24 August 2009 2860 Views

Viral Marketing: The beginning

by Iain Welford

As this is my first article for MovieViral, I thought that I would introduce myself and explain why I love the subtle marketing campaign that is viral.

For me, the definition of viral marketing is an advertising campaign that introduces an idea of what a film (or product) is about and rewards you for delving deeper. A viral campaign, like any other, relies on its creativeness but where the viral differs is the interaction it creates between you and the film. A viral campaign will reward you like no other, whether it be more information on the story, a game to play, or a prize (such as the joker’s bowling ball) to win.bwp

The first time I became interested in a viral campaign was The Blair Witch Project. It was an independent film, that like many others, could have got stuck in distribution purgatory. What made the difference was how they set the whole thing up. Witness, if you please, the first “viral marketing” campaign. If I were to compare this to a retail product, it would be right up there with Red Bull and their false rumors they put out there to gain your interest in their product.

A year before they started filming, they introduce the Blair Witch in to local folklore. A website was carefully constructed informing the casual user all about this folklore. And by the time filming had began, the Blair Witch was a well known story. It was so convincing, that even the local town believed it, and even embraced it, as the DVD extras show.

Try and remember the buzz that was created by the film. There were tales of people running out of the cinema, throwing up on the lobby  floor because of what they had seen (this was due to the motion sickness rather than on-screen antics). Was it a documentary? Did it really happen? No one really knew, there was so much conflicting information, but what people did not doubt at the time was the legend of the Blair Witch. Such a simple concept and yet no one had ever imagined it before.blairwitch

By the time the film was released, everybody knew about it, and bearing in mind the filming budget was only $40,000, this was some achievement. Nowadays, $40,000 would be lucky to pay for the food truck on film sets! The Blair Witch still has the highest final gross to production ratio in movie history and this must be largely attributed to the marketing campaign they embarked. Studios have always know the word of mouth is a powerful tool, one only needs to look at Shawshank Redemption to see how fan generated buzz can save a film from mediocrity, but now they had a way
to generate it themselves, a way to start the chatter and get the
movie goer interested.amd_warofworlds-frontpage

Was Blair really the first example of a marketing campaign fuelled by mis-information? Well, yes and no. Yes, it was the first film to use this new form of intentional marketing, but for me the first example was 70 years ago. Even though it was (supposedly) un-intentional, the crown belongs to the radio production of War of the Worlds.

On October 30th 1938, CBS radio aired their adaptation of H. G. Wells War of the Worlds. Conceived as a series of updating news broadcasts, it succeeded in not only capturing the imagination of its audience, but also managed to create wide spread panic as people believed that the earth was under attack. War of the Worlds will now forever be a popular sci-fi classic, but it shall remain, for me, the first successful viral campaign; the first real case of audience participation that raised the experience to a whole new level.


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