Audience: Everybody’s getting in on the game

In a 24/7 world, breaking through the clutter means engaging your audience dynamically through some form of cloud-based marketing, adding bells and whistles such as augmented reality and even venturing out into the real world - or some fictional version thereof, such as via the ultimate engagement weapon, the alternate reality game.

In a 24/7 world, breaking through the clutter means engaging your audience dynamically through some form of cloud-based marketing, adding bells and whistles such as augmented reality and even venturing out into the real world – or some fictional version thereof, such as via the ultimate engagement weapon, the alternate reality game.

Big among 20-something tech-savvy gamers and early adopters, ARGs (for those in the know) cross the boundaries between traditional advertising and the real world. While still in early days in Canada, in the U.S. the genre has taken off. Brands like Audi are getting in on the game with ‘The Art of the Heist,’ an ARG to promote the A3 last year, while California-based 42 Entertainment took home a Cyber Grand Prix at Cannes this year for ‘The Dark Knight,’ an ARG that saw cellphones baked into cakes (amid other madness) to hype the latest film in the Batman franchise.

Mazda finds the key to unlocking brand superfans

It all started when Musiqueplus VJ Marie-Claude Perron noticed a billboard for her new fashion show FLAFF had been tagged with some mysterious graffiti and complained about it on air.

For the simultaneous-surfing-watching-texting audience, it didn’t take long to find Reperio.com, where they found a portentous countdown – although to what wasn’t immediately clear. Some also came across a Quebecer named Patrick Martin, who was blogging about a resistance movement come back in time from the year 2033.

When the counter hit zero at 9.58 p.m., programming on all 14 of Astral’s specialty networks was interrupted by Xira, a woman from the future who broke into the signal to deliver a plea for help and the first clue to the mystery: a vehicle identification number (or VIN). When players typed the number into the prompt on Reperio.com, they received another clue, which sent them out into the city to help Patrick and Xira. At the end of each quest was a key, and one of 33 keys would solve the puzzle and unlock the prize – in this case, a Mazda 3.

Mazda Canada’s ’33 Keys’ Quebec-only ARG, developed in partnership with Doner Canada and Astral Media, was designed to build a deeper relationship with the social, active 18- to 34-year-old demo.

‘It’s getting harder and harder to push messaging to customers; you need them to go look for it,’ says Mike Collinson, marketing director at Mazda Canada, adding that the players found out early on that Mazda was behind it, and didn’t seem to mind. ‘So ARG offers a unique opportunity to engage consumers in something that’s fun and brand-consistent.’

While other car companies were flooding the market with offer-based communications, Collinson says the Mazda ARG worked more on the brand affinity level. ‘One of the things we struggle with is there are so many different ways to communicate with a customer in a four- or five-year purchase cycle for a vehicle, that there’s no one thing that influences that decision. So we have to be in different places and speak to customers at different times.’

Doner conducted extensive research into the media habits of the target. ‘We were able to push people offline and online depending on what the message was,’ explains Patricia McGregor, media director at Doner in Toronto. ‘Each medium was used for what it was meant to be used for, so they weren’t cookie cutter images of each other; they were full working pieces within a bigger machine.’

There were three major targets established – total interactions, active followers and sales leads -to measure success: all were exceeded, with 6,900 active followers (well above the forecasted 2,500, a number based on the participation Audi garnered for ‘Heist’ in the U.S and scaled down to the Quebec market).

The community was so engaged that they continued playing after the 33rd key was found, hiding their own 34th key and staying in touch on the FLAFF website (the show was in fact fake, constructed for the purposes of the game).

Mazda also partnered with Fredericton, N.B.-based Radian6 (see sidebar, p. 45) to track social media activity during the campaign. ‘The great thing with digital is you can track actual responses and know that it’s not based on some sort of algorithm, but more based in hard reality,’ says McGregor.

The Mazda dealer community was also buzzing, and Collinson says the networks are eager to see ‘how we were going to do better next time.’

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