Forbes recently named The Blair Witch Project the best ever social media campaign and Associated Press writer Christy Lemire called it the mother of all movies with viral buzz. The film just got a Blu-ray DVD this month and since its October, which means it’s Halloween time, I’ve decided to celebrate by looking at five keys to the film’s promotional campaign and a lesson to be learned from each.
Key: The filmmakers focused on story; not their product and not themselves. They didn’t stop with the tangible real world specs of their product, they went beyond that and let storytelling create a spectacle, which sold the film.
Lesson: Entertain; don’t sell. It’s what’s known as unmarketing. Instead of pitching people on your product, entertain them. As long as your brand is at the center of all that you do, people will associate the entertainment with your product. When you make things fun, entertaining, mysterious, intriguing and exciting you don’t have to market your product; it markets itself.
2) True Audience Targeting
Key: They took their message to the people that wanted to hear it. They didn’t wait for anyone to come to them; they sought out their target audience. From the beginning, the filmmakers reached out to potential fans on message boards. As money became attached to the film, their target audience was also reached via the Sci-Fi Channel and the recruitment of street teams.
Lesson: Know your audience and go find them. Instead of throwing you message out there and hoping it connects with someone, seek out your audience and try to start a conversation with them. Tap into the audience’s culture, reach them through their peers, influencers and the media they actually use.
3) Put Money Where Your Audience Is
Key: Similarly to true audience targeting, the producers didn’t use mainstream advertising outlets until there was already money in the bank. They used alternate means to advertise, let their online buzz and the success of their limited opening weekend pave the way to a victorious wide release weekend. The addition of mainstream advertising for the film’s fourth week in release then pushed the film to additional success (number two on the weekend box office charts for the second week in a row with a take of $24.3 million).
Lesson: Just because it’s there and just because that’s the way it has always been done, doesn’t mean you have to use mainstream advertisers. With The Blair Witch Project, they zeroed in on their niche audience and then used that as leverage. By the time they put down big advertising dollars, they had practically guaranteed a return on those funds.
4) Make ‘Em Want More
Key: Their campaign always left people wanting more. Like the film itself, never did you get to see, hear or know the whole story. The film played on our fears of the dark, the woods, the unknown and the super natural, while also letting our imaginations and desires to believe in ghosts, witches and legends run wild. The campaign behind the film touched on those same fears and had all of our imaginations conjuring up horrible thoughts and visions.
Lesson: Sometimes less truly is more. There was actually quite a bit of information on the Blair Witch at the time it was released, but none of it explained the film or let those that believed it was real know it was fake. This isn’t something I recommend everyone tries as it is a huge risk. If you leave your consumer wanting too much and then they feel your product doesn’t deliver what they expected, they’re not happy. This is why I think many dislike this film and why they also dislike a lot of M. Night Shyamalan’s stuff. (By the way, Catfish has completely hooked me by using this technique.)
5) Connect the Dots (Even If You’re Not Connecting Any Dots)
Key: Filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez tied their campaign altogether with a website that was ahead of its time. Many people forget, but movie websites were pretty damn boring back in 1999. Photos and information was about the most you could expect from them. With BlairWitch.com the website was an extension of the film that sold the film without selling it. Every bit of information put out about that the Blair Witch was meant to spark interest. Once it did, people went online and searched for more information. It all worked as advertising for their website, which only confused people more and further led them to believe the story was real. This of course pushed everyone in to talking about and having to see it. We rushed out to see the film as soon as we could. It delivered with scares and more mystery and this left many of us wanting even more. That’s genius filmmaking. That’s genius storytelling. But more importantly, its genius branding.
Lesson: Websites are more than brochures filled with facts. With blogs and social media sites, many of us have gotten lazy and don’t see the need for up keeping websites. But a company or product’s website is the glue that holds its brand all together. It can be a portal into your online solar system and a home base that all your secondary sites funnel to. It’s the one place online that you fully control the message of your product or company. If your intention is to lead people into thinking something is so when plenty of other sites say it isn’t, make sure your website is getting the job done.
Author: Chad Freeman is the social media specialist for MassMedia Corporate Communications in Las Vegas.