In its day, ABC-TV's "Lost" could be found in some mighty strange places.
In what was considered the first transmedia "alternate reality game" (or "ARG") associated with a major TV show, ABC set out to fuel fandememonium among the show's most fervent fans.
The man behind the initiative: Mike Benson, then senior vice president of marketing for ABC Entertainment.
As it turns out, Benson didn't even know there was a name for what he was trying to pull off. Happily finding himself with a phenomenon on his hands in the form of this hugely popular show, Benson was simply trying to find a way to keep viewers satisfied between what was shaping up to be a seemingly interminable break between seasons.
His plan: to launch an ambitious digital marketing campaign designed to be as frustrating at it was elaborate, involving a mind-bogglingly intricate scheme to bring verisimilitude to the show's back story in the form of a vast online scavenger hunt.
He laughed when I reminded him during the height of the campaign that "ARG" was the term for this kind of game.
"Someone called me and said, 'Oh, you're doing an alternate reality game - an ARG," he said, recounting the first time he'd heard the name. "I said, 'Well yes. I guess that's what we're doing.'"
What follows is a source interview I conducted with Benson after the campaign's conclusion, for the new book, THE ON-DEMAND BRAND. What you'll find is nothing short of a pioneer shaping the future of both television and social media.
For those out of the know, “The Lost Experience" was an enormous, multi-nation, multiplatform “alternate reality” game designed to keep fans of the enigmatic television show engaged in the hiatus between the show's second and third seasons.
There were the faux Web sites for the Hanso Foundation – which was “hacked” and later “shut down.” The mysterious video postings of one Rachel Blake buried on the Hanso site and a veritable labyrinth of advertiser-sponsored Web sites from Monster, Jeep, Sprite, Verizon and others.
Credits for that year's hit movie “Mission: Impossible 3” thanked Hanso, as if it were somehow tied to Tom Cruise and the Scientology community. (In reality, it was another connection: Director JJ Abrams is one of the creator of "Lost")
There was the book “Bad Twin,” from the fictitious author Gary Troup, who was aboard Oceanic flight 815 when it crashed.
There was "Joop," the “ageless Orangutan.” Secret tests of the “Valenzetti Equation” on autistic savants. And who could forget Blake’s rant at the producers of “Lost” at the San Diego Comic Com that July – as if their show was somehow a kind of front for Hanso. And don’t forget the revelation that Alvar Hanso is really Blake’s father. All revealed with tantalizing clues to the future of this imminently aggravating, and immensely entertaining, television show.
Nearly five months later, The Experience came to an end.
It was at this point that I talked with Benson about how he convinced all those advertisers to pay to promote his show, what he learned from “The Lost Experience,” and his views on the power of multiplatform, branded entertainment in promoting products - from content to consumer packaged goods - in the age of viral, social media.
In Part 2: The genesis of "The Lost Experience;" and how ABC lined up key promotional partners to make it a reality.
In part three: Benson's thoughts on the power (and dangers of) integrated, multiplatform marketing.
In this part: What ABC learned from "The Lost Experience" – and what he'd do different the next time.