Despite being called new media, new media is not a new concept to today’s society. New media is an integral part of life today and people have grown so accustomed to it that they often do not realize just how much of an impact and influence it has on them. People today are continuing to grow increasingly dependent on new media. Due to this this dependency, the general population now spends hours glued to screens constantly stimulated by tons of information, which is blending the barrier between true reality and the fictitious reality in the media. Corporations and companies are not blind to this; thus the emergence of immersive marketing. While in the past a single TV commercial or ad in a magazine may have been enough to entice new consumers, companies now much launch large advertising campaigns across multiple media platforms in order to interest consumers. The most successful of these are the ones that encourage the audience to be a part of the process. Companies use interactive websites, profiles on social media sites, and videos to get the audiences’ interest and attention with the sole intent that they will talk about the company and product to others until the content goes viral. Movie companies especially are finding great success with this marketing approach; but, success is not limited to the film industry. Within the last decade the majority of companies have been adopting an immersive form of advertising which relies on consumer participation and social media to reach and excite a larger audience which in turn increases the overall profits and sales.
The most known example of immersive advertising is the promotion that led up to the 2008 premier of The Dark Knight. The Lost Angeles Times dubbed it “one of the most interactive movie campaigns ever hatched by Hollywood” (Rosen). Before the release of the movie, an alternative reality game was released titled Why So Serious? . It took potential audience members on a journey along side the villain of the movie, the Joker. People were either directly involved in the action or followed along from their computers;
each an equally important component for this to be a successful campaign. It all began with a cryptic email randomly sent out which read “Heads up, clown! Tomorrow means that there’s one last shifty step left in the interview process: Arwoeufgryo” (Rose 37). While many people were left confused, there were an elite few realized the scrambled letters were a code and from that they knew to access www.whysoserious.com where they received their next clue. The clue on the website led participants to various addresses where they were then given another clue which led to yet another clue and so on. This quest took place in 21 different cities and led them all back to the original website where they won tickets to an exclusive secret IMAX screening of what ended up being a mini film revealing the face of the joker to the public for the first time. Word of the website spread and dominated online discussions, generating interest in Why So Serious and for the premier of The Dark Knight.
This marketing scheme ended up capturing the attention of over 10 million people worldwide and earning Warner Bros. the Grand Prix at the 2009 Cannes Lions advertising festival. Luckily for Warner Bros., their effort paid off. The Dark Knight grossed $1 billion worldwide making it the number one movie in 2008 (Rose 43). They weren’t the only ones who benefitted from this production. Nokia phones and other companies who contributed their products along the way benefitted from an increase in sales as well. This advertising campaign told a nonlinear narrative revealing only small elements of the narrative in a way that forced audience members to collaborate and discuss details amongst themselves to create their version of the story. “The task is too complicated for any one person. But through the connective power of the Web, a group intelligence emerges to assemble the pieces, solve the mysteries, and, in the process, tell and retell the story online” (Rose 44). The audience collaboration created a story in which participants had a personal and somewhat emotional connection to. Audience members got to experience Gotham City in a way they movies never could. It was the original “alternative reality game”. Why So Serious? blurred the lines between illusion and reality and between entertainment and advisement in ways no one knew was possible. It was the first truly immersive experience and the first advertising campaign to go viral.
Since then, companies have been mirroring Warner Bros. and fine tuning the Why So Serious? campaign to fit their specific business type and needs. Another example of a company using immersive marketing techniques in their advertising is Frito-Lay North America (a division of PepsiCo). Frito-Lay has a highly trained marketing team focused on finding innovative ways to rebrand and increase consumer interest in their company rather than only working to increase their sales (CheifMarketer.com para #3). Through means of immersive advertising, Frito-Lay has found that by incorporating their consumers into the creative process, their overall sales are increasing as well. In 2012, the company first launched their “Do Us a Flavor” initiative which, challenged consumers to submit their own ideas for what should be the next flavor of Lays. Out of all the submissions, four finalists were selected and put into production. People had three months to sample and vote for their favorite flavor via social media. The flavor with the most votes would then become Lays’ next flavor and receive $1 million as prize money or 1% of all sales of their flavor until June of the next year (whichever value ended up to be higher). The runner-ups win $50,000 each and occasionally their flavors become available for purchase, but only for a limited time. In its first year, Do Us a Flavor received over 3.8 million submissions, tripling the company’s goal, and had over 1.2 billion Facebook posts talking about it. Not only did they obtain their goal of increasing costumer engagement in their product, but the contest also increased their sales by 3.8 % (Witt para #19). Although the company originally had no intention to hold the contest again, the results were too good and the contest has been repeated every year since. In the year between the first and second launch of the contest, media consumption had changed drastically. In order to keep up with trends, Frito-Lay partnered with Twitter and contestants were then able to submit their ideas through twitter as well as YouTube and Facebook Connect. By 2014, Do Us a Flavor received over 14 million submissions. When explaining the company’s marketing approach during BAA’s 2015 Brand Activation Annual Showcase, Bart LaCount, one of the marketing directors for Frito-Lay, explained, “we needed to create an immersive consumer experience. This wasn’t just about submitting a flavor for people. This was an idea that they wanted to get excited [about] and really rally behind” (Witt Para #5).
