Sometime last summer I was talking to a movie marketing executive, who was totally groaning over Snakes On A Plane. (The one movie, as I believe New York magazine put it, that you could get totally sick of months before it even came out.) And the to-do about marketing around it—the horror, for him, that every studio would be demanding that their next movie go all, you know, viral; that fans of an unknown movie none have even seen yet are made so fervent they create fake trailers and dialogue.
“I lived through Blair Witch,” this guy said, miserably recalling how for months thereafter studios thought you could stealth-market any movie on the Web, with similar success.
So it would be with Snakes, this guy feared.
And so it is about to be with lonelygirl15: A new and singular event in a nascent medium—videoblogging, in this case—creates a sensation. Viewers get hooked on the saga in the videos, and the mystery behind it. The media coverage blows up; the previously-unknown star ends up on Leno. (That she ended up dancing with Tucker Carlson must have been a huge bringdown, but I digress.)
So let’s say it right now: You won’t be able to bottle up and repeat lonelygirl15, any more than you couldn’t bottle and repeat Blair Witch. There has been no kind of campaign equivalent to Blair Witch. (With the possible exception of, um, lonelygirl15. But that only came a full 7 years later.) There can’t be a “Snakes”-styled sensation every six months, even though Snakes is perhaps better remembered as a movie where the marketing was a bigger hit than the movie itself.
There will, and should be, more lonelygirl-esque serials on youtube and its ilk. This is the new-ish entertainment form that the whole saga has left us with, and it’s uniquely suited to how you watch video on the Web.
But lonelygirl as a new mode of marketing? Don’t count on it. And-–please—don’t even try.