The creative minds behind 42entertainment are the ninjas of interactive brand marketing. They strike silently. Their campaigns pop out of the shadows and grapple users with mysterious codes and characters that could actually be real. And while the participants in a campaign will get familiar with the product, service or brand that’s being promoted, 42entertainment, the true masterminds behind it all, prefer to remain hidden. So if you fall prey to one of their campaigns, prepare to have your mind bended.
The latest venture from 42 comes in the form of a novel. The brainchild of writer and 42 creative director Sean Stewart and chief creative officer Jordan Weisman (right),
Cathy’s Book: If Found Call 650-266-8233 purports to be the journal of Cathy, a high school senior for whom everything starts to go wildly wrong. It’s an entry point into a multimedia game of intrigue, something that 42 calls a “rabbit hole”. Readers will find codes, phone numbers and other clues in the book, and the included “evidence pack” online and over the phone, while calling the phone number in the title takes you to Cathy’s answering machine.
Unique initiatives like these all started in the new millennium back in 2001. Weisman, then a creative director at Microsoft, along with writer Stewart and game designer Elan Lee, unleashed “The Beast” to generate buzz and excitement for Stephen Spielberg’s then-new film AI: Artificial Intelligence. The Beast in turn touched more than 3 million people, according to 42 CEO Joe DiNunzio (left), and led Weisman to the conclusion that a company based around this new form of marketing was feasible.
The Beast was a half drama/half scavenger hunt set in the AI universe. Players were sucked in by subtle clues 42 calls “rabbit holes.” Promotional material for the movie included a credit for a fictional “Sentient Machine Therapist” named Jeanine Salla, encouraging potential players to search for her name. Other clues like hidden telephone numbers and mysterious phrases funneled users to Jeanine, a character who held clues to the death of a fellow robo-scientist.
Eventually, The Beast encompassed nearly 30 fictional websites and used the internet extensively to draw its audience together. But the campaign’s true immersive eeriness came from its use of other forms of communication like telephone, email, fax, TV, SMS, and newspapers, creating a form of entertainment now called Alternate Reality Gaming. In fact, there were even instances where characters in the game called the players over the phone.
Through The Beast, Weisman became familiar with the concept of the Hive Mind: the collective skills and intelligence of a human audience. “Puzzles [the team] thought were impossibly hard, and would take weeks or days to solve, were cracked in hours,” says DiNunzio. The Beast relied on social communication and required players to interact with one another. This element gave the collective users access to a huge pool of skills and knowledge. Through it all, Weisman and his team remained concealed, even from others at Microsoft, until the very end. Users even began referring to them as the “puppet masters.”