The Wild, Wild West of New Media Marketing

the_blair_witch_project_fr_by_stumander1989-d3ekxonRobert Marich’s chapter “Marketing in Digital Media” from his  wholesome and enlightening book, Marketing to Moviegoers: A Handbook of Strategies and Tactics highlighted the benefits, utilization as well as the risks for producers and distributors marketing through new media platforms. It is clear that new media is reshaping the way that companies are marketing films, as well as the way consumers access information about upcoming films. Word of mouth has been the prominent force in creating buzz around movies and developing their successes financially. With the advent of digital marketing, films have to take anew approach to the traditional analog marketing techniques, with word of mouth spreading faster and with more involvement from consumers, access to an increasing amount of transmedia platforms, increased amount of advertising space and exhibition space for movie trailers.

The first successful viral online campaign, The Blair Witch Project, which successfully turned a $22,000 budget into a gross of $248 million in the box office. Unlike later campaigns, the marketing technique was based around the official website, which still exists, similar to its original 1999 form. The marketing techniques were used to make the story seem real, and the confusion that surrounded it drove consumers to the website, and subsequently the theater. The campaign was unique for its time in that it provided the consumer with online information, which added tot the mystery of the film–the missing persons posters, the history surrounding the ‘Blair Witch’ itself, collections of photographs and spooky trailers, and only advertising through specific platforms–leaving the consumer to want to research more and to see the movie. It made its mark as being the first successful online viral marketing campaign and although not the first, the strategy is difficult to copy for another successful marketing campaign.  Only six releases in the 2000s became successful mainly from online marketing tactics which Marich explains is due to,”the challenge in digital media to make similar campaign tactics in viral publicity seem authentic when used for a second or third time for other films” (113). The campaigns, like that for The Blair Witch Project must have a certain authenticity and originality that interests consumers, unlike the traditional release of trailers and teasers. Murich refers to it as the “… ‘Wild West’ of today’s media landscape for the movie business” (115). The rules are not yet written on how to successfully campaign through new media, and although there a some examples, there are not very many films that actually made most of their impact through online campaigns.

The key to these campaigns is creating a culture around the films driving an audience to want to see the film while it is in theaters to be part of an experience, to be part of the conversation online as one of the first. The advent of new media has created spaces and outlets for distributors of the film to be in direct communication with consumers, as well as consumers or fans with other consumers, which has been a defining aspect of media marketing, with potential to create more hype surrounding a film (120). The ability for consumers to become critics, publishing their thoughts online after viewing (or even during) can create rapid buzz for a film– negative or positive, thus both harmful and helpful to marketing films. Professional critical publications devoted to film are disappearing, and amateur content is increasing. Consumers are now much more prevalent in the marketing strategies online. I remember being a part of several IMDB discussion boards dedicated to Watchmen, the film. It is clear that online marketing is easier when there is already an existing affinity for the film, in this case fans of the graphic novel, but nevertheless, the ‘organic buzz’ created through online forums resulted in my own involvement with other fans (121). I downloaded every trailer available, critiqued them and posted my thoughts to the forum. I bought my tickets to the midnight premiere as soon as they were available to purchase online. The film itself was mediocre, but I was still driven to the discussion boards after watching it although I enjoyed the speculation process more than the film. I felt the need to be one of the first to see the films, as I felt I had a stake in the film due to my online investment, I felt part of the culture, which added to the experience.

It is clear that digital marketing is becoming more prevalent. I am curious to see what the next successful online marketing campaign will be, as defined by the consumers or the distributors.

Image found through Creative Commons

Outside Source: “The Blair Witch Project: The Best Viral Marketing Campaign of all Time”


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