J. J. Abrams sure knows how to build a cult-like fan base. Already Abrams' marketing team has begun to implement an extensive viral campaign from a new website, imaginetheimpossibilities.com to promote the series premier of Fringe, which airs on Fox for the first time tomorrow night. Fans have already created numerous websites devoted to decoding the cryptic clues supplied on this website and others, boasting as many as 2,000 unique visitors to some fan sites for a television show that has yet to air a single episode.
This certainly doesn't mark the first time that Abrams has embraced the internet as a medium through which to build hype for one of his productions. He also produced the January box-office hit Cloverfield, a movie whose fan sites claimed over 70,000 hits pre-release and played a huge role in the movie's pre-release hype. And the 2006 campaign "The LOST Experience" likewise provided fans with clue and password trails that they used to uncover online video content related to the ABC hit LOST. This viral campaign especially held true to its promise of an "experience," leaving clues available in almost every medium, including print ads in the TV Guide, podcasts through iTunes, an entire novel penned by an imaginary author, and actual appearances in high-traffic areas such as Times Square in New York and a live stunt at San Diego ComicCon that truly brought The LOST Experience to life.
Marketers for the much anticipated summer blockbuster The Dark Knight employed their own viral strategies with sites like whysoserious.com and the now entirely "vandalized" ibelieveinharveydent.com. Campaign vans for Harvey Dent, a critical figure in the latest Batman installment, appeared in major cities throughout the U.S., staging mock political rallies for the fictional D.A. of Gotham City.
I think these are all great examples of interesting marketing campaigns, but any "real world" spillover is especially interesting. I think that Fringe's unique promise of somewhat scientific (and thus seemingly "possible" or "believable") explanations for otherwise strange (but again - seemingly possible?) phenomena give its campaign an edge as far as "real world" potential goes. The way I see it, the more real world spillover, the greater potential the campaign has to catch unsuspecting bystanders. The Dark Knight and Cloverfield sites only had to build hype before the movie's release while The LOST Experience, though simple enough for non-fans to follow, began 2 seasons into the series in the U.S., when the show had already built a solid fanbase. I'm interested to see if Fringe's alternate reality game (ARG) has any direct tie-ins to the series and more importantly, to what extent it succeeds in attracting loyal viewers.