If you've ever visited the website for an upcoming film and took a survey or played an interactive game, added a particular film to your list of friends on Myspace or otherwise got information about an upcoming release from a source other than "traditional" methods such as TV spots or billboards, you've been exposed to a technique known as "viral marketing." This technique has evolved and become very sophisticated over the years since its first big success with a little film called The Blair Witch Project -- which basically wrote the book on how to use the Internet as a marketing tool.

Now, with the Internet and other non-traditional outlets so much in the daily lives of potential movie-goers, viral marketing is being used more than ever. Over at Variety, Anne Thompson discusses the current state of viral marketing as practiced by the major studios; how they've used various techniques, puzzles and other gimmicks to entice younger, tech-savvy potential audience members and build awareness for their upcoming films. For example, as Thompson points out in the article, Warner Bros. recently used this kind of marketing at Comic-Con in San Diego to promote their upcoming film The Dark Knight.

Instead of bringing the film's stars and director to the Con, which is what studios normally do, Warners instead staged several events including sky writing above the Con which directed fans to a special phone number where they got further instructions. After that, they were directed to a place where they could get their faces painted like the Joker. The whole point of this marketing, according to the article, was to "unlock an exclusive photo of Heath Ledger as the Joker and a new Dark Knight teaser trailer.

I won't dispute the power of the Internet to influence people and popular culture. However, I personally don't have as much free time as I used to and don't spend a lot of it online solving puzzles, taking quizzes or unlocking exclusive content -- especially for films I'm already planning to see. Sure, it might help engage some fans and give them a way to feel more a part of the action or pass the time until the film comes out. I just don't really need that kind of thing to get me interested in most movies. But I guess that doesn't really matter because this kind of thing is definitely here to stay. What do you guys think? Does this kind of marketing hold any interest or have any influence on you?