“Friends Don’t Let Friends Drink Friends!” Viral Marketing for True Blood

Sometimes, if done well, a viral marketing campaign can build real anticipation for the product that it represents. The online websites and ARGs (alternate reality games) for J. J. Abrams-related projects like Lost and Cloverfield are especially complex and intriguing. [Please note that these are only a few links to those ARGs, provided by TV Squad and IGN.com respectively because each campaign involves quite a few sites.]

Combine them with The Dark Knight viral campaign and you have some prime examples of how the technique has been taken to near artform.

But It’s a tricky balance because sometimes the viral campaign turns out to be much better than the actual product that it represents (I’m looking at you The Blair Witch Project.

(And you might want to look at a really good article from Salon.com about the marketing of that film which has a different take on the phenomenon of viral marketing.)

What is Viral Marketing?

For anyone who doesn’t know about viral marketing, it is a word-of-mouth strategy that moves much more rapidly due to the speed of technology- spreads as fast as germs if not faster. Wikipedia, though admittedly not the most reliable source, has a very good explanation of the phenomenon:

Viral marketing…refer[s] to marketing techniques that use pre-existing social networks to produce increases in brand awareness or to achieve other marketing objectives (such as product sales) through self-replicating viral processes, analogous to the spread of pathological and computer viruses….Viral marketing is a marketing phenomenon that facilitates and encourages people to pass along a marketing message voluntarily…. [It] may take the form of video clips, interactive Flash games, advergames, ebooks, brandable software, images, or even text messages.”

Why It Works

It’s a very clever way to reach out to people because usually good viral marketing involves some sort of mystery or riddle that piques a person’s curiosity. Once intrigued, people will eagerly hunt down further information.

Often communities spring up around the more detailed ARG’s – sometimes people band together trying to find hidden clues and solutions.

Other times friends come together to try to crack the puzzle. But it is a technique that gets people invested — and talking about the campaign and the film/tv show/product that it is trying to promote.

True Blood: The Show

As many rabid Six Feet Under fans already undoubtedly know, its mastermind Alan Ball is back with a new HBO series set in the American South just after “Undead Americans” have revealed their existence.

True Blood is based on the smart, funny and sometimes sexy Southern Vampire novels authored by Charlaine Harris. They are fun and offer satisfying twists on the lore of the supernatural and the south.

True Blood: The Viral Marketing Campaign

The viral campaign focuses on “Tru Blood” the synthetic Japanese-created blood-substitute that allowed vampires to reveal their existence among the humans.

There’s a website here for that particular (fictitious) product.

And according to Cynthia Littleton at Variety.com, the folks behind the show even took out a full page ad in Daily Variety about vampires drinking responsibly: “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drink Friends.”

There’s also BloodCopy, a site supposedly covering the vampire revelation and integration into the general populace. It has video, textual and pictorial elements as well as a skype connection I haven’t yet tried….

Does It Work?

Is this intriguing?

For me, the answer is yes but I was already inclined to watch True Blood by virtue of the fact I love Alan Ball, I loved the books on which the show is based and I’m generally willing to give anything HBO develops a chance- they’ve had an excellent track record in terms of producing quality dramas.

But what about you?

Do viral sites such as these get your blood racing? Do they make you more eager to see something like True Blood or are they merely a fun distraction? Are they helping you hone in on a signal or are they just more bothersome noise?

[A special thanks to Ironic for motivating me to write this post with a comment he left on this blog in relation to the difference between splogs and ARGs. He’s a wise man. Though he’s not posting on this, he’s posting some intriguing, thought-provoking and well-written stuff. Go see his blog HERE.]

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10 comments so far

  1. Old Lady on

    Thanks, Abby. For the first time I really understand what viral marketing is. I raise my cup of plasma to you! Thanks for the really good defining.

  2. abbymartin on

    Old Lady:

    Welcome back- and thank you so much. That’s very sweet of you. And very funny given the content. šŸ™‚

    AM

  3. Ironic on

    I’ll never forget how The Blair Witch Project kept trying to sell that these hikers were lost and dead…and yet the girl (I think her name is Heather MacDonald) was doing Steak and Shake commercials in St. Louis…before the movie opened. Oops.
    The first “Real” ARG was for “A.I.”, but it was deemed to easy so they had to rework it. That’s the power of the internet and mysteries coming together.
    ARGs are also not just for films and TV. Games are starting to do it too. The game Alpha/Omega got a jump from the fact that people thought it was tied to Cloverfield (search Ethan Haas was Right).
    I’ve often wondered if there would be a way to include ARGs into class content, but it would be a lot of work.
    The other issue is patience and commitment. Some people don’t have the attention span to see it through. They just wait and watch them all at once.
    So then, where would YOU like to see ARGs go?

  4. abbymartin on

    Ironic

    LOVE the idea of ARGs as part of class content. If there were a way to make that viable, I think a lot of students would have their curiosity piqued and really engage with the material. But it would be hard. Bet you could do it if you found the right techie!

    Don’t know where I want them to go. So far I really have enjoyed what The Dark Knight has done- there are actual calls to action. Clever stuff.

    Educational uses- I think that would be nifty. I challenge you to get the ball rolling!

    Tell me more about Alpha/Omega!

  5. DC on

    Actually, there’s a class at Worcester Polytechnic Institute that has the class run an ARG for a final.

    Storytelling in Interactive Media and Games. It’s the best class I’ve had so far. There’s not much written work, most of it is actually doing stuff. The ARG at the end rules your life for the week you run it, but it was the most fun I had doing work (which I almost never have.)

  6. abbymartin on

    DC

    Welcome! Thank you for the comment.

    What is the process of putting an ARG together like? I’d love to know more! (And what was yours about?) It sounds like it would be an amazing experience.

    AM

  7. MacDruid on

    I would probably have tracked down the show eventually as I tend to like the type BUT the viral marketing has made me much more anxious to see it. Is true-blood.tv one of the viral sites or just a fan site? I found them linked off of bloodcopy.com too.

  8. abbymartin on

    MacDruid

    Thank you for the comment!

    I believe that true-blood.tv is another fan site, but I am not entirely sure. I’ll probably check it out.

    Nice to know that the viral marketing has increased your anticipation. Mine too. Just hope that the show lives up to expectations…

    AM

  9. Samuel L. on

    Not that I’m impressed a lot, but this is more than I expected for when I stumpled upon a link on SU telling that the info is awesome. Thanks.

    • abbymartin on

      Samuel:

      Welcome. And thank you!

      It’s rather wonderful to start the day by being told something that you created is awesome.

      With gratitude

      AM


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