RG: alternate reality game

“T-shirts went on sale at a 19th-century Lisbon concert hall with what looked to be a printing error: Random letters in the tour schedule on the back seemed slightly boldfaced. Then a 27-year-old Lisbon photographer named Nuno Foros realized that, strung together, the boldface letters spelled “i am trying to believe.” People started typing “iamtryingtobelieve.com” into their Web browsers. That led them to a site denouncing something called Parepin, a drug apparently introduced into the US water supply. Ostensibly, Parepin was an antidote to bioterror agents, but in reality, the page declared, it was part of a government plot to confuse and sedate citizens. Email sent to the site’s contact link generated a cryptic auto-response: “I’m drinking the water. So should you.” Online, fans worldwide debated what this had to do with Nine Inch Nails. A setup for the next album? Some kind of interactive game? Or what?” (You can find the rest of the story here)

The game started out with clues on t-shirts, USB flash drives in bathrooms at concerts, and a phone number that they could call to get more information on the “mock reality of a dysfunctional state.” One drive had a new song by Nine Inch Nails on it that trailed off to the sound of crickets at the end. The fans went as far as to run the cricket sounds through a spectograph, which produced a series a blips that turned into a phone number in Cleveland, OH. As you can guess the phone number further threw them into a game of second guessing and clues.

When all was said and done (after a huge ending with SWAT teams, actors, and the band playing the finale concert for 50-100 fans that made it through to the end of the game) 2.5 million people had visited at lease one of the game’s 30 web sites.

“The buzz was so great that Interscope chair Jimmy Iovine called 42 Entertainment (the people behind the NIN’s ARG) and offered to buy the company.”

Without typing 4 pages on a blog, I trust that you will go and read the story at wired.com and learn about the phenomenon of the ARG (because it is the future of generational marketing: my generation: the ADD generation). Truthfully I feel like I use the term phenomenon a little too loosely. ARG is an evolved form of the underlying substance of what Seth Godin calls, permission marketing. It is marketing that engages the consumer on a level never imagined before the Internet. The Internet has created a new level of marketing it is no longer a transaction (money=product) it is a free offering to entice the buyer before even offering them the chance to buy.

So what does this mean to the small business owner? The self-employed to medium sized owner that does not have $2 million to spend on an interactive ARG game? It doesn’t mean we should all go out and hire some brainy college student that can put together an Interactive game for our consumers. To me, it means to always be conscious of evolving when it comes to marketing, whether it be insurance, design, branding, or web solutions. Never get bogged down into the “direct-mail” syndrome or the “email-marketing syndrome.” Leave a USB flash drive in a bathroom, code a direct mail postcard, create an interactive environment your consumers can believe in. I could say, “The Skies The Limit,” but we all know we can go a hell of a lot further than that. Thanks to the Internet.