Created by three offices of independent Wieden & Kennedy, the campaign for the new Aquos liquid crystal display TV owes its tactical DNA to campaigns such as Beta 7, the online mystery adver-blog created by Wieden last year to promote the ESPN National Football League computer game from Sega.
The Sharp Web site, moretosee.com, also uses narrative, but is designed to nudge the user to interact. The goal is to make the experience such an entertaining way to learn about a new product that it will help sell the TV, according to creative executives working on the project.
The Web site is the focal point of the campaign. Viewers are driven there by a TV ad showing a strange scene of a man swimming in a pool, gazing up at his lover in a chateau's window. An orange car suddenly careens into the water. The ad's purpose is to spark viewers' interest and drive them to the Web site.
On the site, the pool-man film is the start of a labyrinthine mystery story about missing urns, with multiple story lines. Visitors can sniff out clues and investigate in the order and manner that they choose.
The site has video clips and still shots, characters' blogs that relate events "Rashomon"-style from different points of view, and chat rooms in which site visitors can work together to solve the mystery. Audio and visual clues are sprinkled throughout.
The producers of "The Blair Witch Project" crafted the story. Wieden chose the "Blair Witch" team because of its track record of creating enormous buzz about the film through online narratives and rumors. Production company Chelsea Pictures gave the site the look and feel of a feature film. Scriptwriters thicken the plot a bit more each day.
What does this have to do with selling TV sets? Part of the answer is that people who buy high-ticket items spend a lot of time online researching the products' pros and cons. The 45-inch set costs $10,000. The target is affluent entertainment junkies, sports fans, technology aficionados and design aesthetes between 25 and 54.
For Sharp, educating potential buyers about how LCD TVs are superior to plasma sets is key to marketing the Aquos. "We wanted to create a place where people were rewarded for spending more time, and the way to do that is with a compelling story that a product is woven into," said Ty Montague, co-executive creative director Wieden, New York.
Geometrical shapes outline objects on the site. Clicking on the shape displays an Aquos attribute, such as "greater detail reveals all." The product's color and sound are also highlighted in product descriptions that appear beside clues and objects throughout the site. The product data about the Aquos read almost like part of the narrative.
Because viewers steer their own course through the site, they are opting to learn as much about the TV as they want, at the speed they want, while experiencing as much of the entertainment of the site as they want, buzz marketers said.
"Marketers are now [just] the catalyst," said Joseph Jaffe, president and founder of jaffe, a marketing consultant. "They provide the tools to get consumers excited, interested and engaged, and let the consumer take over, because the reality is the consumer has taken over."
`like jaguar or apple'
Besides providing information about the TV, the campaign seeks to rebrand Sharp from a commodity-electronics company producing a range of products-many of them cheap-to a maker of high-end sophisticated items. The heart of the rebranding occurs through the elegant way that Sharp showcases the Aquos, said Steve Wax, partner at Chelsea Pictures.
"If you spend 20 minutes on the site and come back four or five times over the next month, the experience will be kind of like becoming addicted to the The New Yorker magazine, and your concept of the brand will be like it is for Jaguar or Apple," he said. The overall campaign budget is $60 million, with the interactive portion costing about $5 million, according to someone involved with the effort.
Will it be worth it? Initial results include 1.5 million page views after the first week and a half. Some 75% of the visitors are reading between five and eight pages on the site, with an average session length of about four minutes. About 4,000 people have registered on the mystery-solvers discussion group. Those results seem to show that the site is reaching consumers.
Not every marketer can or should attempt consumer-centric interactive theater, said Peter Blackshaw, chief marketing-customer satisfaction officer at consumer-marketing firm Intelliseek. But he did say the future of marketing lies in "presenting a brand in a way that doesn't seem like an ad."
It remains to be seen whether the Sharp promotion will be fascinating enough to sell TVs, or merely attract visitors interested in engaging Internet-based ad tactics.