Having begun to change how companies approach marketing, 42 Entertainment is betting that the same approach can change the way the publishing industry thinks about books.
42 Entertainment is the content and marketing company behind such massively popular initiatives as The Beast, a marketing campaign for Steven Spielberg's film AI; ilovebees, a campaign for the launch of Halo 2; and Dead Man's Tale, a campaign for Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest that took place on Microsoft's Windows Messenger Live platform.
The latest 42 initiative is the multi-platform novel Cathy's Book, co-written by 42's chief creative officer Jordan Weisman and creative director Sean Stewart, which was released in September.
The company is credited with being one of the major pioneers of alternate reality games (ARG) - interactive platforms that favor the fostering of collaboration, the creation of communities, and problem-solving over distributing a message to a passive audience.
Cathy's Book features a traditional, stand-alone narrative about protagonist Cathy and her quest to discover why ex-boyfriend Victor ended their relationship. Included with the book are business cards, scraps of paper, and newspaper clippings that lead readers who want a more dynamic experience to visit Web sites like beinggirl.com and call phone numbers for organizations like importing/exporting company Airwell Organisation. Weisman says the collateral took two months to create.
"[It's] the idea of applying nonlinear storytelling to the publishing industry," Weisman says. "Kids are excited about the idea that books are not restricted to the pages they're holding."
"We felt strongly that the kind of work we've created would work in publishing," says Joe Dinunzio, president and CEO. "[We] threw [42's] weight behind it, [though] the book without the online elements is still a great read."
Dinunzio and Weisman first met when the former was working at Disney, which decided to create a digital presence, DisneyQuest. Dinunzio tapped Weisman and his company Virtual World Entertainment (VWE) to help build it out. Disney eventually bought a stake in VWE. In 2003, they joined forces to form 42 Entertainment.
"While [Weisman] is an extraordinary creative mind, he also has a good business sense and is practical," Dinunzio says. "When confronted with [an idea] that doesn't work, he can let go and move on."
However creative 42's campaigns become, its technique is very much rooted in traditional marketing dogma. The first phase of client engagement is to work with them to understand their marketing messaging. Weisman also likes to work with the clients' PR agencies because media exposure of the games is often a key goal.
Generally, 42 tries to create 80% of the content before the game runs, with the additional 20% to be created during the game, which can be influenced by participant feedback.
The company's influence has been exemplified many times. Ilovebees, for example, required that participants answer pay phones in different parts of the world in order to get the weekly transmission - which all players depended on.
The fervor for the game was so great that students at Arizona State University held up an ilovebees-inspired banner during the entire 2004 presidential debate held on campus - "getting Microsoft an hour of screen time," as Weisman points out.
"In an ARG format, the most amazing thing is power of the collaborative audience - they [collectively] have unlimited resources, money, time, and technology," he says. "[They can] accomplish anything they cut their mind to."
42 Entertainment, CCO
Microsoft Entertainment Division, creative director
Virtual World Entertainment, cofounder/president