Monday, November 20, 2006

Marketing Tools To Build Buzz

In early September, a friend and I attended ABC's premiere night at the Granada Theatre in Dallas to see the opening shows for "Ugly Betty" and "Men in Trees." As usual with such affairs, we each received a gift bag filled with gimcracks advertising existing and upcoming ABC shows.

On our way out the door, we were confronted by a group of teenagers asking if they could have the candy bars in our bags because the wrappers contained clues to a treasure hunt. We gave them one of our two bars, and the kids ran off to accost other departing members of the audience.

I was reminded of those candy bars this morning when I read an article in Thursday's Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

The article titled "Believe It Or Not, Fake Biotech Firm Is Key Marketing Ploy For Crichton Novel," said:

Eager to get viewers more involved with its TV program "Lost," the [ABC] network . . . aired a commercial during the show for an entity known as the "Hanso Foundation." The ad asked viewers to call a toll-free number to learn more about the mysterious organization, part of a broader marketing "game" -- essentially a scavenger hunt -- the network operated over five months.

Those who called Hanso . . . received clues to follow, directing them to a Web site or elsewhere, says Michael Benson, ABC's senior vice president of marketing. Ultimately, the game included Internet radio broadcasts, and even distributing candy bars with a fictional name to people in the U.S., United Kingdom and Australia, he says.

The WSJ article also discussed the latest "fake," which is advertising Michael Crichton's upcoming novel:

A puppy that never ages. A cactus that grows human hair. Giant cockroaches presented as pets.

Genes run amok at Nextgencode, which is as it should be. The "company" is the creation of News Corp.'s HarperCollins Publishers, and its sole purpose is to gin up interest in "Next," Michael Crichton's coming thriller about genetic research. The publisher plans to post videos on YouTube and other popular Web sites touting the accomplishments and products of Nextgencode.

The article cautions that publicity firms need to be careful. Consumers who fall for a fake marketing ploy can feel tricked and embarrassed if the "joke" is revealed too late. There was a backlash against the Sci Fi Channel when it claimed to have had a falling out with M. Night Shyamalan over an unauthorized documentary. The phony contretemps was actually a hoax to promote buzz for director Shyamalan's film, "The Village."

I was amused by the article because I can remember receiving a "fake" wedding invitation nearly twenty years ago. The invitation was on good quality paper and included the little "return" card and envelope. It took several minutes before I realized that the bride (whose first and last names were the same as one of my cousins) was a character on a television show where a big wedding was planned for the new season. I called a phone number I found on the invitation and ended up with a publicity firm that told me they had mailed wedding invitations to all the people in the phone book with my surname in Dallas and other major cities on behalf of the network.

That wedding invitation was a novelty for me. However, in the years since, I've seen or heard of many such ploys publicizing TV shows and movies. I don't recall seeing one to advertise a book before this Crichton device.

Building buzz is big business these days.

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