Viral Marketing? Whoop-doo!
I used to love getting the mail. I would wait and watch for the postman to arrive, staring hopelessly out the window. I'd daydream of my adventures behind the couch with Luke and Han, and that brand new Boba Fett action figure I'd recently sent away for. Six to eight weeks would pass before I'd see that little white box. It always seemed so exciting. There was an intransient joy that came along with that shipped and stapled piece of plastic. It made running across the street and retrieving my mother's bills a time-honored tradition. Simply put: It was fun. An all-American hobby not unlike bird watching. Star Wars action figure previews soon led to ordering items out of the Sears catalogue with my lawn mowing money. Then there were the Record Club scams. Not to mention all the movie posters. I never knew what was waiting for me behind that metal flap. The mail. It was something I would look forward to after school. And I never quite understood my parents' sighs when I came in with a stack of white envelopes. I was too young to feel their pain.
Not anymore. I wince every time the mailman rolls up in his little red, white, and blue wagon cart. There's always this horrible stress throughout the first part of my day. To say I dread the mail is an understatement. Credit card bills, the California Business Tax Association, water, electric, and Entertainment Weekly renewal forms. Fuck that noise. I can't relax properly until he has dropped his load. My day doesn't quite start until the postman has come and gone. And I know I owe no new money to this great state of ours. Somehow, growing older has destroyed any and all joy retrieving the mail ever held for me. Even around birthdays and Christmas, I wince and grimace, fearing the worst. And when someone knocks on the door? Forget about it. I lose my shit.
The knock is the worst kind of mail. Not to mention, it could be my landlord. I'm not going into the gory details, but a great deal of running around has to be done when that unexpected knock comes. It's a gut punch that could ruin the entire month. So, when someone banged on our metal screen door last week, I certainly feared for the worst. I hurried everything back into place and cautiously pulled back the partition. A blonde femme fatale in Jackie O. sunglasses stood, holding a small square envelope. She asked, "Are you Brad Orange?" I wanted to lie, but her fetching way pulled the truth out of my sweat soaked teeth, "Sure, yeah." She handed me the package and smiled, "Have fun." Then she slinked back to her 1994 rust laden Acura and zoomed away. For one tiny second, I felt the adulation and Christmas joy receiving a piece of mail used to bring my soul back in the day. Then I opened it. The fucking International.
Right before Christmas, our office had become inundated with The International paraphernalia. Apparently, Columbia Pictures was trying to evoke the same kind of viral spirit that had ushered both Cloverfield and The Dark Knight to box office success. The difference here was, I don't think anybody really cares about this clandestine Clive Owen/Naomi Watts page-turner. It's not really a genre film, nor does it have the built-in audience that a Batman or giant monster movie can provide. The International seems rather adult in its theme, and pushing a viral marketing scam on unsuspecting viewers has to be about as affective as advertising the film above urinals. Which, by my calculations, would have been cheaper. For those that don't quite understand what a viral marketing campaign is, it refers to techniques in using pre-existing social networking sites to increase brand awareness. This could be anything from a seemingly unsolicited piece of video that intentionally advertises the product in question (see The Silver Surfer Comedy Shorts in support of Fantastic Four: Rise of The Silver Surfer) to a citywide scavenger hunt (see The Dark Knight Bowling Ball & Trailer Hunt. The same people responsible for The Dark Knight viral campaign were in charge of this new International conspiracy to overthrow the IBBC. I thought the so-called fun was over. But, no. They were still pushing it as a scavenger hunt. And as I shook the contents of this latest envelope onto the floor, I had to wonder, "Who the heck is buying into this? Does anyone really care about The International?"
I understand the madness behind running down a packed Hollywood boulevard to get your first look at the new Batman trailer. Hunting up a Joker-themed bowling ball offers an awesome piece of swag. And trying to track down an image of the Cloverfield monster before the film's release became a mission statement. Locating a pre-release picture of this notoriously well-hidden creature was an old fashion Easter egg hunt that proved funner than the movie itself. It was on par with the best episodes of In Search of.... But Clive Owen in a watered down version of his own Shoot 'Em Up? How could that be interesting to the average Viral enthusiast? There was only one way: MONEY!
