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The Blair Witch and a House of Leaves: 5 Movie and Book Marketing Schemes That We Couldn't Ignore

Marketing. The word itself is enough to make some people get the sweats. In a world of constant internet inundation, how do you make your products stand out? We've compiled a list of some of ingenious marketing tactics that took creativity to another level.

Page from Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves

1. The Blair Witch Project: Considered to be one of the greatest marketing stunts of all time, 1999’s found footage movie harnessed the power of the still-new internet to lure audiences. A website was set up to help the public find the “missing” students from the movie; missing persons leaflets were distributed; ads were taken out in local newspapers; message boards and chat rooms were set up dedicated to the movie. The trailer left the scare to the viewer’s imagination. The marketing used a public “call to action” to not only advertise the movie, but involve viewers interactively within the scheme using the World Wide Web. This witch - these missing students - the footage - was it real? We didn't know in 1999, but we shelled out for tickets to know more.

2. William Castle’s movie gimmicks:

  • Macabre: During this 1958 horror film, Lloyd’s of London issued a $1,000 insurance policy to each moviegoer in case they die of fright during the film. The gimmick worked; the movie grossed $5 million.

  • The Tingler: This 1959 horror was ahead of its time with a gimmick literally built into the audience. The movie is about a human parasite that feeds on fear. Castle used a vibrating device called a “Percepto!” in some of his theater chairs that activated with the presence of the Tingler. The film opens with a warning to audiences that some audience members may be susceptible to physical effects of the film.

  • Thirteen Ghosts: The 1960’s film’s black and white scenes were superimposed with red and blue-tinted images. Audience members were given a pair of “Illusion-O” glasses - viewing through the red screen on the glasses allowed them to see the “ghost” in the footage, while viewing through the blue screen in the glasses “removed” the ghost.

3. Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made: This 2018 movie within a documentary is said to be a found footage film from the 1970’s that has “negative” effects on anyone who watches it. What does Antrum want you to believe? That watching it will kill you. The producers even go so far as to show a legal waiver that’s a “must read” before proceeding forward with the film. Was it real? We've seen it and are here to write this post. Did it make us question our movie life choices? A little.

4. Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves: The author’s debut bestselling novel was published in 2000. Parts of the book began to appear on the author’s personal website before it was published as a whole, and printed copies were distributed underground throughout Los Angeles in the 90’s before being picked up by a major publisher. Besides the book’s intriguing premise, the typeset, font, and font color are unique enough. Some passages require turning the book in circles to read; others involve holding the words to a mirror. The opening page of the book begins with a line that tells readers to turn away. We could not.

5. An original limited edition 200-copy run of Ray Bradbury’s 1953 Fahrenheit 451 was bound in fireproof asbestos. Maybe not the healthiest approach, but need we say more? We'd definitely buy that if someone pre-wrapped it in plastic (and if that other person also paid for it).

In the meantime, what can you do to get ahead on marketing? Think outside the outside the box. Consider ways to take your product and give it an edge that make people not only want it, but have to have it.

Want to know more? We’ve got others. The future holds part two of this post. It’s underground right now, circulating among socially distant coffee shops and six-foot spaced concerts.

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John E. Meredith
John E. Meredith
May 21, 2020

That website for THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT . . . when they were still claiming that it was a documentary . . . I'm a longtime, hardcore horror movie fan, and the sounds coming outta that site were freakin' terrifying. Nothing could have kept me from seeing that movie, even if I never slept again. Then, even after I had seen it and the truth was out (that it was all just a brilliant promo!), I was still impressed. The way the filmmakers put it all together, with a bunch of unknowns sent into the woods without a script . . . so they could essentially fuck with them until they were tired and terrified for real . . .…

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