Typing Faster

August 11, 2009

Viral Marketing: How Far’s Too Far?

Filed under: Marketing, Stuff I Like, the biz — petertypingfaster @ 11:30 am

I’ve always been fascinated by viral marketing. The idea of seeding clues in various legitimate looking web sites for fans of a show to find interests me. But my interest stems more from my being a fan, and because it’s entwined so closely with my chosen industry, than from the perspective of your average lay person.

How effective is a viral marketing campaign for Joe Blow of Buttfuck, Nebraska? Are you actually going to reach anyone who isn’t already a rabid fan of whatever it is you’re promoting?

Take the latest Lost viral campaign, that Jace of Televisionary has been sucked into.

Let me rewind: I attended the Lost panel at San Diego Comic-Con, where comedian Paul Scheer presented showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse with a black velvet painting of Damon and Carlton with one of the series’ trademark polar bears. It was a funny and disarming exchange in which Scheer said that he would be producing all sorts of Lost-related black velvet artwork this summer. (The clip can be viewed here.)

Returning to Los Angeles, I was contacted by an art dealer on behalf of Paul Scheer, who said that he wanted to give me a reproduction of one of Scheer’s pieces as a gift. I gladly accepted and soon thereafter received a limited edition giclee reproduction of “Damon, Carlton, and a Polar Bear,” numbered 5/30, along with an extremely verbose hand-written note from Paul Scheer himself in which he referred to himself as “the Picasso of Pop Culture” and which contained a slew of Lost-related quotes.

End of story, right? Hardly.

Last week, I received a package via Fed-Ex which contained a cease-and-desist letter from Ronie Midfew Arts stating that Scheer had created these works “without their authorization” and that they can “in no way condone the way Mr. Scheer has appropriated these key creative elements of the show.”

To that end, they have been contacting the recipients of Scheer’s largesse to ensure that no further copies of the print are made: “Our firm understands that you have the print, and whatever happened, happened.” (Ahem.)

The letter, dated August 4, 2009 (yes, those numbers should jump out at you), which also makes special note of Scheer’s intended action on August 15th (and, yes, there’s 8/15), is signed Alexandra Miller, assistant to Ronie Midfew.

Ronie Midfew Arts has a website, which can be found here. It contains the mysterious phrase “15 Will be lost The 16th Will be found” as well as a variation on the letter I received in which they state that as we near Scheer’s intended sale of his Lost-inspired pieces on August 15th, “This will not happen.”

Rodie Midfew Arts is, of course, an anagram of Widmore Fine Arts, which itself has a website, found here. The site, which represents a gallery in Great Russell Street in London backed by Charles Widmore, claims to be written by Widmore’s nephew, Owen W. (I think we can assume his full name is Owen Widmore.) The gallery is slated to open in mid-August, which–wouldn’t you know it–is when Scheer is meant to be selling his own work. Coincidence?

The gallery itself claims to be down the street from the real-life art gallery Austin/Desmond Fine Art… which just happens to have names of two Lost characters embedded within.

The latest chapter of this story came when Scheer discovered that Lindelof and Cuse had thrown out his Comic-Con present and he threatened to show up at the production offices to confront them for throwing out his gift, which he believes could be as a result of the Ronie Midfew Letter.

Yesterday, Scheer posted the following viral video to YouTube and Damon, Carlton, and a Polar Bear:

After narrowly missing both Lindelof and Cuse (best bit: Lindelof on the phone saying, “I don’t care what his motivation is, just make him dead!”), Scheer discovers the production office dumpster containing a single rose, a set design page for an elevated temple, and a shredded script title page for the Lost season premiere, written by Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse and directed by Jack Bender.

That title? “LA X.”

Yes, that space is deliberate. It’s meant to evoke the Los Angeles International Airport, or LAX in vernacular, but with a twist. Typically X refers to a variable or an unknown, which means that the title could refer to an unknown Los Angeles, one in which Oceanic Flight 815 did in fact land safely after taking off in Sydney.

Which would mean that the viral videos shown at the Lost panel in San Diego–depicting Mr. Cluck’s spokesperson Hugo Reyes and still-on-the-lam convict Kate Austen–are potentially demonstrating the alternative reality forged when The Incident occurred.

Stay tuned…

There’s no doubt that this is a cool way of leaking information, but is that information going to get anywhere beyond those who are already hardcore Losties? Is the buzz generated by a campaign like this going to spill over to the general population? Or should we be looking at this not as a marketing campaign in the traditional sense, but more as value enhancement for the people that are already hooked?

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1 Comment »

  1. You already know my opinion on this, but this seems hardly “beyond” traditional viral marketing (if such a thing can be said) – it’s not really invasive, it is fun, definitely.

    Will it go beyond the hardcore crowd? Well, I’ve heard numbers abound – there’s really only about 2% of the audience that gets into the ARGs, and from there only about 2% of those really makes it a huge impetus to get the “new” clues.

    But, that said, get enough people on board, tap the right people? Suddenly you’ve got something that *is* bringing in new audience members. The ARG demo is one highly sought by a majority of programming – tending to be more the illustrious 25-40 male demo that seems to sink into the ether of the internet or sports.

    Sometimes it’s more about the demo that you need to get – in this case one that’s on the net – than a huge jump in “actual” numbers

    Comment by Elize Morgan — August 11, 2009 @ 12:22 pm


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