That's right, in these hard socioeconomic times, Sony and Columbia Pictures have resorted to giving away free money in support of their upcoming espionage-esque bank thriller The International. Yet still, after hiding bill-laden briefcases around the globe, no one seems to care much about the film. Way back in November, we were given a file full of information implicating the IBBC's involvement in a plethora of nefarious actions. Along with a world map, there was a small cache of foreign currency stamped: Blood Money! We were supposed to use the serial numbers on these bills to track down the bad guy and help fictional Scotland Yard Chief Interpol Inspector Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) bring them to justice. As per the norm, we ran a story covering this. And how you, dear consumer, could aid in the quest to bring those villainous bankers to their knees. But the response was nil. Approximately three people participated in the game, and the very next day we were greeted with another envelope full of real money and maps.
It seemed a moot point. It doesn't matter what the Viral campaign consists of. If people aren't interested in your film, they won't be interested in your lame advertising trail, either. We don't know Inspector Salinger. He is not our friend. We don't care about him, nor do we want to help him in his task. Fuck, you can hardly get the guy blocking the exit at the grocery store to move out of the way. And Sony thinks people are going to willingly give their time to something they have no vested interest in? Euros and Crotchmonks are quite worthless at the bodega down the street. And it's pointless to exchange foreign currency when it adds up to less than a buck fifty. In their infinite wisdom, Sony was nice enough to include an American 2 dollar bill in each of its sent packages. Contributing staff employee Paulington James Christensen took this money and used it to do laundry and buy a much-needed forty. You can read about his trials and tribulations with The International /the-international-bought-me-a-forty/here. And he insures me; the drunk wafting off the top of his precious liquor bottle did indeed up his awareness of Clive Owen's latest efforts.
During that first campaign, Los Angeles participants were told to visit Chinatown. There, they could uncover more information about the International Bank of Business and Credit. Four county citizens traipsed into the heart of the city and retrieved their needed fake Intel. The best part about it? They got to keep the cash that came with the briefcase full of information: Whoop-doo! News of this spread throughout the on-line RPG community, and a small bump of film recognition was implanted in their minds. Maybe they didn't know what The International was really about. There was no trailer yet. But that didn't matter. If Inspector Salinger could pay for their latest batch of Marvel comics and a trip to Hotdog on a Stick, then they were down with his pursuit of justice. That's why Sony decided to do it all over again. And that's why I was being handed a third envelope on such a warm winter's day. They wanted to continue this scavenger hunt game. Only this time, they wanted to make sure you, the general public, knew that there was money involved. And lots of it.
My new International package consisted of another blurry world map, a five Euro bill, and a black padlock that was manufactured in 1996 by Shurlok productions (which may or may not be a real company; I can't quite tell by their website.) Inside the lock was another note from Inspector Salinger asking me to track the serial number on the Euro bill. This lead me to the Stop the International website, where a ticking countdown clock informed me a cash drop off would be carried out near my house the following day. I don't normally involve myself in such shenanigans. But the crawl at the top of my computer screen assured me that anywhere from $100 to $500 could be collected in this thrilling game of find the abandoned padlock. Lord knows I could use any amount of extra cash, especially with Taxes coming up. Participating would also allow me to meet the hard-core RPG enthusiasts that do this sort of thing for a hobby. Mostly, though, it was about that cash hand out. Last time, hardly anyone participated. And I live a stone's throw from downtown. This mullah was as good as mine. Or so I thought.
The early part of Wednesday was spent watching The Pink Panther 2 (which gets a mild Whoop-doo!). I nearly forgot that I was going to partake in Salinger's quest to bring down the IBBC. Luckily, a giant Clive Owen billboard reminded me on the way home. Though, the excitement didn't kick in until that tiny little lime green countdown clock neared 5 seconds. Getting the clue jacked me up. I suddenly understood the appeal of this wicked preschool game. It was a salacious bout of hide and seek. I was given a set of GPS coordinates that I had to convert into directions. The cash was only six minutes away from my house at the Metro Station. The lock was said to be hanging on a chain link fence near the escalator. I hurried into my white Tercel and took off down Temple. Weirdly enough, I felt as though I were part of the movie. This was thrilling, and the traffic couldn't get out of my way fast enough. I sped around cars, yelling obscenities at them, "I'm with Interpol, fuckers! Get out of my way!" Once again, the information in regards to the IBBC was hidden in Chinatown. I passed the big metal dragon arches and discovered a lack of public parking. I could see the Metro station. The area was suspiciously empty. After paying five bucks, I was able to park and run.
