The rise of viral movie marketing, and it began with the Blair Witch project

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All filmmakers employ viral film marketing nowadays, its part of the film’s overall marketing and promotion. But the first movie to employ viral movie marketing technique was Blair Witch Project. We take a closer look at how the internet was used to make The Blair Witch Project a hit.

The Blair Witch Project was a horror film, but unlike other film in that genre, it was a ‘found-footage’ film presented to the audience as a true story.

In October 1997, a small group of young actors and filmmakers emerged from a state park in Maryland with approximately 19 hours of rough, handheld video footage. Those grainy images were then edited down to around 90 minutes, and the video would eventually become The Blair Witch Project, a $22,000 movie which went on to make more than $248 million at the box office.

Besides the stupendous box office success, what was more interesting was its marketing campaign. After all, the Blair Witch Project wasn’t the first ‘found-footage’ film ever made, neither was it the first American horror film to present itself as a true story.

Films like A.I: Artificial Intelligence and The Da Vinci Code were advertised via a string of websites full of clues and little interactive games.

Christopher Nolan’s Inception was advertised using a brilliantly coy campaign which focused on the film’s fictional ‘mind crime’ technology rather than its specific events.

These experimental approaches to publicity can sometimes have unforeseen results. A website designed to advertise Roland Emmerich’s disaster movie 2012, purportedly set up by an entity calling itself The Institute for Human Continuity, sparked a series of anxious messages to NASA from people terrified that the world was about to end. Eventually, NASA was forced to set up a website reassuring people that, despite all the rumors, the apocalypse wasn’t scheduled for the year 2012.

Ridley Scott’s Prometheus had superbly-wrought campaign, which included a TED talk from the future, and an extraordinary mock android advert featuring Michael Fassbender’s David 8.

The promotion for X-Men: Days Of Future Past took a similar approach, with a campaign devoted to the theory that Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender again) may have been involved in the assassination of John F Kennedy.

Deadpool, a superhero movie with a far smaller marketing budget romped to box office success thanks to star Ryan Reynolds’ expertly timed tweets, such as this image of Deadpool lying by a fire. Retweeted more than 50,000 times, it’s viral marketing, Web 2.0 style.

Although the advent of technology such as smart phones and YouTube has made the online landscape vastly different from what it was in 1999, the impact of The Blair Witch Project is still being felt. The movie paved the way for the Paranormal Activity franchise, a found-footage horror that also had an online campaign to thank for its phenomenal success.

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