If you ask someone what their favorite social media campaign is, you’ll probably hear about Burger King and it’s Subservient Chicken, or Old Spice and it’s work with Mustafa. Few will tell you that The Blair Witch Project is theirs.
But they should.
Think about it. Modern brands employ some of the brightest minds in the business to “figure” out the social media formula. Budgets are spent on Facebook and Twitter, blasting advertisements and promotions for the brand’s “fans”. No one has really figured it out yet, and the marketing world is in flux. New tools are born every day. Others die every day.
Yet here was this little independent film, released when social media was just an infant. They implemented a successful social media campaign long before the term social media was even defined.
They infiltrated online message boards, hell, they created online messaging boards. The Blair Witch universe online was like an alternate reality, carefully disguised in the clothes of the internet.
They built a website that was buzz-worthy a year before its release. This website welcomed people into the Blair Witch ecosystem. It was plastered with not only a background story, but a background life. They had pictures from “eating out after graduation” to childhood Halloween pictures. They had news stories, press clippings, a timeline starting in the late 1700s and even diary entries from “Heather’s Journal“.
They achieved the end-all be-all of viral marketing: creating digital content that was worthy to be spread virally in people’s everyday lives. The Blair Witch rumors spread from the halls of elementary schools to the pages of credible newspapers. The phenomenon was simply amazing.
They spawned not only a marketing strategy that year, but a movie genre. Paranormal activity? Cloverfield? They all attempted to do what Blair Witch did.
No one will ever quite be able to achieve that exact same success. They did this before the internet was a fact-checking machine. They did this before the phrase “I don’t know, just Google it.” was commonplace. They did it before Youtube could verify the validity of the story.
And that, my friends is why The Blair Witch Project is the first advertising campaign displayed in my “Legendary Advertising Series”. It was unprecedented, and it can never be replicated again. I’ll talk to you later, I’m off to watch it over and relive the fear I felt back then–with a newfound appreciation.
Ross Andrew Simons
P.S. The REAL filmmakers (and marketing gurus) of the Blair Witch Project founded a marketing agency in New York City in 2007 called Campfire. They’ve done work with Audi, Verizon, AT&T, Harley Davidson, Sony, Samsung, and more. They’ve amassed awards in the process. Talk about a legacy.