A huge fence lined the bottom of the Metro Station, but there was no lock to be seen. On the other side of the escalator was a parking lot. At the far end was a gutted out Semi truck trailer and a couple of abandoned motorcycles. The cash wasn't hidden there, either. The only people milling about had obviously gotten off the tram, and were oblivious to my plight. I asked the Parking attendant if anyone had left a padlock on the premises. He was Armenian, and didn't quite understand my question. Maybe someone had come and gone already, but it seemed impossible. I would have surely seen them in action. I went back to the escalator and met a friendly gentleman with a hands-free phone jack in his ear. He had a pen and pad, and was viciously circling the bottom of the perimeter. I approached him in the interest of this article, and he explained that he'd zipped down here in hopes of finding the cash. Did the The International hold any other interest for him? No, not really. A frequenter of RPG sites, he'd read that numerous drop offs around the country had not been recovered. So, he figured he'd try his hand at finding this cash handout. He was actually surprised to see me waiting around near the garbage can next to the escalator. Working together, we scoured the landscape. Nothing could be found. As the man only worked a few blocks away, he decided to call it quits and quickly vanished.
I stuck around. I thought, "Maybe the dudes in charge of delivering this package hadn't arrived yet." I'm still convinced they never did show up. I ran into two other individuals later in the day. Both were stymied as to the appearance and disappearance of this so-called blood money. We had all gotten their fairly early on, and the website kept reporting back that the lock had gone undiscovered. Though it felt like a giant jip, I did have fun running around the Metro Station. It was quite funny when the Armenian Parking Lot attendant yelled at us to get off the premises. And the three guys I met were all quite friendly and willing to join forces to find this damn thing. The RPG and Viral enthusiasts have a strong sense of community. They're in it for the fun. And it was interesting to see these strangers not hating on each other. Leaving the situation high and dry, I did ask them a couple of questions. Yes, the money was the main motivator for their trip to the metro station. And no, none of them felt too compelled to seek out The International on opening day. They each pretty much said the same thing. They'd see it eventually. The youngest participate was the most enthusiastic. He quite enjoyed the trailer, and was thrilled that the film's promoters had turned the plot into an RPG. Still, the fact that Sony had "supposedly" left up to five hundred dollars dangling on a fence in downtown Los Angeles, and only five people (including me; six if you count the invisible phantom that found the cash) showed up to claim it, tells me that this little game of their's didn't quite shine the intended light on The International that they were hoping.
As luck would have it, I ended up seeing the film later that night. And guess what? Having participated in the Viral campaign just hours before did make for a more exciting experience. I felt somewhat connected to the main character, like I'd helped him out in his quest to bring the IBBC down. Sadly, the main hub of the story failed to move me one way or the other. There is a great shoot-out sequence in the Guggenheim that rivals nearly every scene in Shoot 'Em Up. But the end left me confused. And good portions of it are incredibly boring. No doubt about it. The best part was the scavenger hunt. The International Viral campaign? Whoop-doo! The film itself? I have to give it a pretty big Boo!
Viral marketing isn't going anywhere. But studios need to learn when and where to utilize this powerful tool. Sure, I had fun on my quest, but I wouldn't have bothered if money weren't involved. And obviously, Sony's Internet crusade has done little to boost awareness for this upcoming film. There needs to be a solid, stated fan based interest in the character or genre idea being marketed. Otherwise, it's a lost cause. The International is an adult thriller that doesn't really appeal to the same crowd as Batman and the Cloverfield Monster. Hopefully, a lot more interesting and intricate games will come down the pipeline. I like the stated road Terminator Salvation is headed down. Now that's a franchise people care about. And will contribute to. The Christian Bale audiotape is about the best viral marketing tool I have seen implemented in quite some time (don't act coy, that tirade is as much a piece of advertising as the Super Bowl ad and you know it!).
In the interest of viral marketing, I now leave you with this brand new song from Fukbot's upcoming album "Fukbot in the Land of Rules!" It features Spooker Washington and it is called "Shit Yourself Away". Download it and put it on your friend's Ipod. Then watch it spread like salmonella.
Eat Food! Kill Grandma! Whoop-doo!