Thursday, January 15, 2009
Alive- viral campaign for new Zombie series
(This fake PSA to promote Alive teaches "a better way to kill" zombies.)
Hoping to snag viewers and a network distributor, the creators of horror/sci-fi television series Alive launched a gory viral-marketing campaign -- before the series pilot was even produced.
Rather than spending several weeks and millions of dollars producing a full pilot, they put together a two-day shoot to assemble three fictional public service announcements with bloody, violent footage ripe for dissection and analysis on the web.
According to John Frank Rosenblum, Alive's executive producer and an executive at Epic Level Entertainment, today's cluttered TV world demands that a production develop a fan base quickly.
"Some shows are canceled before their first commercial break," Rosenblum said. "What makes a difference for a show is the fans.... We wanted our show to serve its audience first -- and then seek a broadcast partner to deliver it to them."
That's where the viral marketing comes in, with a stealth campaign that violates the standing laws of advertising by subjecting consumers to a striptease of clues about a production.
Alive's creators watched as this dirty trick of the information age, which makes interested viewers figure out details about a show for themselves, worked for movies and TV shows like The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield and Heroes. Then they hatched their own stealth-marketing plan, which might be the first time a viral campaign has been launched for a TV series that doesn't yet exist.
The producers established a small set of websites for the public service announcements, slowly unveiling the sites over the course of a four-week span. The hub of this project's wheel is the faux-military site for Falcon Rock Command, with similar imagery and editing techniques popping up on fightingthedead.com and sciencecannotsaveyou.com. The sites pack enough bloody photos, screams and gunshots to establish Alive's genre as a scary sci-fi mix of the military and the undead.
The next step was to "leak" the viral elements to horror and sci-fi fan sites and news sources like Ain't It Cool News.
"We're not doing this to trick or deceive anyone," said Rosenblum about the way the viral campaign was revealed to the sites. "We hope they like what they see and steer genre fans in our direction."
Co-creators and show runners Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens explained that shooting only the teaser PSAs allowed them to create their own Alive brand image for a fraction of the cost of making a pilot.
"With the buzz that's building online, we'll be able to show broadcasters the level of interest we've generated through word-of-mouth, based on only about eight minutes of produced material," said Garfield Reeves-Stevens.
But if the Alive producers want to whet genre fans' collective appetite for the series online -- without tipping-off exactly what's on the show's menu -- what's enough and what's too much to release as everything moves forward?
"There's a specific amount of story information we want viewers to have by the end of the campaign," said Garfield Reeves-Stevens. "With that as our goal, it became a question of how to order that content: What do we say first? What do we save for last?"
Mark Askwith, a producer for Space (Canada's equivalent to the Sci Fi Channel), said the initial reaction from genre fans was bafflement, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"That's the usual first response to (viral-marketing campaigns)," said Askwith. "Same thing with Cloverfield. Now we have the advantage of other fans out there who did some work researching these videos -- and they see some clues. (Alive) involves zombies, and they're using some Star Trek actors."
Askwith said suspense is building on websites like TrekMovie.com as fans debate the show's content, cast, etc.
Such details will continue to appear in the weeks leading up to Halloween as the viral campaigners release new PSAs.
The Falcon Rock Command site is ticking down to the release of a new PSA this Friday before a final video premieres a week later, Rosenblum said. That last clip will pull back the veils completely, presenting the full show concept for fans and network execs.