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The Blair Witch Project – Genius Viral Marketing Campaign Made $248,6 Million From The $60k Budget (8 min read) 

The Blair Witch Project - is a 1999 documentary-style horror.

It is based on the purportedly true story of three students, who hiked through the Maryland forest in 1994 to film a documentary about a local legend known as the Blair Witch.

The three disappeared, but their equipment and footage were discovered a year later. The movie is based on supposedly "recovered footage".

?Strategy & Tools


Blair Witch Project Timeline 

  • October 1997 – the film got into production.
  • June 1998 – Hexan films created a website.
  • January 1999 – The Blair Witch Project is written and directed, and gets featured at the Sundance Film Festival.
  • Artisan Entertainment bought the distribution rights for $1 million.
  • July 1999 – the movie was released in cinemas.


Perfect storytelling – the Blair Witch Project marketing

They made the website the core of the whole Blair Witch Project marketing. In 1999 the internet was still a new thing.

The site helped to create an urban legend/myth. You could read there that an evil witch is lurking somewhere in the woods of rural Maryland. Rumours had it that it was the ghost of Elly Kedward. She had been to be accused of practicing witchcraft in 1785 and then executed.

Website pages offered a timeline of the "main events" in the history of the Blair Witch – including supposedly missing students (Heather, Michael, and Josh), images and interviews with the victims. The team would get creative and publish things like one of Heather's diary pages on the website.

Everything was a hoax, hyped up on purpose just to turn up the whole craze around the mysterious witch.


Who made the Blair Witch Project?

Blair Witch Project was written and directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez. Although these two might not be too popular, their film was a hit.


Where was the Blair Witch Project filmed?

Most of the scenes were taken in Seneca Creek State Park, Montgomery County, Maryland.

Some additional parts were filmed in Burkittsville – a historic town – as well as in Rockville, Weaton, Patapsco Valley State Park, and other, minor locations.


Consistent updates

Fresh new content was being put online on a regular basis. This kept people coming back to spread the word.


Forums

They also went to the forums and drip-fed information about the 'legend' of the Blair Witch.


Posters

The studio hung missing posters for the film’s stars on college campuses with links to the site. This made the whole lie even more real.


TV

The story of the "Curse of the Blair Witch", was broadcasted on the SciFi Channel. This resulted in more than 20M website visitors before the movie even hit theaters.


Tools
Website
IMDB
Forums
TV
Posters

Blair Witch website

Blair Witch website

?Psychology

Provide a mystery to solve

All those marketing practices created a backstory for people to dive into. This sparked curiosity and started people to investigate.


Curiosity gap

The authors made the viewers curious about the witch and everything related to her because it was something new and unknown. People are generally lured by things new to them, and it was exactly the same with the Blair Witch Project.


Storytelling & Urban legend

This urban legend, as well as the others that went viral, tend to follow a certain formula:

  1. It’s usually something supernatural.
  2. “Nobody saw, everybody heard.”
  3. It concerns the locals.
  4. It is often somehow dangerous.
  5. The genesis of urban legends is usually vague and unclear.

Supernatural could be especially appealing since they are “minimally counter-intuitive”, combining both the familiar and the bizarre effects. We remember them more, and we are more likely to share them because they typically evoke strong emotions. The most popular stories have only two or three supernatural surprises. More than 3 surprises and the story starts to become more confusing than enjoyable.

The most memorable tales involve some kind of social connection; The story requires you to consider other people’s motives and decisions, diving into our social bias.

? Windows of Opportunity

The Blair Witch Project was so successful that even IMDb.com believed in those stories – listed the three actors as missing, presumed dead. This was all thanks to the authors’ motivation and passion for what they were doing.

The film was so groundbreaking, it essentially launched the entirely new genre of “found footage horror”. To name just a few, Quarantine, or the whole series of the Paranormal Activity movies follow that scheme.

Blair Witch Project is also often mentioned as one of the first examples of viral marketing. Almost two decades after its release, you can still find people who argue that the film is real.

The most important thing they achieved: they made people believe. They found a niche, which was empty, and they took advantage of it by giving people what they have never seen before (at least on such a level of complexity).

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