Last week’s post got me thinking: what other strange USB marketing campaigns are out there? The technology is nothing new. Surely some other ad-savvy auteurs have attempted to go viral, right? So I started digging. I wasn’t looking for the usual. More than a flash drive with a movie logo on the side. I wanted to find some real, revolutionary creativity. What I found was a series of bizarre USB marketing mysteries. Perhaps the biggest mystery is how the flash drive was injected into each scenario.
Let’s begin. We’ll start with a light one.
Lex Luthor Blunders Again?
The viral marketing for the new Batman v. Superman film began years before the upcoming release date. Videos of villain Lex Luthor’s fictional enterprise LexCorp, a fake Twitter account, and a WiFi hotspot at New York City Comic Con all made the list. Convention-goers complained about the slowness of the LexCorp WiFi, leaving us to wonder was it a case of short-supply bandwidth, or a wink to the villainous nature of net neutrality? Still, none of this is wildly creative. The real mystery comes into play with the LexCorp flash drives. A mysterious Twitter post (with pictures) promised 10 of these USB drives would be hidden around NYCC. Geeky news outlets immediately took to the story, spreading the word. People hunted for days. And yet nobody found one. A hoax? More villainy? Or something yet to come?
All warmed up? Then let’s go a little deeper.
The Hero of Year Zero
Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails wanted to do something a little different for the release of the album, Year Zero. What started as a quest for a better album cover became a revolutionary multimedia campaign. Inspired by The Beast, a 12-week ‘augmented reality game’ designed as a marketing tie-in for Spielberg’s film A.I., Reznor wanted to flesh out the futuristic storyline of the album. Working with designers, Reznor created a sort of online puzzle game that spanned several websites, phone lines, and mysterious flash drives. Clues to the sites were hidden in the lettering on his concert clothing. Uncovered digits were strung together into phone numbers that when dialed revealed haunting recordings filled with screaming and gunshots. As the campaign continued, flash drives containing unreleased songs from Year Zero were left at concert venues, at least somewhat revealing the nature of the elaborate rollout . While Reznor claims this wasn’t a gimmick, but an expression of art, it remains one of the best (and weirdest) viral marketing campaigns of all time.
Time for the grand finale. A mystery that started 8 years ago and is still unraveling.
It doesn’t get much deeper than this, folks. We’re talking about a marketing campaign that still can’t be proven as a marketing campaign!
Back in 2008, a seemingly low-marketed flick called Cloverfield hit the big screen. The found-footage monster movie had one vague trailer–if you can call it that–and JJ Abrams name attached to it. While the limited backstory of the movie is part of the fun, erstwhile film buffs kept digging. They found evidence ranging from mysterious news clips to fake (maybe) emails from fake (maybe) international companies talking about fake (maybe) ecological disasters. What was gleaned from all this digging was the implication that the toxic waste runoff from a company called Slusho! created the monsters we see in the film. Nobody talks about the marketing, nobody confirms it. Eventually the buzz peters out.
Fast-forward to 2016. A month before its release, the alleged sequel to Cloverfield gets a trailer. It’s still cagey, full of mystery and suspense, but at least there seems to be some storyline we can follow. Perhaps JJ and his filmmaker pals have grown too big (or busy) for viral marketing to that level.
Then the trailer hits theaters. And the weirdness starts.
Still wondering where that flash drive is going to pop up, right?
The trailer seen before Deadpool across the country has 5 hidden frames spliced into it. Barely visible to the human eye, the only common factor in all the frames is a number. Someone figured out (or guessed) that the number was GPS coordinates. The coordinates led to one of the movie’s shooting locations. And also an empty bottle of a fake (maybe) soda brand. Beneath the bottle, a survival kit was buried.
Amongst the items included in the box, were a pair of USB drives, one of which was a functional bottle opener. What was on them? Recordings of a failed satellite launch (which, spoiler alert, plays into the plot of the film). In addition to this, more falsified emails from fake companies, a fake Pinterest account, backdoor command prompts, and a bunch of tight-lipped moviemakers that really know how to keep a secret.
In fact, the only thing JJ Abrams has really said about it is that he wants to make a third movie to tie everything together. How much crazier can the marketing get? I guess we’ll find out.
The takeaway? These clever if not bizarre USB marketing mysteries have captured imaginations. So whether taking the place of outdated business cards at a trade show or are hidden in a studio-quality bomb shelter, the influential power of these devices appears endless.