One of the great advantages (and imperatives of) social or wider new media campaigns is the ability to target particular cohorts in highly specialised ways, without the scattergun approach of mass campaigns in print, television etc. Let’s take a look at two television shows and two films that made efficient use of emergent and social media as part of their wider IMC strategies.
Ex Machina (trailer) made a great example of how to creatively use an emergent form of social media to advertise a film on a small budget, alongside more conventional film marketing. The psychological science fiction thriller places a young male professional in the hands the powerful founder and CEO of a tech giant. He is being used in an elaborate Turing Test, to evaluate a secret project to place an AI into a female-like android. In an unusually divisive campaign, the marketing agency exploited Tinder, the casual dating application, to create a fake profile using the image of the female lead, Alicia Vikander (using her character’s name, Ava).
If users interacted with the profile it would respond like a real person, based on the software’s ability to respond to keywords to deliver a pattern of programmed queues. The same basic technology that is employed in dating site ‘bots’ for all manner of online scams. Tinder profile matches require local geolocation markers, and the bot was released during the film’s festival premier in Austin during March of 2015. The specificity of this campaign meant that film professionals and journalists visiting Austin for the South By Southwest festival who were looking for a casual dalliance would match with ‘Ava’. Those who interacted with the bot would end up being redirected to other social media materials.
If you take the time to see the film you will understand the genius of this ruse. Young, mostly male professionals are visiting a distant location (Austin), have been attracted to a beautiful woman and are entering into a Turing Test themselves. When they uncover the truth they feel betrayed . Their own predation (in some cases) is reflected back at them and they are forced to ponder the implications that a true AI or a lifelike female virtual intelligence would incur. This is not just an accurate mimicry of the plot points of the film, it is a powerful foreshadowing experience in this small group of influential viewers who are now forced to associate with the film’s protagonist when they see it. Moreover, the targeted group were compelled to write about or discuss their experience, creating incredibly cost effective exposure in syndicated print media, online blogs and conventional SM. This single platform campaign on an abstract medium was actually an efficient strategy to bolster engagement across a large portion of conventional channels, improving exposure on less cost effective media without sacrificing their limited resources.
Mr. Robot is a massively successful show owned by a major network, with a large budget and a gargantuan advertising presence in print, online, on television and outdoors:
Why then is its launch and wider multi channel strategy considered a small revolution in the way television is marketed? Apart from conventional means, a tweaking of conventional release dates and the use two novel channels round out the integrated strategy.
The first unusual step taken was to release the pilot episode for free, one month in advance of regular screening, across multiple online streaming platforms and On Demand services, most significantly YouTube. This was widely reported at the time to be a successful way to promote the series, several million people watched on YouTube alone. But it was more accurately a successful way to discover how to promote the series, as viewership demographic data provided by an online release is unobtainable in conventional network television delivery, which is how the series airs. This data allowed communication and segment specific materials and budget allocation to be honed before the actual premiere.
The result of this test helped inform campaigns directed at tech-savvy and youth demographics, the first being a Virtual Reality experience delivered through YouTube and the Oculus store, functioning as a small abridged episode but only enjoyable by those early adopters of that new technology.
The first season of the show has a strong anti-establishment message, the protagonist is an antisocial hacker with disassociative mental disorders who attacks the stability of the global financial system. The marketers needed a way to reach those youth-tech demographics, who are highly cynical and have a deeply ingrained generational mistrust of institutions, in a way that did not draw attention to the dissonance between big budget, mass market campaigns and the principal motifs of the product.
They did so by having a team of “hackers” “take over” the eSport and gaming stream service Twitch and proceed to “delete debt” for live viewers, invoking imagery of Anonymous, as does the series. The stream, with bargain basement production values and a clever hook, was massively popular.
( I was unable to embed this video; rather than explaining further, please watch it for more detail).
Marketers with a youth focus have long co-opted the language of subversive politics. A spoon full of sugar to help make more skeptical demographics swallow their advertising. As an example, hip hop artists now “leak” tracks, adopting the language we associate with Wikileaks, Snowden and subversive behaviours. But what they are actually doing is intermittently making songs available prior to the release of a new album, OR what we used to call “releasing a single”. Just like a leak of IP, and in the case of ISL’s campaign, “deleting debt” would be a highly illegal federal offence, a cyber crime. This is an old fashioned cash giveaway promotion, dolled up in the black hoodie of youthful cynicism and delivered via a novel and under-exploited digital platform.
Uniquely, by the time the third season of Hannibal was being advertised, the show had been cut, the previous two seasons had been critical successes but commercial failures. A small and cultish group of viewers had been very active online. Particularly on online boards and image sharing networks like Pinterest and Tumblr, which foster niche interests and lend themselves to the show’s uniquely beautiful visual style, making clips fodder for shareable GIFs and visual mashups made by passionate fans. With limited resources allocated, the aim was to reward and reinvigorate that core group. Conventional media such as television teasers, trailers, billboards, mainstream social media and print were used as a part of the integrated strategy to promote the series. This vanilla advertising is an ineffective means however to invigorate the core viewership into higher engagement with associated online content and the correlating influence on peer groups and online communities which that fosters. To engage this group, animated GIFs were released in the style of old fashioned postcards, that acted as teasers to the new locations in the 3rd season, like France and Italy, these seamlessly complemented fan made material and were reused as such, increasing online activity in the lead-up to the season premier.
“I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you’re looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money… but what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career. Would you like to endorse them?”
Between these four examples we can see that good IMC plans don’t just use digital platforms to deliver similar content as conventional media, or as landing pages for Google search. They offer strikingly varied opportunities to generate mass engagement, drive impressions, acquire demographic metrics, reward niche consumers and increase exposure via third parties, provided the creativity is present to realise the unique potential of each platform.