it on Flickr).

Hall D for humans only!
Hall D for humans only! by Loren Javier on Flickr

Hall H for humans only!
Access to Hall H was also restricted.

Comic-Con for humans only!
Comic-Con was definitely for humans only, as illustrated here and here.

Screening for humans only
Non-humans banned!
The Comic-Con first-look public screening of District 9 was appropriately controlled.

QR Codes And Caution Tape
QR codes and caution tape started popping up in a few places in the US (notably New York) around the time the movie was released. The tape was plastered all over buildings on the stairs at some subway exits.

Non-humans use mobile QR-code reader at this
Checkpoint by Pete Jelliffe on Flickr

QR Code The QR code above is the same as the one used on the caution tape (pictured below in photos by Gladys Santiago). I isolated it and cleaned it up (a bit) as I was finding that one phone/QR code reader I was using was struggling with the yellow so if you're having the same problem this might help (I tested it and it worked for me).

The code translates to the URL

BeeTagg is a site that allows you to create QR Codes, Data Matrix codes, and proprietary "BeeTagg Codes". These kinds of codes are increasingly being used for marketing: a URL (usually) gets embedded in the graphic code and then anyone with a scanner on their cellular phone can scan in the code and go straight to the web site.

In this case, the BeeTagg URL redirects to, a special page on the Agency Magma web site. (Agency Magma is a marketing agency.)

This special page then has JavaScript code that randomly picks one of four URLs and then redirects the phone's web browser to one of them. The URLs are:


•, a video on YouTube that has since been removed due to a terms-of-service violation.

•, Original District 9 Short Film, uploaded by Theman3788 on 10 August 2006. [ review ]

•, "District 9" - Behind The Scenes [HD HQ], uploaded by watchCulturetainment on 18 August 2009.

Humans not permitted
Caution tape in New York by Gladys Santiago on Flickr

Caution tape in New York by Gladys Santiago on Flickr

Caution tape in New York by Gladys Santiago on Flickr

Above: The caution tape has the same QR code embedded in it as the checkpoint sign.

Going International
As the film began to appear in international markets so did the marketing campaigns. The regional campaigns were similar to the US campaign but had occasional slight differences to appeal directly to the local markets. Some of these changes are noted below. Please be aware that this is not a comprehensive overview of the campaigns that were run in other countries because this article has to stop at some point.

Keep the TTC a humans only zone!: view

Here are some other photos from the campaign that was run in Canada:
• Bus in Toronto
• Bus in Vancouver
• Bus stop in Vancouver
• Bus stop in Vancouver
• Bus stop in Toronto

• Bus stop in Singapore
• Bus stop in Singapore

• The back of a bus in Milan

The UK
Restricted phonebox
For humans only
: here and here.

Here are some other photos from the campaign that was run in the UK:
• Cinema poster
• Cinema poster

South Africa

[this space unfortunately left blank]

The end
(or is it?)

Acknowledgements and thanks to the following photographers, who made their photos available under Creative Commons licences (and some of whom also personally gave me permission to use their photos):
DBarefoot / Darren Barefoot, bindermichi, Tim Dorr, Loren Javier, PetroleumJelliffe / Pete Jelliffe, Kramchang, Lucius Kwok, Jussi Mononen, Al Pavangkanan, professor evil, seany @ flickr, Subspace/Sunday Williams, ToFuGuns/ed peterson, Yipski/Wendy.

Special thanks to the following photographers, who gave me permission to use their copyright photos:
agent j loves agent a, walter_april_haynes / Walter Haynes, Carlos E. Restrepo, GladiolaBean / Gladys Santiago.

I couldn't have put this article together without the photos from all these people, so if you have a moment please visit their profiles and photostreams and leave comments there as well as here to tell us what you think of the article and the advertising campaigns.

On The InternetShare/Bookmark
Official Site: District 9
Other Sites: IMDb | Rotten Tomatoes | Wikipedia | Yahoo! Movies

Elsewhere On
District 9 - ZA Perspective District 9, alien and all, is an intrinsically South African tale but with themes distilled for international audiences. In this, the second of's District 9 reviews, we present a South African perspective of what has become a global phenomenon. We encourage you to compare it to our previous review, written from an American perspective, and then let us know your thoughts in the comments.
By: Mandy J Watson  |  Posted: 10 September 2009  |  View Comments
Category: Screen > Film > Reviews

District 9 - US Perspective
Review: District 9 - A Perspective From America
It's very difficult not to have an opinion about District 9 so we thought we'd write two, independently, from different sides of the globe. In this review we feature the perspective from a member of the audience for which the movie was created, America, although other nationalities are certainly welcome to read it and are encouraged to comment (though they are also kindly asked to accept that the inadequacies of the film are an attempt to appeal to American audiences).
By: Jase Luttrell  |  Posted: 10 September 2009  |  View Comments
Category: Screen > Film > Reviews

Alive In Joburg
Review: Alive In Joburg is taking a step away from reality to explore the alternate, alien-filled world of Neill Blomkamp's Alive In Joburg, the short film shot in 2005 that forms the basis for this year's blockbuster film District 9. Hopefully, if you can see past the poncho-wearing, grotesque aliens and the abundant anachronisms of the short, you will enjoy the splendid squalor of stranded aliens. Or something.
By: Jase Luttrell  |  Posted: 1 September 2009  |  View Comments
Category: Screen > Shorts > Reviews Comments Speak Your Mind
Shop | ZA

Shop | Amazon US

Shop | Amazon UK

Shop | iTunes US iTunes US

Moxyland: The Soundtrack

Ads | Atom Entertainment

Ads | Google