Recently, on Netflix, I caught something that I had read about almost a year back – an easter egg of sorts. On my feed, I saw shows ‘watched by Frank Underwood’. For those who haven’t watched House of Cards, that’s the name of the show’s protagonist, played by Kevin Spacey. (fantastically, I’d add) The shows selected seem absolutely true to (his) character, which is manipulative, scheming, and truly Machiavellian!
What this essentially does is further the character’s presence beyond the show, surface him in instances where his audience is likely to be paying attention, but at the same time not being intrusive. In this world of many streams, that, to me, is the way a brand should manifest in consumer lives. In addition to doing its job as a product, do some great storytelling. I remember writing about this back in 2009 (Tata Sky – Aamir- Ghajini) and 2011 (Nescafe – Karan Johar, Deepika Padukone) and wondering if storylines would be carried forward on Twitter. Never saw it, though to be fair, Aamir does go beyond the standard merchandise, games, TV show appearances route. (read, also for Alia Bhatt’s tweet for 2 States, which is more in line with what I’m talking about!)
In the 2011 afaqs article (linked to earlier) I had cited a few examples of some great brand storylines – Audi, WWE. But the guys whom I’ve seen totally nail this in 2015 is Hollywood. Earlier this year, Ava (character in Ex Machina) used both Tinder and LinkedIn for promoting the movie. Ava happens to be a gynoid (Artificial Intelligence, female form) and basically pretended to be a human on both these platforms. To be noted that x.ai, a (real life) personal assistant – artificial intelligence startup was involved in this as well. (if you haven’t checked x.ai by now, you really must!)
More recently, billionaire Lex Luthor (Jr) was interviewed by Fortune, and provided free WiFi. Standard, except he is a fictional character in DC Comics, soon to be appearing in Batman vs Superman : Dawn of Justice. One brand which loves Easter eggs is Google, and their hat tip to popular show Silicon Valley during the Alphabet announcement is evidence of that. While these are initiated by the ‘brand’ (movie/show producers in the above examples) check out this GoFundMe campaign by a user to bring back Matt Damon from Mars! Another fantastic user generated storyline I saw recently was Socality Barbie, which is just insanely good Instagram (+hipster) satire! What could Mattel do with this, or even with their own recent commercial that tells quite a story.
Though the above examples are largely movies/shows, there is a lesson for brands as well. In an era of controlled media, it was possible for brand storytelling to operate in a linear way – advertising. But we live in an ever expanding multi dimensional world now – consuming content across devices, services, and streams. For brands, this is a challenge as well as an opportunity – to explore and expose facets of the brand’s persona in ways and places most relevant to the audience and itself. After all, who doesn’t like a good story, right?