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Customer-obsessed marketing

The day the DVR’s stopped: Lost takes a leap in cross-channel marketing

Forrester
May 12, 2006

Wednesday night marked and interesting evening in television. I was watching ABC’s Lost on my DVR 30 minutes after the original airtime (so I could skip commercials, of course). During the final commercial break, I noticed an ad fly by at high speed and I saw a logo for The Hanso Foundation. Lost fans know that the Hanso foundation is an element of the plot line, but what was it doing in a commercial break?  I went back to view the ad and find out what it was all about.

It turns out that the ad is all part of the Lost Experience, a cross-channel marketing effort integrated with the show’s story line. The commercial was about human knowledge and extending human life (find the add on YouTube or on http://www.thehansofoundation.org). The ad concluded with a phone number (877-HANSORG) and a URL (http://www.sublymonal.com). Small text at the bottom of the TV ad stated that it was paid for by Sprite, connecting it to the ‘lymon’ portion of the URL. After solving a simple puzzle on the extremely slowly loading website, you were given a code: “heir apparent.” Then you clicked on a barely legible link to the Hanso Foundation website.

Unfortunately, the site couldn’t load. The culprit: too much traffic. By the time I reached the website, the site had been congested with traffic from the UK earlier in the evening, all of the east coast viewers, and some of the central time zone viewers (remember, I was watching it delayed). The site eventually loaded when I woke up the next morning and it can be easily accessed now.

So what does this all mean?

Lost and ABC made people stop skipping commercials and actually use their DVRs to view a specific commercial. We’ll see more of these types of campaigns as networks battle ad-skipping.

– The creators of this event grossly underestimated the traffic they would receive or the hosting service was inadequate for handling a traffic spike of this nature as the TV ad rolled across the time zones. If you’re going to try something like this, you’ve got to be better prepared.

– Marketers have upped the ante in advergaming – building into the plot line of Lost is a great way to take advantage of fans already craving more answers to the show’s secrets.

You can bet that Lost fans will pay more attention during those commercial breaks next week for the season finale. Stay tuned…    

Brian Haven 
Forrester, Senior Analyst, bhaven@forrester.com

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