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Shedding Light on Dark Marketing

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Dark marketing isn't what it sounds like. It's not evil, but it certainly is different. The concept of the Alternative Reality Game, or ARG, is what drives this form of marketing and makes it successful for many brands who use it, when done correctly. Because the Internet and DVR systems are making watching commercials optionally for the large majority of consumers, corporations have found another way to market products and increase sales.

An ARG requires a story line. This story line needs to grab the attention of the audience, leaving them hungry for more. Writers should be on standby to completely change the direction of the story based on initial audience response. Plot lines should not be linear so they can be revealed at will. Develop something that can be effectively revealed over time. The story should engage a sense of reality to entice more to participate, to strengthen the word of mouth and power behind the campaign.

In addition to a story line, an ARG requires massive planning. There needs to be a clear cut connection between the game, the product, and the brand. Marketers will need to consider several different scenarios and prepare for adverse reactions to the game from the consumers. If for instance, someone was harmed while trying to find information to play the game, a lawsuit could be in the works.

ARGs work best when created for a target audience that enjoys interaction. Some markets will not be able to effectively use this kind of ''dark'' marketing. It is worth noting however, many dark marketing campaigns do not reach a large audience. A campaign ran by Audi reached half a million people. Considering the leverage behind the popular social networking website MySpace, an ad on the homepage of that site could have reached many million.

A prime example of an ARG was launched by Microsoft to promote the xBox game Halo 2. After starting the I Love Bees website, Microsoft sent jars of honey to players. A few days later, a promo trailer for Halo 2 went public, where it listed the I Love Bees website URL. Players who went there found a list of telephone numbers and the GPS coordinates of where the telephones could be found. Included with the list were times where calls would be made to those phones. When players went to answer the phones they got more information, and winners of the game got to see the game before anyone else. Throughout the course of the game, other buzz was generated through websites and forms, creating a completely successful ARG campaign.

Dark marketing takes time, effort, and creativity. When properly executed, the ARG will create the buzz any product needs for killer sales.
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