Halloween always brings out a bonanza of mainstream marketing mayhem as big time advertisers attempt to capture teen eyeballs. In years past, it's been promotional packaging and concert tours, but this year, the Internet cross-over is hitting full stride. I give you three examples of recent offerings by Doritos, Mountain Dew and Dutton Publishing (via Anthony Zuiker - the CSI guy):
Capturing teens (and twentysomethings) is like herding cats.
If you can get them on your lap, they will purr for you, but at the slightest annoyance, they'll ditch you in the dark. With a U.S. teen population of over 35,000,000, it's easy to see why marketers are interested to tap into their psyche. One sure fire way to start is to use the horror genre. Kids love to be scared... in a fun way. Like a great haunted house, they wish to experience terror, but with the expectation that it's ultimately safe: the shouts, the giggles, the nervous energy... and the loyalty they'll extend to those who offer up the best frights.
What these sites attempt to do is provide first-rate content, that not only holds the viewer at the site for an extended period of time, but encourages a community atmosphere to share that experience. Marketers speak of reach and frequency, but the real key is "duration". The longer these marketers effectively befriend young consumers, the more apt they are to spread a message to their friends.
Doritos' Hotel 626 campaign is an interactive video game online that held my collegiate son for well over an hour (only open after 6pm - a shrewd gimmick), as he navigated his way past a frightening asylum of characters, attempting to make his way out of a haunted hotel. It's very effective - because it not only captures their eyes, but their e-mail addresses AND their cell phone numbers... willingly! The push from Doritos is subdued, yet when it comes time to choose at the grocery store, you can see how one of these fans will pay the extra dollar for a bag of chips.
Circle of 8, the triple collaboration between Moutain Dew, MySpace and Paramount Digital is the latest to tap into big production values, delivering Twin Peaks like oddities, mysteries to solve and murder, within the confines of "The Dante" - an apartment complex filled with (guess who?) ...20-somethings. Mountain Dew plays a more active role here, offering new clues to decipher on the site as well as their new promotional package designs. The commercialism here still works by smartly turning their own packaging into a Scooby Doo mystery solving device. It's an effective way to turn fans into big time viral agents.
The last on the list is the "digi-novel" concept of Level 26. An illustrated book from Dutton Publishing, with special clues within the pages. These clues act as a bridging link to 3-minute live action cinematics with recognizable acting talent. Do fans of CSI shows really want to take this next step? Do suspense readers really want to put movie images and sound to the characters in their heads? Does the censor-free spaces of books and the Internet provide an edge over traditional TV offerings. The answers are, "of course they do." Zuiker has been a master of tapping into the things that we squeamishly allow into our memories for years. Level 26's serial killer Sqweegel is the boogey-man you hope never to see, but believe actually exists. Clever... like 3 days duration clever.
In the end, the challenge for all marketers in this new arena is, "Will it sell?" There's little doubt in my mind that it will generate serious $$$ (and spin offs). However, reaping this kind of payday is for the patient. This kind of indirect sale is long, but those that welcome it may find that they're producing viral sales agents, far better at communicating "cool" than any sales manager could ever "train." The trick, of course, is to not let them down with your content - otherwise you'll face a fate worse than death: a teenagers' wrath.
Effectively finding ways in which your target audience will spend minutes, hours, if not days, with your message, will always help your bottom line - even if that line is covered in blood.