Blair Witch Marketing

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I just read a fascinating article in the November 2006 issue of Fast Company that has some revolutionary ideas about marketing. By now everyone with an interest in marketing has read the story of how the horror movie, The Blair Witch Project was made for $22,000 and parlayed into $248 million at the box office, by generating massive pre-opening “buzz” on the internet long before the public even knew they were reading about a movie.

It is the stuff of legends. The chat sites started picking up rumors of three college kids who were lost in the woods while on a film school project investigating stories about a witch. The kids were never heard from again but their camera was found. The film inside was restored, revealing horrifying sounds in the night woods.

It was, of course all a hoax, but for a time many on the chat sites were believers. But what is truly remarkable was how the hoax took on a life of its own, even before anyone heard that the supposed film found in the woods was coming to theaters. By the time the film was released, it had built up fever-level anticipation.

Now the three guys who brought you the Blair Witch have formed a marketing company called Campfire. They are hired by advertising agencies to create viral marketing campaigns like the one they used to make their movie such a huge success.

Their work has included the Audi campaign called “The Art of The Heist,” which lit up web sites, blogs, cell phones, message boards and even had some real-world stunts. The results were better than Audi could ever have hoped for, with 2 million hits on their web site, 4000 test drives and 75% more dealership leads.

Campfire’s strategy is to create a story that is unspooled over time on the web, and gradually spilling over into offline media. They create an addictive mystery that causes people to get online to find out more.

Viral marketing is not a disease, but it is “buzz” that spreads from one person to another by becoming a topic of conversation just like the latest episode of Lost or 24.

The question I keep asking is how duplicatable is it? Can story-based viral marketing really be re-created to promote many different products or services? And do these stories have to be hoaxes in order to work? Couldn’t a mystery unfold virally even though everyone knows it is still fiction?

Frankly, I don’t have the answers to all this yet (but my little mind is in overtime pondering this idea). I wholeheartedly recommend the article in November’s issue of Fast Company on page 86. It is definitely food for thought.

COPYRIGHT(C)2006, Charles Brown. All rights reserved.

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