Posts Tagged ‘ viral marketing ’

Taking TV off of the small screen

More than three years ago, I was navigating the sensory overload that is Times Square when a rather ordinary print billboard managed to stand out among all the digital clutter.

The advertisement touted Ajira Airways and was nondescript in just about every way — except that I had never heard of Ajira Airways. Crunched into Times Square’s abundance of flashy advertisements and noise, it’s minimalism was striking. And then there were those numbers scrawled along one of the corners, looking like graffiti at first: 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42.

If you’re a fan of the hit television drama Lost, you know those numbers are not random graffiti. They’re the giveaway clue that Ajira Airways is yet another in an intricate network of fake websites, videos, companies and characters deployed by Losts’ producers to deepen the show’s mythology. It would be another two seasons before Ajira even emerged as a major plot point. By then, the observant and obsessed contingent of Lost’s fanbase had already noticed the billboard and grown familiar from Ajira through its website.

Lost’s commitment to multi-platform storytelling isn’t unique. More and more programs are expanding from television into multimedia platforms to richen the viewer experience. It’s a method taken to extreme lengths with The Matrix Trilogy — which incorporated anime, comics, video games and websites as supporting narratives in the cannon of the three films. Today the producers of dramas like Lost and comedies such as How I Met Your Mother create dummy websites and videos so the virtual world inhabited by their characters if more fully realized.

It makes for some neat content, and it plays right into the trend of participatory storytelling where the audience seeks out new information rather than just sits back and listens. Presentations from several of my classmates this semester have detailed the ways these programs seek to interact with their most avid viewers using online media.

But does it serve the television show? That’s a tricky objective that requires a precarious narrative balancing act. Duplicate the same stories from the TV show and you’re just wasting space. Offer too much new information on alternate platforms and you risk alienating viewers who now can’t make sense of the show because they didn’t follow all the websites. This was a critical hang-up with the latter two Matrix movies, as they glossed over key parts of the story that were addressed through other media channels.

Even Lost has scaled way back in its use of supporting media. In early seasons there was not only a fake website for the mysterious Hanso Foundation that was referenced in the show, there was also a television commercial and even a late-night TV interview with a “spokesperson” of the fictional foundation. But as the program winds down to the season finale May 23, it has put all the focus on the show itself being the conduit to provide answers for all of Lost’s questions.

And maybe that’s where supporting media falls short. It’s wonderful in building intrigue and mystery by fleshing out fictional worlds. But when it comes time to closing a narrative, the entire audience must be on the same page. A comedy can get away with supplemental content online because it won’t ever be necessary for casual fans to get the jokes. But a serialized drama can’t give away big secrets to only the fans who search for clues outside the television screen. Even the most elaborate stories need a single place to conclude.


Five seconds to live: a video’s fleeting chance of going viral

If a video over 3 minutes is uploaded to YouTube, does it make a sound?

Not much of one, or at least not sounds that will be heard by many. As my class this morning poured through some of the most popular videos that have caught fire on the web, speed emerged as one of the most common traits. Many of these videos are funny, some are surprising, some heart-warming, but none last beyond a few minutes.

Twitter isn’t the only reflection of our short attention spans. Viral videos have to make a quick and immediate impact or they’re closed out before ever being spread to friends and family via email. Maybe the clip can last past the five minute mark, as the ubiquitous wedding dance video does, but you’ve got to figure it out within seconds if you’re to going to keep watching.

How fast must you get the message across? Well for this four-minute clip of YouTube’s greatest hits, all it takes is a few seconds for each referenced video to make its mark. Can your clip achieve instant recognition? Otherwise its lifespan will be dismally short.

Of course there are plenty of other requirements in order to make a video viral, chief among them being humor or entertainment value. It has to be original enough to stand out but still relatable to everyday life. In short, it has to tell a story, with compelling characters, all in less than the time it takes to read this blog entry.

That’s where the real work comes into the creation of a viral sensation. It’s not enough to have a great idea, well executed and produced. You’ve got to edit the content down to its absolute core, with everything that doesn’t make an impact stripped out of the final version. Those willing to pare down their material to the most compelling bits have a chance at surviving through the YouTube wilderness. Otherwise the audience may never stick around for the punchline.

Marketing speeds along a two-way street

This afternoon I bummed a ride, and joined a movement.

The short trip to Greensboro for a class project came inside the much hyped Ford Fiesta. Why so much buzz around this compact car? Well, the fact that it won’t be available to the American general public until next year certainly is a factor.

I enjoyed my preview thanks to a dynamic marketing campaign that epitomizes the new communication models my fellow iMedia students and I designed in class this morning. Rather than just create a bunch of promotional materials and force feed them to the public through traditional channels, Ford held a video contest to create a corps of 100 talented, creative minds plugged into social media. The winners were given a free Fiesta to drive for six months, with the only stipulation that they create fresh content about the product and spread it throughout the web.

My iMedia classmate David Parsons was among those chosen for this “Fiesta Movement.” Now he produces videos and other multimedia content on a regular basis with hardly any control on Ford’s part, and the result is an entertaining mix of spots that can gain traction and fans on the web in a way television commercials never could.

It’s this kind of marketing (call it viral, call it spreadable, whatever your distribution adjective of choice) that anticipates the new communications model made possible by the Internet. While old theories of communication focused on the transaction of a message from sender to receiver, now anyone who creates content spreads it around to many different online communities, and each of them redefines and reshapes the message based on their own perspectives and experiences. The original creator may get his message sent back from multiple sources, each time in a different form. We created a graphic representation of our model that’s shown below.

Think of Ford as the producer in this model, sending out it’s message (the Fiesta) to 100 “prosumers,” a term my class made up to define the consumers of today who produce their own content. David is one of those, and the way he spins the message of the Fiesta into new creative content gets shared with his network of friends and colleagues, who in turn may write about the car themselves or edit their own videos. All the results eventually come back to Ford, which can learn from the negative feedback to improve the product for the 2010 roll-out and use the positive feedback to build marketing buzz. It’s the new communications model in action. All it takes is a ride down the highway to join the two-way conservation.