Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Blurred Line Between ARG And Viral Social Media

It all started back in November 2008. Following a 5 year hiatus from the music scene, information started leaking out that Eminem was working on a new album. In and off itself the news attracted some online chatter but nothing was confirmed. However, within a very short space confirmation of the forthcoming album, "The Relapse", began to pop up on various Social Media platforms. Although not in isolation, the most public tool in service was Twitter.

Use of Twitter or other Social Media platforms wasn’t a new move by any means, but the approach most definitely was. Over the course of the following 6 months Aftermath / Interscope Records created a stunningly impactful and captivating campaign. Flitting between Eminem's troubled public past and the new terrifying imaginary world from his latest album, the marketing team dragged fans into an eerie game of hide and seek. Using Twitter, a mix of disturbing thoughts and weblinks were filtered out to the digital community. All of this revolved around a fictional mental institution, Pompsomp Hills, in which the rapper was housed.

Besides the stark and grim mental images tweeted by the star, a number of images were also posted. These included a link to the album's cover, a collage of pills forming Eminem's face; screenshots of an iPhone game set in Pompsomp Hills; and a link to the following trailer for the album’s first single "3 A.M.".

Clearly set in the fictional institution, the video is both disturbing and frightening, as if some sort of demented cross between the Blair Witch Project and a Japanese underground horror. This was the precursor to albums microsite and interactive experience. Both these elements coupled with a “real” looking, amateurish website for Pompsomp Hills brought to life a stunning narrative that almost begged to be real.

Without doubt this was an integrated effort on several key fronts that started a long time before anyone was aware of where it would take them. And although the ‘clues’ were never hard to figure out, and sometimes as simple as a straight forward link, the campaign still stands out as one of note. Fans have been engaged and interacted with on a level that has not only created an exceptional amount of online chatter but ultimately an anticipation that will drive record sales.

Of course this isn't the first time an ARG has been used to promote an album. Most famously, Trent Reznor masterminded (of Nine Inch Nails) the "Year Zero" album release in 2007, that expanded the album's dystopian story line into a full blown audio, visual and mental experience, driven by hidden messages and microsites littered through out anomalously posted images and videos. Unsurprisingly perhaps, recent news has alluded to the concept being turned into a TV show.

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