The remarkable success of the new movie, The Blair Witch Project, once again highlights the potential of public relations to generate widespread publicity for a minuscule cost. This was a story that the media could fall upon. For the ingredients in this particular cauldron were too magical to resist.
The remarkable success of the new movie, The Blair Witch Project,
once again highlights the potential of public relations to generate
widespread publicity for a minuscule cost. This was a story that the
media could fall upon. For the ingredients in this particular cauldron
were too magical to resist.
First, this was a ghost story, and a truly mysterious one at that - a
movie that left something to the imagination. Second, it was a
Cinderella story. The idea of a movie that could break box office
records yet cost only dollars 60,000 is the stuff of dreams. The only
thing Americans love more than a bargain is a romantic fable. This had
both. Finally, The Blair Witch Project had the magic ingredient that
seems to possess just about every story at the moment: the Internet.
According to the analysis in our Media Watch (p15), the media were
nearly unanimous in crediting the movie’s web site with generating
unprecedented interest in the film. Entertainment Weekly claimed that
Artisan had ’reinvented movie marketing’ with this ’brilliant - and
virtually free - marketing tool.’ The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette declared:
’Blair Witch Project isn’t just a movie, it’s a meta media endeavor.’
The Boston Globe declared ’the film is a landmark in movie marketing,
the first sensation created almost exclusively online.’
It’s hard to see how such extravagant claims can be made for Blair Witch
from a marketing perspective. The movie is not the first to use the
Internet extensively to market itself. Has everyone already forgotten
Phantom Menace, and the Internet’s development of the ’mythical’
The concept of a meta media endeavor is also a high-falutin’ claim.
Documentary makers have often blurred fact and fiction, playing upon the
gullibility of people in marketing movies like Robert Altman’s Tanner
88, about a presidential candidate; or Spinal Tap, which went on to
create a reality out of a documentary on a mythical rock band .
People’s gullibility has also been exploited in broadcasting: an early
example was Orson Welles’ infamous reading of The War of the Worlds,
back in the 1930s, which caused widespread panic when it was broadcast
on the radio, as listeners believed that aliens had landed. And the
blurring of fact and fiction in the spinning of yarns has been regularly
used to controversial effect by novelists like Gore Vidal.
There’s no question that Blair Witch has been brilliantly marketed. The
fusion of fact and fiction plays to people’s willingness to believe a
story, even if they are told it is not true. But the idea that studio
bosses will have to reinvent the art of marketing ignores the fact that
as a pseudo-documentary, Blair Witch lends itself to an alternative
It’s not a technique that can be applied to ’conventional’ movies with
anything like the same degree of success.
Besides, the reason that Blair Witch is proving such a success at the
box office is not ultimately down to marketing or the Internet. It’s
down to the movie itself. It feels real and convincing, which is a part
of its power, and the Internet site skillfully plays on that. But it’s
also original, well acted and directed - and very, very scary. And
that’s what will ultimately get people talking.