Today's marketing vanguards willingly accept a challenge

Enthusiasts for alternative ways of marketing afforded by the Internet sometimes fall into a trap of discussing "lightning in a bottle" stars of YouTube and the blog world without tactically informing bewildered execs on how to replicate it.

Enthusiasts for alternative ways of marketing afforded by the Internet sometimes fall into a trap of discussing "lightning in a bottle" stars of YouTube and the blog world without tactically informing bewildered execs on how to replicate it.

I witnessed this firsthand when one agency communicator showed a roomful of potential and existing clients a YouTube video of Brooke "Brookers" Brodack, an American who managed to draw a high number of viewers to her videos that parodied an earnest recreation of a Moldovan pop song. Exactly.

One perplexed member of the audience said to the agency person, in effect, "This is not our audience. How does this relate to our business?" His response, which elicited disbelieving chatter amongst the audience, was so vague that he might as well have said, "I don't know." While I am not wise enough to posit why so many people embraced the manic, yet soporific videos of "Brookers," I can tell exactly why everyone in marketing should look to another YouTube star as a case study.

YouTube starlet LonelyGirl15 ascended from "home-schooled girl" to international Internet "celebrity" in less than a month, thanks to a Web cam. The quotation marks were made necessary by the revelation, assumed by many, that two filmmakers created LonelyGirl, played by 19-year-old antipodean actress Jessica Lee Rose.

Nonetheless, the ultimate appeal was this: once enough pundits became convinced she was fake, the challenge became to be the first to expose her. And this is the lesson for marketers.

No, no, no, no, no. Do not hit the nearest talent agency to find a young actress who can play a teen - the fact that most YouTube stars (or at least their characters) are teenage girls is creepy enough. The point is this: marketing campaigns go well when there's a challenge, specifically those created as alternative reality games (ARG).

Marketing challenges in the past have typically included trivia or games of chance, but the Internet allows for an all-consuming contest that challenges the mind rather than plays to random lotteries. There's 42 Entertainment's work with Halo 2, which required people to answer payphones in the US and elsewhere for more clues - and ended up attracting 750,000 devoted participants and 2.5 million casual followers to the Ilovebees.com. Or AI, which attracted 3 million participants to online game The Beast, which involved a fictitious credit on the film's marketing one-sheet, a murder mystery, and fake e-mail accounts and faxes. Or the Lost summer game at Hansoexposed.com which has refused to give clues for conspiracy theories unless Lost fanatics trek to Web sites like Monster.com and others hosted by Sprite and Jeep. All these ARG campaigns far transcend a dancing chicken.

Marketing today is a challenge; so why not make your marketing a challenge? If Moldovan pop songs and fake Web-cam dramas can entertain, I seriously hope marketing teams can top that.

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