Full disclosure: Dee Cook, a former associate editor at ARGNet, was employed by Campfire to work on Seasons One and Two of the True Blood marketing campaign. She also attended a SXSW panel dedicated to the campaign, and graciously agreed to post a summary of the conversation here.
Some readers may recall a buzz back in 2008 when various bloggers began receiving mysterious dead language mailers and posting about them. These mailings served as the beginning of a marketing push for HBO’s True Blood, which premiered on the small screen later that summer. Representatives from some of the agencies involved in the campaign’s creation joined an HBO executive, a True Blood fan site co-owner to describe how it all happened during the SXSW panel, Fan to Fanatic: True Blood’s Marketing Hook on March 11, 2011.
Zach Enterlin, Senior Vice President of Programming for HBO, explained that the True Blood experience wouldn’t have been possible without the vision of Alan Ball, the show’s creator. Ball brought the show to HBO after the end of the hit Six Feet Under, and asked them how they could educate viewers about Bon Temps, Louisiana, as well as a world where vampires exist and live among us. Enterlin, a long time follower of Campfire’s work, brought this dilemma to them. Campfire jumped in with enthusiasm: Enterlin recalled that Brian Cain read all six books published at the time in the space of one weekend. Campfire wasn’t working alone. In fact, season one had ten agencies working on the campaign, and the HBO marketing machine was strongly backing the project. Enterlin credits the gusto all the vendors had for the work for how coherently so many different moving parts were able to move together. It just worked, he said, because everyone was on the same page together.
Season two of True Blood saw some unusual partnerships between the show and brands like Geico, Harley Davidson, and Monster.com. Todd Brandes from Digital Kitchen explained that the team decided that if vampires were living out in the world, then they could be marketed to: so they ended up cold calling some 30 different brands, resulting in seven brands that were eventually used in True Blood-themed banner ads. Alan Ball nixed one of the brands, a gum maker, because he argued vampires did not chew gum.
Yesterday, the winners of the 14th Annual Webby Awards were announced, recognizing excellence in “interactive design, creativity, usability and functionality on the Internet.” This year, a trio of alternate reality gaming projects came home with accolades. So congratulations to the teams behind Love Letters to the Future (Xenophile Media), District 9 (Trigger LLC), and True Blood (HBO).
Love Letters to the Future swept the Green category, taking home both the Webby Award and People’s Voice Award for the category. The campaign sought to collect messages from the worldwide community to future generations: the top 100 messages were buried in a time capsule at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen on December 13, 2009. Providing an interactive undercurrent to the already interactive campaign, Xenophile Media hid a series of clues and messages from the future on the website, culminating a series of augmented reality images hidden at locations across the globe. To read more about the alternate reality game designed for Greenpeace International, you can follow along with the game’s progress at the Love Letters to the Future blog.
UPDATE 09/12/2010: Welcome to ARGNet, True Blood fans! The BloodCopy.com website appears to be experiencing server issues due to the finale. If you’re interested in learning more about the viral marketing behind the show, check out our previous coverage, or read about the mysterious package that launched the campaign back in May 2008.
Last year, HBO and Campfire Media created an integrated media campaign to introduce the public to Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire series that included targeted mailings, vials of fake blood, and a fake protest in NYC by the American Vampire League, an organization working to secure equal rights for vampires. HBO summarized the content with a weekly faux-documentary, The Blood Copy Report.
With the season 2 premiere of True Blood scheduled to air June 14th on HBO, vestiges of last year’s viral campaign are beginning to surface. Andrew Kasday, one of the characters behind the website BloodCopy.com, was turned into a vampire, and has “revamped” the site into an expose on human-vampire relations. Andrew has recently hinted that he has a secret reason behind bringing Blood Copy back from the dead.
Building off the success of last year’s Blood Copy Report, many of Andrew’s stories have been picked up by HBO’s vampire news program, The Perspective with Victoria Davis, which is scheduled to run weekly segments until August 18th. While the experience has been relatively passive so far, the decision to air Victoria Davis’ faux-news segment concurrently with True Blood’s air time leaves the possibility for more open.
Image courtesy of Jonathan, via Geekologie.com