Question: What do fake blogs, phony or misleading websites, promo MP3 releases and even dummy MySpace accounts have in common?
Answer: They are all part of sophisticated New Media, multi-media marketing campaigns for Television, print and other entertainment content.
Following on the heels of books like Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point (which theorizes about how trends develop), and no doubt influenced by the increasingly rapid viral growth and acceptance of web properties from MySpace to YouTube, media marketers are embracing new technologies and techniques to hawk their offerings.
Some efforts go so far as to create fictional stories, or companies and full interactive environments around them. These efforts don’t just promote a Television show or book; they’re also helping legitimize the technology platforms they’re built on. Traditional Media was slow getting to the ball during the first wave of Internet activity; they’re looking like they don’t want that to happen again.
NBC’s popular show Heroes probably leads the pack of current offers when it comes to this kind of creative interactive marketing. Heroes is an "X-men-meets-ordinary-Joe’s–in extraordinary-situations” kind of serial program. If not for DVR’s, I’d likely have missed it because it’s aired opposite 24 but I’m getting hooked. It’s clever, creative and crafted with an eye toward suspense but a clear intent on having characters that people broadly relate to. Some of the same kind of creativity has been applied to promoting the show.
Heroes is heavily marketed across the net. In addition to coverage on NBC’s own web domains, there are at least two MySpace groups for fans, and even an official authorized MySpace profile (despite the fact that MySpace is owned by rival Fox). More than 30,000 people are linked to that page (and interact with each other on it.)
Heroes is also behind a fake website for Primatech Paper, a company in the show with a hidden agenda. Fans who go to the Primatech website will find a real, interactive site for a company that’s purely fictional. The site, which was registered by NBC Universal’s parent company GE, is filled with content. Fans can call a working toll free phone number complete with automated answering service. They can access the site via a mobile browser. They can try to apply for fictional jobs, or sign up for text or email updates. There are even password codes buried in the site for fans that dig deeply enough. Those who find them can gain access to deeper layers of hidden content. The concept is similar, but more advanced, than a campaign ABC put together for its program Lost last season.
The publishing industry has also used these kinds of marketing tactics. Harper Collins has aggressively promoted Michael Crichton’s genetic research thriller Next in a similar way. (Wallstreet Journal online reported on this in November). The 2 million copy initial printing of Next was supported with ads on YouTube for fake company Nextgencode. There is a Myspace webpage and a fully functional, interactive website for the company which doesn’t actually exist. The site is complete with fictional retail products, a forum for interaction, and even faux press releases.
These examples are just a few of many, and part of what seems a new trend with promotion. Fans seem to like the interactivity components. They add to the fantasy of the book, or show. Marketers clearly like the prospect of getting fans interactively involved.
Tomorrow…I plan to pick up with a couple cases of this trend gone wrong.