1 Blair Witch, 1999
If nothing else, the Blair Witch hoax is the first example of a successful viral marketing campaign. Which is a good thing, because it’s a dreadful movie. The movie’s promoters touted the film as a documentary about three campers who disappeared in the woods. The rumors circulated through emails, discussing the supposed tragedy at length. By the time the movie had a colossal opening few weeks, aggravated fans were incensed to hear interviews from the actors. (Perhaps the first time America rooted for attractive teenagers to be butchered like hogs.) But the films documentary approach has spawned many imitations in the horror genre: the Paranormal Activity movies and the YouTube phenomenon Marble Hornets (itself part of the Slenderman hoax) come to mind.
2 Camel Spiders, 2004
Let’s get one thing strait — the men in our armed forces are some of the bravest people on the planet. Regardless of your feelings on war or violence, we can all agree on that. There are, also, more than enough reasons to feel sorry for them —being in a foreign country, facing the rigors of armed bloodshed, communicating with their loved ones only sporadically. So, why someone felt it necessary to invent a new reason to pity them is pretty loathsome. For one thing, the perspective of the picture (with the other soldiers leg further in the background than it seems) distorts the actual size of the camel spiders. Secondly, if you look at all with a discriminating eye, you can see that there are two, not one, of the vile creatures.
3 Lonelygirl15, 2006
Oooo, a blog of a hot girl who says she’s lonely. Every fanboy’s fantasy, right? Wait, what’s all this crap about her parents’ cult? Yes, early in its run Lonelygirl15 was outed as fiction. For the first month, though, fans of her quirky personality and (huh-huh) other attributes anxiously awaited the 4 to 5 installments per week, hoping that Bree would be all right. OK, maybe only the most naive did. Either way, the viral campaign worked gangbusters, and (instead of feeling betrayed) viewers were hooked. It eventually spawned video posts from secondary characters as well as live action segments. Today, the entire series has generated over 110 million views.
4 Bill Gates Will Give You Money, 1997
There’s a scene in an episode of the Simpsons, where Bill Gates ransacks Homer’s feeble internet start-up. Gates admits, “You don’t think I got rich by writing a bunch of checks, do you?” Yet, odds are, if you owned an email account circa 1997, you got a few emails that said “Bill Gates Wants to Give You Money!” To anyone who doesn’t fully comprehend the “magic” of computers, the explanation sounded plausible: if you help Windows test a new email tracking system, you get paid for every subsequent forwarded email. What the bogus emails never specified was how they intended on paying you; maybe they intended to pay you in realizations, like the realization of what a naive boob you’d been.
5 The Georgia Bigfoot, 2008
Some people believe with such thorough conviction, that any shred of evidence will froth them into fits of hysteria, beyond reason or skepticism. It’s happened with Tupac, Elvis, and — the King of Cryptozoology — Bigfoot. People pay hundreds of dollars for supposed Bigfoot droppings. You read that right. You can’t make this crap up! Well, sort of: two clever con men pulled a ruse that drew widespread attention, not just in Sasquatch circles, either (Yes, that’s a CNN logo in the bottom right). Tom Biscardi paid $50,000 to take the “remains” off the hoaxers’ hands. Our guess is that you have to sue if you take out a mortgage essentially to buy a carpet suit and Chewbacca mask.