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Blair Witch Project

Project type:
Movie promotion
In support of:
The Blair Witch Project (Artisan Entertainment)
Spring 2001
If anybody deserves the credit for starting this whole idea of immersive, web-based promotion, it's the people behind The Blair Witch Project. Faced with the dilemma of trying to promote an inexpensively-made independent horror movie, the producers turned to the web as a medium for conveying the backstory of the movie. They created a site that purported to tell the story of the Blair Witch, an evil presence that had been causing trouble in Maryland since the late 1700's. The site works forward from that time to tell the early part of the story with reproductions of church records, newspaper entries, town historical records, and old books. They continue to present-day with audio and video interviews with police officers, city officials, and people who claim to have had direct contact with the Witch. The site notes that a documentary shot by local students about the Witch and their search for her was about to be released, and if you wanted to get the latest information about the search, you should go see it. The site was a huge success, receiving hundreds of millions of hits and undoubtedly playing a key role in the movie's success.

So, looking back over all these years, why did the Blair Witch site work out so well?
  • Novelty. Of course. Nothing like this had really been done before, and so the campaign got a lot of attention from both informal, word-of-mouth sources and explicit press coverage about the site.
  • Good use of media. There are lots of different kinds of things on the site -- text, images, sound bites, movies -- and they're used effectively to emphasize different aspects of the story. Remember that broadband was not as widely available as it is today, so having some relatively low-bandwidth content was a good idea, or even a necessity.
  • Good organization via the Witch timeline. There's a lot of stuff on the site, and the timeline is a good way to help visitors structure their exploration of it. It encourages return visits -- always a good thing -- by giving visitors an easy way to note what they've seen and what they haven't.
  • Bite-sized pieces. You don't have to absorb the whole thing to get something out of it. Rather, you can drop into a single point in the site, look around, and get some immediate value. Of course, that small, easily-digestible bit may be the part that makes you want to stay around and explore more. In comparison to the AI event, it's worth noting that Blair Witch achieved its success while remaining conceptually simple -- you could enjoy exploring the site without getting caught up in intentionally-complex puzzles.
  • Good story flow. The story told on the site hooks up very nicely with the story told in the movie. The Witch's history is an ongoing one, and so it seems only natural that your "study" of the Witch should move from the archival content on the web to the filmed coverage of the movie.
The success of the Blair Witch led to an understandable bit of over-enthusiasm for immersive techniques, and a prediction that everybody would be doing them for everything. That was never going to happen, of course, and we're now at a point where we're gaining a good understanding of where immersion works and where it doesn't. It's always important to know your history, and, for immersive events, the Blair Witch site is a milestone that you have to understand.