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.
I purchased The Adventure Company’s recent release, Evidence: The Last Ritual with high hopes that it would provide immersive gameplay that would appeal to the ARGer in me. Touted as an adventure/puzzle game, Evidence is a step towards a pre-packaged ARG: there are websites to discover with voluminous content as well as in-game emails that follow your progress through the game.
Boy, are there in-game emails. There are scads of in-game emails. In fact, within 10 hours after registering the game (a necessary step in order to proceed to gameplay), I had received a whopping 28 emails – 25 of those in the first two hours. I eventually got a mail saying, “No news from you for several hours now? Are you ditching us like a pair of old socks, or what? Please, we need your help…” Nothing like a little guilt trip to make me want to pop that game right back in! Most mail was to provide clues, and several times the timing was off so that I would get clues for puzzles I had already solved.
The story behind the game is that there is a serial killer on the prowl, and he has produced this teasing, taunting set of CDs with information and clues about his victims. The CDs contain a lot of well-acted video clips which the player is rewarded with after solving puzzles. The gameplay itself is almost reminiscent of the movies Se7en or Saw, with a gritty, surreal atmosphere. The puzzles range from piece-o-cake easy to insanely difficult, and there are little to no clues about solves in some cases. What I found most difficult at times was actually being able to “catch” the right icon in order to proceed to the next puzzle — the tiny icons bob up and down on the screen, and for those of us with bad reflexes it can be pretty frustrating.
Although the post itself on the Lonelygirl15.com forum is currently unreachable, a new message tonight has a lot of confused fans wondering if the puppetmasters have stepped out from behind the curtain.
To Our Incredible Fans,
Thank you so much for enjoying our show so far. We are amazed by the overwhelmingly positive response to our videos; it has exceeded our wildest expectations. With your help we believe we are witnessing the birth of a new art form. Our intention from the outset has been to tell a story– A story that could only be told using the medium of video blogs and the distribution power of the internet. A story that is interactive and constantly evolving with the audience.
The white-hot spark of a YouTube user named LonelyGirl15 has set the dry timber of the summer Internet community ablaze. Ostensibly the video blog of a teenaged American girl named Bree, the 23 videos posted so far have chronicled a budding romance with a boy named Daniel, but there’s a twist: Bree’s family is very religious, she is home-schooled, and she has pledged a “purity bond” with her father. Even stranger is the fact that Bree’s religion is never named, and in fact on various comments on YouTube she has said that it is not mainstream – “We’re not Christian or Buddhist or Hindu or anything like that.” There’s also a mysterious picture of famous occultist Aleister Crowley on Bree’s bedroom wall, above a candelabra which she’s vehement that Daniel not light. And wait – that Crowley picture is new – it used to be something else (could that possibly bear a resemblance to Baphomet?) A dark twist, indeed.
Buzz has it that the videos are too pat, too scripted, and too professional looking to be anything but some sort of viral campaign. Indeed, the clues are there. Bree initially gained an audience by making engaging and humorous videos featuring popular YouTube users. She’s very cagey about revealing any personally revealing information about herself, often completely dodging uncomfortable questions. Perhaps more telling is the fact that a vanity website under her name was registered on May 12 – almost two weeks before she showed up on YouTube. Those following the saga wonder how she knew she would become an Internet sensation before posting a video (her excuse: Daniel did it to tease her).
Studio Cypher has announced the launch of their second “Multiplayer Novel,” entitled Perfect Friends Forever, set to begin this week. According to Studio Cypher, “[Perfect Friends Forever] is much improved on our first episode: it contains many more puzzles and major story updates will happen on Tuesdays and Fridays.” The plot will involve Madame Z, a psychic who uses spirits to run a matchmaking service, who is trying to find out which of her spirit helpers has turned against her. For a free preview, enter the pass code “argonaut” at the Perfect Friends Forever trailhead site.
Good news comes to Perplex City fans this week as Perplex City announces that their card packs are now available via several major online retailers. The card packs, as well as a starter pack which includes additional items such as a music CD and a binder, may now be purchased at Overstock.com, Buy.com, Walmart.com, and Toys “R” Us.
Mind Candy received recognition recently at the Origins International Game Expo, where they won the Vanguard Innovative Game Award. According to the Origins Expo website, Origins awards “Celebrate the best in board, role-playing, miniatures, play-by-mail, and trading card games; professional and amateur magazine publications, game-related fiction, and accessories and supplements.”
Last but not least, Perplex City is planning a live event in San Francisco on August 12, from 10:30 am until 5:00 pm. According to Mind Candy, this is their first major US event, and they hope to have several hundred people there. This event will “activate the link” between Perplex City and San Francisco. For more information or to register, visit the live event website at PerplexCity.com.