Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Viral Tron-foolery

Viral marketing is surely the way forward. Within a few years it'll be unthinkable for any company to stump up their hard earned advertising moolah for a traditional TV spot, since their 30-seconds of focus-grouped footage will be merrily skipped pass by any potential punters vegetating in front of their futuristic 3D goggleboxes.

Better to stick you money on the web, where you can't escape the ads even if you want to. Superior still is Viral marketing, where you don't even need to do the hard work yourself, just make the promotion and let the punters do the pushing!

Pretty soon you'll be sneezing the latest Batman trailer into the face of a fellow commuter, who'll proceed to snot it all over their work colleagues via their infected snoz-holes. Within days everyone will be taking sick days due to Bat-flu and Dark-Knightus, the only cure being a session in front of the film itself. Bingo for the box offices!

Later this year (December to be precise) sees the release of Tron Legacy, a sequel to the once maligned, now fondly remembered arcade-age extravaganza. With such a computer-centric film to promote it's no surprise the marketeers are hammering out viral shenanigans with aplomb, swiftly becoming one of the most elaborate online campaigns to date. Lets be honest, for your average Twilight fan Tron II is a potentially a tough popcorn product to sell, with a conceivably limited appeal beyond bearded white males of a certain age with a little too much time on their hands. Such a thoroughly geeky campaign could be seen as preaching to the already perverted.

Lo and behold, however, I am currently a bearded white male of a certain age with a little too much time on my hands, so when given a heads up on all this web-based tronfoolery I must admit it caught my attention. Considering the rumour-mill suggested in London it could all be happening at the BFI Imax, a mere 10 minute stroll from me bloomin' front door, I thought it was worth investigating...

Directed to a flashy tron-topic binary clock silently blipping away I was immediately confused, bewildered and unsettled as to what it all meant. Thankfully a plethora of forums were already way ahead of me, with peeps from all other the planet chattering and tweeting away as to the meaning of it all, breaking codes and sharing links. The clock was hosted by a site who's hook was based around a fictional underground organization - Flynn Lives - searching for Jeff Bridges' character Kevin Flynn. After triumphantly emerging back into the real world at the climax of 1982 original it seems he's been AWOL since the end of the decade. Ho ho ho, all the Tronites go - as they've seen the teaser trailer and borne witness to a heavily face-fuzzed Bridges lording it over Tron world!

So, safe in the knowledge that all over the world at least triple figured numbers of likewise time-wasters were doing the same thing, I nonchalantly flicked onto the clock as it neared it's dramatic countdown. At Zero Hour the page promptly crashed. Hoo-bloody-ray.

Thankfully the aforementioned plethora of forums were already hot on the trail.
It transpired that, in a similar fashion to a Dark Knight viral from 2008, representatives of Flynn Lives were placed at arcade hot spots all over the globe - their whereabouts revealed in threesomes on an hourly basis. Despite observing the whole event on an impassive basis I was slowly enraptured by the yik-yakking of forum members - primed in their foreign locations for updates, donning Tron t-shirts to dart off at uncommon haste to be the first on the spot and relating anecdotes from previous episodes of the campaign - which began with a treasure hunt and Tron-themed Flynn's Arcade unveiling at the San Diego Comic Con last year. The team behind the viral had even taken to posting plastic "bits" resembling the pieces of the binary clock to individuals who'd sign up to their concocted cause. As a hoarder of equally useless crap this struck me as a rather sweet idea.

Just as I was about to chuff off for a prior engagement I took one last glance at the page to find the London based Flynn-burger was waiting at Selfridges, not 20mins away by tube! Logic, shame and time-frames flew out of the window as I dashed off towards said department store to see exactly what all the hullabaloo was about. Compacted with commuters into a corner of a Jubilee line train, exciting thoughts of secret missions and special purposes flashed through my mind - what a wheeze it would be to best all the other contestants in this international geek 'limpics!

With some trepidation I trundled my way down Selfridges' escalators, soon locating the Flynn Lives-clad representative. Somewhat embarrassed, she informed me that "the operative had made contact and was now active". Now feeling equally uncomfortable at the futility of it all I thought it only polite to make some small talk. After all, the poor girl mentioned that she'd probably have to hang about for the next hour or so whilst more bearded white men of a certain age sheepishly approached her to mumble "download complete". The Tronites who pipped me to the post had scarpered with their booty five minutes previous, but she'd already been hanging around for two hours playing the arcade machine to her right. It seemed like a dull, if remarkably easy, way to make a few quid, plus she could probably pop her t-shirt on eBay to further cash-in.

Sadly, on arrival to my pre-arranged destination everyone was decidedly unimpressed by stories of Tron-based special missions, and later that evening my partner was even more underwhelmed. In fact, she asked politely but sternly if I wouldn't mind socially keeping schtum on whole sorry affair.

Meanwhile, operatives all over the world were making contact, being given mobile phones leading them to a Tron wallets stuffed with vintage trading cards, tokens and secret codes, amoung other tat (except the Madrid contingent, who never made it to their chosen check-point).

Accumulatively they cracked a series of puzzles that opened a multitude of special pages and images on the Flynn Lives site - which in turn gave them even more sub-sites and brainteasers to solve. It also unlocked info about the previously predicted special screening at my local Imax - which after all that I don't have time to attend anyway...

The ingenuity of the marketeers and the tenacity of the fan base is something to behold, it'd be a lot more fun to construct the campaign than spend free time cracking it. I may be part of the target audience for the film, but perhaps not this sort of campaign. Whether or not it'll help Tron's box office is hard to say, but it no doubt keeps the film at the top of the over-crowded comic-book block-buster consciousness. Creating a buzz in a cynical, seen-it-all-before market place is hard enough, so to amp up anticipation by personally involving your audience surely can't hurt when it comes to getting repeated bums on seats.

Personally speaking though, I'm more than happy now to wait patiently for the movie to be out, but I don't think I've got the patience for any more Tron virals...well, not many more.