Marketing Tips Learned from the 8 Day Mystery Challenge By Bobette Kyle

I discovered a whole genre of promotion this month through Court TV’s 8 Day Mystery Challenge, where participants helped solve a kidnapping in hopes of winning part of the $25,000 reward. The challenge was a pseudo-“alternate reality game” (ARG*). I was reminded of some basic marketing principles ? and picked up some interactive marketing tips ? as I watched the game progress.

Interactive, narrative events (such as ARGs) are a means to increase awareness for a new product, to advertise an existing one, or build goodwill in general for a product. This is done with a variety of both time-honored and newer techniques. In most ARGs, the marketing is subtle. Your brand is an integral part of the experience, and players choose to participate knowing this. The nature of the opportunities this creates allows for a less intrusive experience for the participants and a receptive audience for the brand. The framework also serves to demonstrate some important marketing tips in today’s interactive world. These are those lessons. As you read them, think of how you can apply each to your own marketing.

Extended, unobtrusive exposure to a target market has it’s benefits

Couch your marketing in the form of participatory entertainment and your market enjoys being involved in the experience. The interactive Web provides opportunity for ongoing dialogues with, and feedback from, your target customers in an environment in which they’ve chosen to participate. Within this closed, entertaining experience they are more open to your products’ benefits. This allows for engaging people on a deeper and more meaningful level than through traditional advertising or single communication method.

Marketing Tip 1: Exclusivity is win-win.

When there is no competition for product placement, advertising space or other marketing-related activities, the customer and marketer both win. The participants are not inundated with marketing messages and it gives the marketer an arena for more subtle, better-quality branding.

Marketing Tip 2: Extended exposure creates a deeper-seated and more entrenched brand awareness.

In the case, the sponsors had a visual presence in emails, on Websites, and in videos for eight straight days. There’s an old adage that it takes seven advertising exposures for a consumer to take notice and take action. This form of marketing certainly provides the means for those exposures.

Marketing Tip 3: Extended events can permanently change the perception of those who participate.

A company that takes the time to develop or sponsor a participatory game or event builds goodwill among the players (assuming the event is pulled off well), which spills over into future decisions and recommendations. The brand itself need not have a looming presence in the game. If people know your product was responsible for their enjoyable experience, they will associate your brand with those same feelings.

Marketing Tip 4: Enjoyable entertainment cultivates fans and influencers.

By engaging fewer people for a longer period of time (versus a pure advertising or other intrusive campaign), you are creating more fans and influencers ? people who know your product, love it, and will tell people about it ? rather than those who have a vague notion about the brand.

Online interaction is a 2-edge sword, creating risk as well as reward for the marketer

Influencers can spread the word about your wonderful product, but are vocal about your failings as well. There were some missteps in the 8 Day Mystery Challenge that made for a few blips in the goodwill department.

Marketing Tip 5: Target your advertising, avoiding those outside your target market.

The Challenge was advertised on various high profile blogs in a way that made some take offense. One blogger ? a man who saw the ad on a site dedicated to adorably cute animal photos ? was very offended that Court TV would make a game of kidnapping. Across the Internet, other bloggers linked to and agreed with him, creating negative buzz for Court TV and sponsors Applebee’s and Suzuki. As a group, the cutesy animal crowd was probably not a target market for this game. The resulting negative press could have been avoided by not advertising in their back yard.

Marketing Tip 6: Sometimes negative attention is good.

In the end, the above advertising probably worked to Court TV’s advantage. In most cases, supporters of the game outnumbered detractors. To my subjective eye the negative press ultimately served to increase overall awareness of the game.

Marketing Tip 7: Monitor feedback during execution.

One of the unique attributes of interactive marketing is immediate feedback during implementation. Some people found the early advertisements deceptive. They mistook video promotions for the game as a real plea for help. I easily discovered their displeasure through the search engines ? as did the games’ marketers. Which leads us to…

Marketing Tip 8: Be ready to adjust implementation.

Long gone are the days when one must rely on post-event analysis to gauge performance. Search engines, blogs and key discussion groups now paint a real-time picture. In this case, the advertising managers realized some were being misled and solved the problem midstream by adding a more prominent disclaimer to the audio and text. Most of those who criticized the omission reported the correction.

There you have it: 8 marketing tips learned from an interactive narrative. Integrate them into your marketing plan and watch your business thrive.

*For the uninitiated, ARGs are story-games that take place in real time, where players solve puzzles as the story progresses. Players follow the story and interact with the game through a variety of media ? Internet, telephone, email, video, text messages, television, radio, newspapers, email, voicemail, and snail mail. The games tend to be Web-based and lend themselves to group problem solving.