Are there content marketing techniques out there so engaging that they can transform the physical world around us, bringing life to our thoughts and experiences shared with others?
Alternate reality marketing aims to do just that through the creation of real world “adventures” (or games) that take place in an interactive, fictional universe. In this universe, participants are asked to play the role of a character – completing tasks, interacting with others, and contributing to an evolving storyline. Your role might be to find a hidden website, call a fake phone number, or visit a real location looking for clues. Imagine being a character in the next hit movie, only you’re in the real world and you’re progressing the story with every action you take.
Alternate reality marketing aims to blur the line between fact and fiction and can invoke incredible responses. It’s an intricate viral marketing campaign designed not only for promotion, but for intense audience engagement. Read on to learn more about this cutting-edge form of marketing and how you can use it to build buzz…
Examples of Alternate Reality Marketing
Many popular movies and video games are notorious for having alternate reality elements in their story lines. You may have even unknowingly encountered a few. Below are some of the coolest examples…
Nearly everything about the Matt Reeves film “Cloverfield” was obtained through alternate reality marketing (even the title). By finding hidden websites and deciphering clues, fans found unreleased pictures from the movie, character biographies, and storyline elements that never made it to the big screen.
Entire fictional companies were created, fake social media profiles were shared, and even a 200-person party was thrown for one of the film’s main characters in New York. Fans were completely immersed in the plot months before the movie’s release and it drastically increased buzz.
Players found fictional companies like this one that helped move the plot along.
The Dark Knight
The alternate reality campaign behind “The Dark Knight” was extensive, incorporating several real world elements into its storyline. Clever players followed clues all across the nation – from numbers being written in the sky with airplanes, cakes with cell phones baked inside them, to people being kidnapped by fake mobsters – all of these were integral parts of the adventure. Those who found some of the more obscure clues were rewarded with a free showing of the movie at its release in Los Angeles.
Players found cakes with cell phones baked inside of them. After calling a certain number on the phone, they talked to a real life person who led them to additional clues.
Portal 2, a physics-based puzzle video game by Valve Software, had one of the most brain-bending alternate reality campaigns ever, and players craved more and more of it. Plot details about the game were hidden across the web and everything from spectrograms, braille, to morse code was used to track them down. Gamers were even given the chance to release the game early by unlocking secrets in other certain video games, revealing new pieces of the plot along the way.
The campaign not only supported Valve’s efforts to promote Portal 2, but it also directly supported well over a dozen other companies as well. Here’s a wiki page containing a complete rundown of the game (note: it’s intense).
Players were required to solve cryptic puzzles to discover new parts of the storyline.
Crafting your Own Alternate Reality Game
Want to try your hand at your own alternate reality campaign? Consider these factors…
1. Have the means to properly create your game
Alternate reality campaigns are obviously no small feat to design, and they can be even more complex to solve. They require insane amounts of creativity, detail and sophistication. They also require your audience to be moderately intelligent and insightful. Make sure that you have the proper resources available (time and money) before creating one. Remember that you’ll also need someone overseeing your campaign to ensure it operates smoothly.
2. Start with a compelling idea
Once you’ve decided that you have the means to create your campaign, develop your idea. Like any storyteller, you can’t create an engaging fictional world with a bad idea. Make sure that your game’s plot is mysterious, invokes an emotional response (suspense, excitement, etc.) and has a certain level of mass appeal. If what you’re promoting isn’t compelling enough on its own, then alternate reality marketing probably isn’t the right fit for it.
3. Use creative elements that encourage collaboration
Audience engagement is what makes an alternate reality campaign succeed. Encourage your players to complete tasks collectively. Offer channels of communication for your audience. This could be a forum, blog post, social media profile, or something else. Be creative. The more your audience engages with your story, the more engrossed they become. Give certain players specialized roles. Let them feel as if their actions have a direct impact on the storyline.
4. Control the flow of your game
An alternate reality game should flow quick enough to keep its players interested but not so fast that it burns out long before the actual launch of what you’re promoting. Sometimes you may need to step in and speed up or slow down how fast your story unfolds. Be careful doing this too often though, since you don’t want to ruin the immersion of your game by appearing out of the story.
Other Alternative Reality Games to Check Out
Take a peek at this list for more alternate reality games that I didn’t get a chance to cover:
Every day, the Internet allows millions of people with similar interests to discuss things effortlessly. It’s this connection that fuels alternate reality marketing. Pulling your audience into a fictional world that engages them with your content allows them to overlook more traditional, over-saturated marketing messages and become an ambassador for your brand.
Have you ever encountered alternate reality marketing? Let us know your favorite examples in the comments below.