One of the benefits of producing a movie sequel is that there’s a built-in audience waiting for it. For Men in Black 3, however, the 10-year gap since the previous film in the franchise meant that many of the younger moviegoers it needed to buy tickets might not have been familiar with the films—or even born when those movies were in theaters. So the film’s studio, Sony Pictures, teamed up with Nickelodeon to introduce the characters and premise to kids ages six and up.
The basic premise of the Men in Black films is that aliens live among us, but they’re not easily identifiable. This is where the Alien Scanner came into play. Featuring content from and inspired by Men in Black 3, including a trailer, and accessible via all web-enable mobile devices, it allowed users to “scan” themselves to find out if they were human or alien.
The app was programmed so that more users were labeled aliens than “100% Human.” Kids who were dismayed at the prospect of being inhuman could try again (as could any human kids who’d hoped they were actually aliens, preferably with parents who would let them eat candy for dinner).
About a month prior to the film’s release, the Alien Scanner was promoted heavily on Nickelodeon’s mobile site. The franchise’s marquee star, Will Smith, filmed a spot demonstrating the scanner; this aired not only online but also across Nickelodeon and Nick at Nite TV programming the week of the film’s release.
During the four-week campaign, the Alien Scanner attracted more than 984,000 page views, more than 20,000 views of the film trailer, and more than 250,000 scans, an average of two scans per user. Whether any of the “aliens” uncovered by the scanner turned themselves in to the Men in Black remains unknown, however.