Similar to Why So Serious?, Do Us a Flavor encouraged ordinary people to create their own personal connection to the product. While Why So Serious? created a universe in which the audience member could step into and experience Gotham as first-hand as possible in this reality, Do Us a Flavor hoped to create a sense of excitement in their costumers as they fought to create the best new flavor. Both initiatives relied on customer involvement and interest as well as online discussions on forums and especially social media to achieve their target goals. In addition, the companies utilized the specific form of social media, which was most accessible and popular at the current time. In 2008, cellphone texting and online web pages were the primary forms of new media. As Twitter and Facebook were developed, they became the new social media norm. Another similarity is that both campaigns incorporated older media into their scheme as a way to authenticate their publication and give off the sense that it is truly real and genuine. Lays released various custom ads tailored to specific towns in order to appeal locally and remind the consumer that they value them and see them as a real person. Warner Bros. published a “Gotham Times” newspaper filled with clues and hidden messages. They mailed it out to various participants and by using a medium that is generally fact based, it gave the information a sense of truth. Both companies used the older medium to emphasize the realness of their case by giving the consumer something they are familiar with.
A key difference between the two promotions is that Do Us a Flavor encouraged participation by motivating consumers with the promise of money and the chance to create something tangible while Why So Serious? participants were motivated purely by their curiosity, suspense, and the sense of adventure that came from discovering each new
clue. This difference can be attributed to the slightly different goals between the two companies. Warner Bros. intended Why So Serious? to reach as large of a world wide audience as possible and excite them enough so that they buy tickets to see the movie and increase ticket sales and profit. Frito-Lay had a much more specific goal when they launched Do Us a Flavor. They already had highly profitable sales, but they wanted to reinvent the idea of Lays chips in order to appeal to the millennial generation who didn’t care about their chips. Unfortunately, the millennials were virtually unreachable unless Frito-Lay created a meaningful experience for them to relate with (Witt para #12). LaCount simplified the millennial generation into three generalized characteristics: the desire for individuality, authenticity, and the promise of recognition (Witt para #13). The millennials are digital natives and can easily tune out the all the advertisements that are constantly thrown at them. As LaCount put it, the company “had to meet them in their own world in a way that was relevant to them and not disruptive” (Witt para #14). For these reasons, the contest could not have been nearly as successful without offering incentives because without them, only a fraction of the participants would have participated.
New media has become such a large part in life today to the point where if anything from a new store to a new movie is launched without including at least one type of new media, it is guaranteed to fail. In the last decade, companies have come to the realization that by incorporating new media into their business and marketing models, they can increase their customers’ engagement and enthusiasm towards the product while simultaneously increasing their overall sales and profits. Warner Bros. went down in history as the first to promote their product, in this case the movie The Dark Knight, by means of immersing their audience into their fantasy world in a way which encourages interaction worldwide to create their own interpretation of the narrative. Since then, almost every company has incorporated new media into their advertising with varying degrees of immersion. Frito-Lay and Do Us a Flavor is by no means the only immersive advertising campaign in use today, but it is one of the more successful and it continues to exceed the previous year’s success without fail. Today’s society is one in which new media is so deeply incorporated into every day life that the boundary between reality and online, virtual reality is almost indistinguishable. This blurred state is what people are used to and when companies try and fight this, their consumer is left uncomfortable and uninterested.