Future Cookies

07 Oct 2008

ARGs have traditionally been built for the heavy user – Audi’s Art of the Heist, Halo’s I Love Bees, Batman’s Dark Knight. They all rely on the curiosity and narrative diligence found within the networked smarts of fandom. The payoff may be an invite to an exclusive pre-screening, but that’s not the true ROI for hours invested, it’s the joy of participation and the thrill of the hunt.

While this space has historically been the turf of a small, dedicated group, this model proffers new territory for product placement within film and tv narratives. It draws on the new behavior patterns of a lean-forward life – one in which videogames are surpassing films for screentime. Brand integration can dance with our 2.0 impulse to search and to win, and can reach far further than just hardcore fans. Again, thru the rabbit hole framework of Fall Down, Walk Up, this is an idea we’ve been mulling in our lab.

So. Imagine if our protagonist Alex Tyler is standing outside a SoHo loft, talking with a potential client. A wheatpasted concert poster is in the background, either with the name of a band or a URL. I’ll wager that even casually curious viewers will Google the name while watching – presenting a chance to steer them toward a website, to reward them. In traditional transmedia or ARG, this would further the narrative (a la Lost) – but what about this being an opportunity for a giveaway? The first XYZ people who land on the site win – a gift certificate to iTunes, a round-trip from JetBlue, an exclusive shirt from the Gap. Multiple brands could participate throughout the text, and degrees of difficulty would correspond to the prizes. To keep people trying – stagger the victories, every 20th person, a la the days of calling a radio station for concert tickets.
This type of living product placement was (kinda) experimented with by KFC. But the reward was minimal, and it was an interruptive effort to make you watch a dull spot. If this type of content is alive within good narrative, game on. It plays with our impulse to poke signs and symbols – for ‘real’ reward. DVDs could even have different cookies than the content as seen in the first go round.

Content needs financing and brands need engagement – I see opportunity herein. Over the past few years there has always been talk about inserting hypertext into film and video narrative – you roll over the dress worn by a Gossip Girl and are then fed info and a link. While this makes sense on paper, and seems to mimic current behavior, it’s banal. We wanna hunt and kill our prey. We are unwitting gamers, hoping to challenge and reward our inner detective, even if only for five minutes.


  1. 7 Oct 2008 cuzzo

    Well written indeed. It is a very interesting age that we live in. That fact about video games having more screentime than film is definitely one that I hadn’t thought about. It seems that the viewer’s demand for interactivity is a lot more than it ever was.

    I remember all those books btw… Took me down memory lane just now…

  2. 8 Oct 2008 nerditry

    @MHB : You’ve already got the framework built and it’s proven to be successful. I’m referring to LOST which has built the most amazing ARG and offline community. Because intense viewers will go over every detail in the show with a fine-tooth comb, they are prone to uncover the names of books, background music, stores, tv shows, etc.

    The writers of the show have built depth into each one of these facets where there is no end point and eventually you are directed back to LOST, itself. They’ve even supplemented the show with books that are again referenced on the show.

    I think tougher than figuring out the spokes on the wheel is figuring out the center mass. You can send them off on a million quests, but what are they returning to as this central concept has to be just as interesting as the offshoots.

  3. 8 Oct 2008 MHB

    @ Cuzzo: Yeah those books reminded me that we’re all a bit more sleuthy than we think, even things like playing Sudoko or reading DaVinci code stoke our desire to solve

    @ Nerditry: Totally right on Lost, I should have made the point in my post that Lost is the model for this – but that it would be diluted for more casual viewers – ones who want to snoop about for a few minutes and get a ‘real’ reward that exists outside of the text.

  4. 8 Oct 2008 nerditry

    @MHB : What do you mean by “…and get a ‘real’ reward that exists outside of the text.”

    Are you saying reward them with something tangible as opposed to additional knowledge? I would agree with that, but at the same time, the engagement comes from luring them past the initial dangling carrot.

    If you’re going to build depth into the ARG, then there is almost no point at which you can make it stop except that you have the benefit of the show being on a schedule. So in that sense, you can only get so far because the future has yet to reveal itself.

    I do see the benefit in solving a puzzle related to what was happening and winning a prize that was used in that part of the show. Like going around Jacob’s cabin with a flashlight and being able to win that model flashlight or a book that was on the shelf.

  5. 8 Oct 2008 MHB

    @ Nerditry: Yup, real reward, as discussed in the original post, via brand integration – not narrative – so you can win plane tix, clothes, etc…
    It’s not deep, it’s shallow:)

  6. 8 Oct 2008 nerditry

    Think about this : web based platform for Choose Your Own Adventure. interactive. scripted, filmed cut scenes. product placement. accomplishing a certain task a certain way gets the prize. only the first 10-20 people to accomplish (without prior indication) the task will win X prize.

    You could design a new game at almost any time based on the advertiser’s demands.

    If you dig this, hit me @nerditry.com

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