TV Tropes is an intimidating website. Over the past eight years, the community wiki has displayed frightening tenacity in indexing, codifying, and analyzing the tricks of the storytelling trade in an often irreverent manner. Remember the pilot episode of Community? The TV Tropes community flagged those 25 minutes of television for using over 46 different tropes ranging from Worthless Foreign Degree to The Dulcinea Effect. And the community doesn’t limit itself to documenting tropes that appear on television: everything from fan fiction and webcomics to alternate reality games are fair game.
Here’s where things start getting complicated. Starting in 2011, the TV Tropes homepage was taken over by Echo Chamber, an episodic web series dedicated to illustrating tropes through the lens of an increasingly eccentric cast of characters. For two seasons, Dana Shaw and her collaborators Tom Pike and Zack Wallnau played characters in a “Trope of the Week” Show Within a Show that paralleled events in their fictional lives, under the direction of Zack’s father Mark, Director of Transmedia for “The Other Wiki” (TV Tropes’ tongue-in-cheek nickname for Wikipedia) and the inscruitable Mr. Administrator. Season two ended with a Mind Screw, as Mr. Administrator explains that the entire show is part of a diabolical plot to understand the true nature of fiction and reality in order to inject tropes into the fabric of reality. And that’s where the alternate reality game, named The Wall Will Fall by its players, begins.
For the last month, we knew it was coming. But until yesterday, we didn’t know exactly what “it” was. A series of Google Advertisements led to Itscoming.us, a website depicting a shed stranded in the middle of a moonlit field. Scattered throughout the eerily ominous environment were numerous clues hinting at what “it” was…but now, the truth is revealed. “It” is the newly released Zahn series of trenchers by Ditch Witch.
For those of you who, like myself, thought a trencher was only good for making authentic sandwiches, let me clarify. A trencher is a piece of heavy-duty construction machinery that digs trenches. And Ditch Witch, the Oklahoma-based industry leader in underground construction equipment, opted to launch their new line of trenchers virally. Targeted advertisements directed towards people searching for construction equipment ostensibly stumbled across the teaser page and hunted through a haunting environment in search of blueprint fragments to the new product as well as audio, video, and written clues periodically updated. The clues alluded to something hidden within the rickety shed in the middle of the screen…something powerful and awe-inspiring.
It remains to be seen whether Ditch Witch’s campaign succeeded in attracting the audience it desired. But in a market saturated with media and entertainment companies and large corporations attempting to reach as many people as possible, it’s refreshing to find a company using viral strategies to target a narrow audience.
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