By: Hannah Pfeuffer
Despite what you would expect, one of the most successful viral marketing campaigns ever took place in 1999. Internet popularity was still in its infancy, YouTube, Facebook, and Myspace were not even invented yet, and Google had only been founded the year before. The campaign I am referring to is the one for the movie The Blair Witch Project. A simple website helped launch the film from small indie movie to the horror movie hall of fame.
For those of you who do not know the plot of The Blair Witch Project, it features three student filmmakers who disappear in the woods of Maryland while making a documentary about the Blair Witch. The movie is supposed to be comprised of their found footage 10 years later. In order to make the movie scary the audience was led to believe that this was a true story and that these people actually went missing. To achieve this appearance they designed a website with fake mythology of the Blair Witch, fake police report pictures of the recovered film reels, and even fake videos of news reports from when the filmmakers went missing. To supplement the website they created rumors on online message boards and took out a full-page ad that only read “blairwitch.com: 21,222,589 hits to date”. Their strategy was simple, but incredibly effective. This small independent movie was made for only an estimated $60,000; to put that in to perspective The Shining was made for $19 million, Nightmare on Elm Street was made for $35 million, and The Ring was made for $48 million. However, this incredibly low-budget film went on to gross about $250,000,000 worldwide.
The fact that this all took place when using the Internet for promotion was relatively uncommon worked to their advantage. This would be a much more difficult task to achieve in today’s world of social media and plethora of Internet advertisements: people would find out it was fake or it would get pushed aside in a sea of other things to look at online. Fortunately, the campaign created just enough buzz and mystery around the movie for it to be a success.
If you want to check out the website it is still active and can be found at: