- To create buzz for True Blood, HBO enlisted specialist agencies to create a multi-threaded narrative
- The Advance Guard developed an outreach program that seeded puzzles to key influencers
- Solving the puzzles led to a live uStream interactive experience
- Influencers spread the word through video, audio, images and posts
- Continued buzz was fueled by the distribution of TruBlood samples
It was a mystery that proved to be the core of a robust new media seeding strategy - how to create buzz by trying to KEEP a secret.
Created and executed by multiple creative agencies - including Campfire, The Advance Guard, …and company , and Deep Focus , the marketing campaign formed an elaborate prelude to the premiere of True Blood, HBO’s new vampire series from Alan Ball, writer of ‘Six Feet Under” and the oscar-winning “American Beauty”.
The secret in question was the existence of a vampire community that has lived among us for thousands of years, waiting for the right moment to emerge - a fiction designed to activate fans and early adopters to begin online conversations, and embark on a joint quest to solve puzzles.
It began with the compilation of a “red list” - a select group of online influencers, horror and vampire superfans, and known champions of ARGs and online puzzles. Painstaking detective work meant identifying not only the names and email addresses of this list, but also their home mailing addresses - a surprisingly difficult task in an age of electronic publishing, according to Steve Coulson, founder of The Advance Guard, the social media specialists engaged to target and engage these influencers. “So few blogs even have a contact email address. Finding out real names of bloggers, and their home addresses to mail a physical artifact to sometimes felt like an FBI investigation, using online databases, secret informants, and good old fashioned legwork”.
Once the list was compiled, each target received a cryptic mailer - one of several puzzles, written in a dead language (Babylonian, Sumerian, Ugaritic) and dramatically sealed with red wax in black envelopes.
Within 24 hours, videos began to appear on YouTube….
The initial response was overwhelmingly positive, and was monitored closely using The Advance Guard’s unique online monitoring methodology. Says Zach Enterlin, HBO’s vice president of advertising and promotion “I was a little nervous and anxious as to what there reaction would be (but) we’ve launched materials and - I’m not kidding - we could follow the reactions online within minutes”.
In reality, the cryptograms contained clues that led to a URL - a website that, for three nights, hosted a live video stream of “The Gatekeeper”. This chic female vampire controlled access to a vampire-only intranet, packed with details about the secret underground that would start to expose the rich mythology that had been created for the campaign. Several hundred applicants tried - and failed - to persuade her to give them access until the final evening when the gates were unlocked, and the deeper mystery revealed.
This was the start of a four months of intense storytelling, that weaved elements from different agencies into one seamless prologue - websites, blogs, social networking groups, comic books, outdoor and print advertising, Video on Demand segments and viral videos. Jeremiah Rosen, Partner/Director of Campfire - who acted as the lead agency and co-ordinated all participating teams - said “This kind of integration must be planned for. It doesn’t happen by accident or in a vacuum”.
And what of the original “red list”, those influencers that were conscripted to plant the seed? They were rewarded with the first production-line vials of “Tru Blood”, the synthetic blood substitute that, to some, tasted surprisingly like liquid candy:
There was even a review from renowned social media wine evangelist, Gary Vaynerchuck of Wine Library TV:
The result for HBO? On Sept 7th 2008, over 2 million viewers tuned in the watch the premier episode of True Blood, kicking off a season that steadily increased to 6.8m viewers per week, and became one of the cable network’s most popular shows since “The Sopranos” and “Sex in the City”.
And it all started with the worst-kept secret in history.
- The Vampires are coming, but only after months of warnings - NY Times
- Move over Dracula: PR & Marketing Meet online - PR News
- Cross-Media Case Study: Once Bitten - OMMA Magazine
- Are Fake Websites the Future of Horror Marketing? - AMC Blog
- A compilation of posts about the campaign - Delicious