HBO Teases New Season With Teddy Bears

Latest Video Installation From Cannes-Winning 'Voyeur' Team to Travel to Three Cities

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Hundreds of stuffed teddy bears laced up with invitations and mailed around to advertisers, agencies and other key influencers in New York last week could only mean one thing: HBO and BBDO are out to top "Voyeur."

A scene from 'Imagine,' HBO's promotional effort for its new season.
A scene from 'Imagine,' HBO's promotional effort for its new season.
Time Warner's premium-cable network and its longtime creative agency BBDO set the bar high with the 2007 branding campaign that took home two Grand Prix awards at the Cannes Lions ad festival and eventually became the most-awarded ad effort of 2008.

Live event
Their next effort, "Imagine," has its debut Thursday night with an event in New York's Meatpacking District and on an accompanying website, HBOImagine.com. Each will showcase a multi-narrative short film that, just like "Voyeur," needs to be watched several times -- or, in this case, in multiple pieces -- in order to thread the whole storyline together.

The New York event will feature a giant cube-shaped video screen that will simultaneously stream four pieces of a 37-part, "Memento"-esque mini-drama, each clip designed to change the viewer's perception about the events taking place and their relation to the broader story. After three days in New York, the cube will move to Washington and Philadelphia in early-to-mid October for similar three-day installations.

David Lubars, chairman-chief creative officer of BBDO North America, said "Imagine" was conceived to mirror HBO's reputation for high-quality programming and storytelling.

"If you miss HBO, it's like missing the best of pop culture. And just with the shows, we want to give viewers marketing programs they won't want to miss," he said.

The stakes are fairly low for HBO, which despite the recession still saw subscribers grow during the second quarter to 27.1 million and has seen "True Blood" becomes its third highest-rated series of all time. But Courteney Monroe, HBO's exec VP-consumer marketing, doesn't like to rest on her branding laurels. "Obviously as a subscription business, consumers are making a decision to pay for it. Everything we do needs to reinforce that purchase decision, so we try to constantly create marketing that is inspired."

In one scenario of "Imagine", two men are seen together on a floor, apparently engaged in a close relationship of some sort. As one of the men becomes visibly emotional, the camera pulls back to reveal the two men as bomb squad team members, with the emotional outburst turning out to be a sneeze that sets off an explosion.

Teddy bears
In another clip, the aforementioned teddy bears are seen strewn across the floor of a child's bedroom, but it's revealed that each houses more bombs. Several other converging storylines involving a Japanese banker, a love affair, a mime and an elaborate teddy bear chase sequence all come into play throughout the course of the project.

A video cube in lower Manhattan for the live event
A video cube in lower Manhattan for the live event
Benjamin Palmer, CEO and co-founder of The Barbarian Group, which designed the HBOImagine.com site, likened the project's format to DVD extras. "We're trying to deliver on the notion that there's more to see. What if you took a film and the backstory, almost like the DVD extras and the character development and the side notes, and tried to show that all at once? We wanted to make a narrative that's interactive, but you have to figure out what the game is."

But viewers don't need to be in the Meatpacking District to get the full story. All the clips will be available for view online at HBOImagine.com as well, with a ticker charting the viewer's progress in "unlocking" each one of the "Imagine" pieces, with a special pay-off for people who unlock all of the video clips.

"This was designed to be nonlinear. The viewer can enter the story however they choose," said Alison Moore, HBO's VP-brand strategy and digital platforms. "There's almost a gaming aspect to the site, so we tried very hard to make sure the conceit pays off for the viewer."

HBO and BBDO could also use a bigger audience for "Imagine" than the relatively small single-market New York installation and 1 million web hits generated by "Voyeur." To that end, clips at HBOImagine.com will be shareable, with a user-generated component encouraging viewers to submit their own "Imagine"-themed videos featured on the micro-site as well. A dedicated Twitter account and Facebook fan page will launch this week as well.

"We've gotten better at social media in the last two years, so we're turning all these platforms on to drive more word-of-mouth," Ms. Monroe said.

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