When it comes to using Web sites as a promotional tool, it’s safe to say that every site out there is hoping for some “Blair Witch” magic.
But “The Blair Witch Project” phenomenon was a pinnacle of stealth marketing — one that is unlikely to be repeated because the mythology behind the horror film uniquely adapted it to a Web-savvy audience.
What made the “Blair Witch” Internet site so appealing was how it drew the users into the back story of the movie’s plot by offering diaries from the characters, outtakes from the filming in the forest and faux news bulletins about the search for the three novice filmmakers. The site went beyond being a virtual press release by offering much more than movie stills, and listings of cast and crew.
For better or worse, many movie and TV Web sites now try to mimic some aspect of the “Blair Witch” scheme. Almost all of them offer trivia, polls, chat rooms and production minutiae.
But very few go above and beyond these staples to provide content that makes the site act as a good standalone even without tie-ins to the film or show. The most successful sites include some sort of game aspect that creates a community for the users.
“It’s like if Universal Studios opened a theme park ride before a movie opens,” says John Mos-hay, CEO of DNA Studio, a Web design company in Beverly Hills that has created the sites for “Titan A.E.,” “Fight Club,” “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Gattaca.” “It should be a cool ride even if the movie isn’t out yet. That’s what we’re trying to do, create a cool ride.”
Among summer movie releases, up-and-running Web sites (all of which were viewed with a broadband connection) include:
- Mission: Impossible 2
Much like the Web site for the original “Mission Impossible,” the site for the sequel is notewor-thy because it expanded the secret agent premise into a Web-based game. Users who log in are sent e-mail reminders when new missions are posted on the Web site that include games like repairing damaged satellite circuit boards within a certain time limit. The top 5,000 people in rankings when all the missions are complete win free movie loot.
- The Perfect Storm
This Web site has even more expansive ground to cover, since it has to offer enough fresh infor-mation to tempt both the person who has read the book and the one who is solely interested in seeing the movie. It does have the traditional trailer and cast list information, but as a bonus it includes interviews from those who lived through the actual storm to end all storms
Satellite images from the days when the 1991 weather phenomenon was raging over
the North Atlantic are included as well. Additionally, the Web site offers users 3-D views of the set, using technology from iPIX.
- Lord of the Rings trilogy
The Internet exclusive preview for “The Lord of the Rings” was downloaded more than 1.7 mil-lion times in the first 24 hours it was on the Web. New Line Cinema had been touting the exclu-sive on fan Web sites dedicated to the trilogy for days before it bowed and continues to include these indie sites on the official homepage. Currently, fans can submit questions to helmer Peter Jackson (“Heavenly Creatures,” “The Frighteners”) and can vote on which of the fan sites have the best content.
- The X-Men
“The X-Men” Web page is an example of a movie site that still remains in the glorified press release stage. The site offers stills from the film, chats with the stars and trailers, but little content that is original and “X-Men” specific. It’s next to impossible to find any information about the motley “X-Men” crew, an element that is critical to explain the back story of the film. A supple-ment site, mutantwatch.com, is a simply designed page that pushes forward the mythology of the X-Men as a campaign page for a faux politician.
- Titan A.E.
The site for “Titan A.E.” allows users to create a spaceship with other friends to defend against the attacking Drej aliens. Players can select what type of ship to use, what kind of amenities to carry on board and there is a list of the other ships playing so you can keep track of your fellow cyberstellar voyagers. According to Moshay, more than 200,000 people play the game on the site.
For television Web sites, it’s a slightly different game. Because the plot elements on a skein are constantly evolving, what is offered on the Web site has to walk a fine line between being a dull greatest-hits compendium and not giving anything substantial away about upcoming episodes of the show. Some of the standouts are:
- Dawson’s Creek
The most clever thing about the Web site is the “Dawson’s Desktop” feature, which allows users access to a terminal that appears to be that of the main character on the show. Users can look at Dawson’s datebook and eavesdrop on his online chats with Joey, Pacey and the rest of the crew.
- That ’70s Show
Besides giving users daily words of wisdom from Red, the show’s curmudgeonly dad (“You’re never too old to burn to death in a fire.”), the site provides downloadable clips of each of the major actors in the show talking about everything from John Travolta to how their individual character is evolving this season. Also gives a look at the cast in rehearsal. A supplement site, www.that70sshow.com, contains similar information and provides links to Amazon.com where the soundtrack to the show can be bought.
- The X-Files
For rabid X-Philes, this site provides an extensive behind-the-scenes look on the goings-on at the set of the show by providing downloadable interviews with stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. The site is religiously updated with teasers for upcoming episodes, as well as inter-views about the show that was just broadcast.
- The Simpsons
This site is worth it just for the page that gives users the taglines of all the major characters on the show. All 42 of them, from Ralph’s “I bent my wookie” to Krusty’s “Hey! Hey!” Also gives background information on fan forums, including the upcoming 10th anniversary show celebra-tory weekend in Los Angeles in October. The site provides a database of which guest stars ap-peared on the show. Ehhhxxcellent.
Offers a clickable interface that gives you a tour of the Gotham neighborhood of the gang of six and shows closeups inside Monica and Chandler’s apartment and Central Perk. Gives users the opportunity to send “Friends” postcards as well as download favorite scenes from the show.