The Pirate Subtitles is an entirely digital campaign, using technology and communication techniques that can be used in digital only. It has digital technology and digital consumer behaviour at the heart of the very idea, targeting a digital first audience that can hardly be reached otherwise.
But none of these digital channels would have reached any impact without the help of the media. They wildly picked our story and helped us to raise even more awareness then initially hoped.
Piracy used to be something for nerds. But nowadays everybody does it. It has become common practice for a very large group of people. And since it has become so normal, people aren’t even thinking about the fact that it’s illegal anymore. This is a big problem for the film industry, also in Belgium. The Belgian Entertainment Association had to do something about this.
Our objective was double: make the pirates aware of their illegal behavior again, and get the problem back on the table. We needed to spark the debate again, since today we all have the technology to end this problem, but only if everyone is on board.
Describe the creative idea/insights
During the Christmas holidays, a time with a lot of new blockbusters in the cinema and on the internet, we uploaded Pirate Subtitles for several films and series. After a few weeks of giving the pirates a taste of their own medicine, we broke this story to the press, with a press release signed by the Belgian and international film industry, including Universal, Walt Disney, Dutch Filmworks, Sony Pictures, Paramount, etc.
Describe the strategy
It’s not a pleasant message, to have to tell people that what they have been doing for so long now is illegal and that they should pay for their movies. So we had to do this in a surprising and impactful way, so we could get the public on our side, and not against us.
Describe the execution
In Belgium all movies are subtitled and never dubbed. So when someone illegally downloads a movie they also download the corresponding subtitle file. When they watch the video they simply add the subtitle file to it. The subtitles are fan-made text files that anyone can edit and improve. But if anyone can change the subtitles, so can we. We uploaded ‘Pirate Subtitles’: subtitles files in which we intentionally created incorrect dialogues. Suddenly it seemed like Samuel L. Jackson, Pierce Brosnan, Salma Hayek and other Hollywood stars told the viewer he’s watching an illegally downloaded movie, and that he is now stuck with bad subtitles. And they pointed out that there are many legal alternatives nowadays. To make sure the downloaders would use our subtitle files, we created a bot that gave our files high ratings and top ranking, so they were constantly on top of the list.
List the results
During the Christmas holidays our Pirate Subtitles were downloaded up to 10.000 times.
Then, we sent our press release.
The story was widely picked up by all national media like De Standaard, VRT.NWS, Q-Music, De Morgen, Het Laatste Nieuws, and many more.
We sparked a debate on TV, and director Michael R. Roskam could explain the problem in ‘De Afspraak’, a significant daily talk show with guests, involved in daily news.
The campaign became a hot topic on social media and in relevant online communities like TorrentFreak, Reddit and Tweakers.net calling it funny and brilliant.
A few weeks later our client reached an agreement with Telenet, VOO and Proximus to block up to 400 pirate websites.