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SYFY WIRE Dan Aykroyd

What Happened When You Called the "Real" 1980s Ghostbusters Hotline?

"We're ready to believe you!"

By Josh Weiss
Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) wear matching grey coats in Ghostbusters (1984).

Before the rise of the internet, filmmakers had to make viral marketing campaigns out of duct tape, copper wire, and old chewing gum.

In all seriousness, though, the pre-digital era did force Hollywood to think like MacGyver and use all the traditional publicity materials available to them at the time. Remember: social media didn't exist yet. If you wanted to reach millions of people at once, you had to think outside the box. One of the most inspired marketing moves came from late Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman, who devised the concept of a late-night television infomercial to get people to see the 1984 classic (now streaming on Peacock alongside its 1989 sequel). 

"After the film was out and doing well — just to keep the phenomenon going — Ivan came up with the idea of taking a ‘junk-buy’ cross-country on late-night TV and running the commercial just as it appeared in the film, only with the superimposed phone number changed to an 800 number," associate producer Michael Gross states in the 1985 book Making Ghostbusters (it is currently out of print, but available to peruse through the trusty Internet Archive). But what kind of message awaited those who actually called the 1-800 number?

For More on Ghostbusters:
Watch Ghostbusters' Bill Murray Interrupt Jimmy Fallon's Monologue - and Show Him How to Use a Proton Pack
Watch Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson and Jimmy Fallon Recreate Ghostbusters Theme with Original Singer Ray Parker Jr.
Why Don't People in Ghostbusters Remember the Ghosts?

Here's What Happened When You Called the "Real" 1980s Ghostbusters Hotline

While the hotline is no longer in service (yes, we checked), it has been preserved on YouTube for anyone who'd like to give it a listen. Those who dialed up the number back in 1984 were greeted by a comedic recording of Bill Murray (Peter Venkman) and Dan Aykroyd (Ray Stantz) explaining that they can't come to the phone because of a potential paranormal "infestation" at a Times Square theater in New York City.

"We're bringing all our equipment into the girls' dressing room now," explains Aykroyd. "We're doing a complete sweep. It could take a couple of weeks." From there, the two Saturday Night Live alumni riff on the general concept that they're dragging out the job to spend more time around the attractive performers. "Even if we don't find any ghosts there," Aykroyd continues, "we'll take these babes out on dates and who knows?" Murray concludes by urging the caller to "go see the Ghostbusters movie" in the meantime. 

The publicity stunt exceeded everyone's expectations, with the hotline receiving "a thousand calls per hour, 24-hours a day for six weeks," Gross reveals in the book.

Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II are now streaming on Peacock.