Blair Witch Project:
The Blair Witch Project was a film, which costed $35,000, approximately R455 000, to produce and yielding revenue of $241 million. Most people know the film but very few know that their marketing approach was based on the influencer principle, and even fewer know that the marketing of the film started over 12 months prior to its release.
In 1999 when the Blair Witch Project was launched, social media was non-existent and digital marketing was in its infancy, so the producers turned to the Internet and a network of influencers to market their film. The main theme behind the Blair Witch Project’s marketing campaign was to establish uncertainty among the public.
Their strategy revolved around stirring confusion among the audience and evoking thought about if this was really found footage? If these people really died? Is this all real or just a scam? No one could answer these questions undoubtedly. Every piece of marketing worked to evoke these thoughts, start these conversations, and interest audiences enough to not only view the film, but to talk about it with friends, and challenge the concept of whether it was real, so more people would go see it.
Their marketing strategies were embedded in various parts of the film, such as, the stage. The Blair Witch team started by spreading rumors, through influential communities, about “student film makers.” They planted stories among the public, passed out missing person leaflets, shared photos from the police reports, and even went as far as having fake news stories written up by small local papers about the missing persons and their whereabouts. This word of mouth marketing was in-line with the key messages and kicked off the campaign.
The rumors were then leveraged on the web. All forms of marketing and call to actions drove audiences to the website. This was 1999, so website surfing was still fairly new to many consumers. The Blair Witch site was very simple and capitalized off the low-budget concept- it really looked like students put it together.
Additionally, the site was an extension of the storyline, describing in detail, the myth of the Blair Witch and giving more biographical information on the missing filmmakers, which would constitute as content marketing before content marketing existed in its entirety.
It didn’t “sell” to get users to go see the movie but instead focused on the myth to confuse and scare potential viewers. People saw the movie on their own. The campaign benefitted from two important factors: limitation and timing. The web was a relatively new platform then. But the producers kept adding content over time, adding witchy stories and footage the directors had obtained during filming.
They utilised message boards and chat rooms. Think back to 1999. If you had the internet, chances are, you were using AOL and were probably frequenting chat rooms and other online forums. These foundations for what would later become wikis, blogs and social media sites, were where people gossiped, communicated and shared information. The marketers for the Blair Witch knew this and planted seeds in these online rooms about the film, which was an ultra-grassroots move – but in the digital age. Moreover, they shared the missing person photos and directed visitors to the website. Furthermore, they pretended to be typical online users and stirred up questions about the validity of the film, intriguing fellow chatters. They even manipulated the IMDb records, so if you looked up the actors on the site, their biographical information listed them as missing and presumed dead. The rumors continued to fly and people became both confused and captivated with the story.
Finally, they released the simple trailer for the film. It gave viewers peeks of the film but left the rest up to the viewer’s imagination. What’s more important here is that it was not shown in mainstream media outlets, continuing to emphasize the low-budget, low-quality nature of the film. They wanted viewers to think they stumbled across something unknown and share that news with friends.
Additionally, through a partnership with the Sci-Fi channel, a mini documentary on the Blair Witch was put together to demonstrate the realness of the storyline. Even the movie label, which purchased the film, stayed on track with the campaign’s theme. Artisan refused to advertise the film conventionally and instead showed footage in colleges and niche settings. The teasers featured brief, low-fi trailers with only snippets of footage, along with the Blair Witch website address.
Therefore, the Blair Witch projects’ unconventional and innovative marketing approach is fundamental to every facet of HaveYouHeard (hyh) – a forward thinking influencer marketing based agency which conceptualises, produces and executes influence marketing excellence.