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Mystery marketing: why so compelling?

It’s no secret that one of the best ways to create a marketing campaign that stays with people is to instill it with a story.

It needn’t be particularly complicated, but something about it needs to be at once personally appealing and alluring enough for whoever is reading to want to know more.

Given the growing trend of using an element of ‘mystery’ online (and you know it’s a trend when fashion designers and Google cotton onto it), it’s no wonder that marketing agencies are beginning to incorporate it into their more complex campaigns.

A good case study for this is the ‘This Man’ phenomenon. If you visit the site, you’re greeted with an enigmatic picture of a balding man and a brief history of his appearances.

‘In January 2006 in New York, the patient of a well-known psychiatrist draws the face of a man that has been repeatedly appearing in her dreams. On more than one occasion that man has given her advice on her private life. The woman swears she has never met the man in her life.’

The site goes on to explain how a number of patients had identified the same man in their dreams. Although it claims that the phenomenon was recorded as far back as 2006, there is no concrete evidence of any kind of history except the registration of the domain in early 2008 and the subsequent appearance of a number of ‘have you seen this man’ flyers in New York, Paris, Rome and a number of other major cities, directing people to the website.

Recently, Jawbone. tv discovered that the site was registered to Guerriglia Marketing, an Italian marketing agency. The agency’s motto is ‘F@!# the market in order to enter it’. They employ unconventional modes of communication to engage their audience while stretching the possibilities of legality and morality to their respective limits. They are responsible for the infamous ‘Where Next’ online game, developed for video game activist site Molle Industria. The game utilizes Google Maps, encouraging users to predict where the next terrorist attack will occur. Those closest to the mark receive a prize. Shocking? Yes. Morally Questionable? Certainly. Engaging and memorable? Surprisingly, yes. But we digress.

The success of GM’s ‘This Man’ campaign is threefold:
1. Engagement

The notion of an enigmatic, creepy bald man appearing in thousands of people’s dreams the world over is very mysterious. People like mystery; it means that there’s something they aren’t seeing. It also suggests that what they can see is just the beginning of a narrative. The thing that people like even more than the mystery is…

2. Story

This is the crucial element. The site denies that it is part of a marketing campaign, but regardless of whether this is true or not, it still provides an immersive, creepily compelling, and, most importantly, an unfinished story to fascinate its audience.

3. Follow through

Creepiness aside, once it attracts whoever its target market is, the website does an awfully good job of consolidating their interest. Visitors who claim to have ‘dreamt’ about ‘this man’ (or people who just want to play along with the hoax) can plot their locations on a (densely marked) map, peruse others’ conspiracy theories with respect to the purpose of the organization and download the infamous flyers in a number of languages to post on telephone poles around their city. This is basically a ‘how to’ model for viral marketing.

Another campaign that ticks the mystery and story boxes is the one for Toohey’s 5 Seeds cider. In late September mUmBRELLA alerted us to a number of viral ‘choose your own adventure’ style videos appearing on Youtube. Viewers chose the outcome of a human scavenger finding his way in a post-apocalyptic world where birds prey on humans. There’s a conflict surrounding an apple, and, in short, this links back to how lucky we are in this world to be able to eat apples and drink cider. Whilst the associative conclusion is a little absurd, the viral videos are strikingly compelling. They offer a narrative, a healthy dose of the mysterious, and a way for the viewer/potential consumer to engage with the story, thereby investing in it (and the product its inevitable spruiking) emotionally.

Axe deodorant’s ‘party across the internet’ attempts a similar level of narrative but isn’t as effective due to its blatant transparency as an advertising campaign. A sidebar advertisement on a mock-up Ralph website takes over the web browser and leads the viewer through a party montage video that incorporates games and chooses your own outcomes. There’s no mystery here, really, but perhaps it isn’t necessary to reach the target audience (the correlative brand in Australia is Lynx; make of this what you will.)

To put it simply: engage your customer by piquing their curiosity with the mysterious fragment that implies a longer narrative. You needn’t go to quite the same lengths as the campaigns mentioned above, but if you operate off the principle of ‘mystery’ and keep something desirable from them, they’ll want to click to find out more.

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