IN A CANDID INTERVIEW, ABC MARKETING EVP MIKE BENSON REVEALS MORE LOST SECRETS (WELL, AT LEAST A FEW OF THEM!)
DISNEY NEWSREEL: Qantas Airlines takes a great deal of pride in that they’ve never had a fatal jet airliner accident; that being said, is there really a competitive market in Australia for an Oceanic Air re-launch? MB: Oceanic is an interesting airline because they don’t fly that much and that’s why I found it interesting that they announced all these new cities that they’re going to. Qantas is a very different airline, they offer a different level of service than Oceanic. Oceanic is primarily concerned with taking people to places they’ve never really imagined. What we really want to do is try to provide people who are interested in Oceanic Airlines an interesting experience more than just a comfortable flight.
DN: Doing marketing for Lost must be insanely fun because you’re also doing part of the storytelling. MB: I think this show in particular has been not only a lot of fun to market, but challenging in a way that we want to continue to develop the mythology of what is really going on — on the island and beyond — in the world of Lost. It’s much more compelling when you can create this world that people can believe in, it’s much more fun. I call it “experiential” marketing, when you can go in and dive into something and you feel like you’re living in this virtual world. So why not have Oceanic announce new flights and do things that any other airline would do?
DN: Are you expecting these types of ads to draw the eyes of the average person driving down the street? Fans like me know that it’s an ad for Lost, but there’s nothing on the billboard to clue in a non-watcher. MB: The campaign for Lost has a two-pronged strategy: the first one is to go after the audience that either watches the show or hasn’t seen the show in a while, and that’s much more of a general, accessible campaign. The other part of the campaign is for the core fan. It’s for people who really love to dive into the show and talk about it with friends. They actually become our marketing disciples and they’re out really helping us spread the word. What we’re trying to do with things like the Oceanic campaign or the Web site [flyoceanicair.com] is to get core fans to share things with people who are regular fans or even non-fans of the show and say, ‘This is cool, check it out.’
DN: ABC’s marketing is supplementing the limited ad buy with the Oceanic Web site as well as the more detailed — and inscrutable — Find815.com. Is it safe to call this a guerilla marketing campaign?[Individual Oceanic outdoorprint ads have been spotted in LA, Miami, New York, and Portland, Oregon; overseas in Sydney and Seoul; and Ames,Iowa, Knoxville, Tennessee and Tustin, California] MB: This is definitely a guerilla campaign because Oceanic is. There’s not a massive outdoor campaign for Oceanic. This is the first time we’ve ever gone out and had a global launch for a television series, and so we’re working with Disney-ABC International Television and their partners in Australia and the UK, and also a lot of other broadcasters around the world, and they’re all tying into this in a way, and the cool thing is that they can use the Internet to gather together as a big community and watch this show and talk about it. That’s never really been done before. We’re trying to make this more of a global event and launch it at the same time and so in order to do that we’ve got to be somewhat guerilla and allow the fans to discover what we’re doing and not be so overt. That’s why there’s a billboard up there without any tune-in messages. A couple of days from now something’s going to happen to that billboard and the messaging on that billboard’s going to change. We’re hoping a fan picks it up. [Editor’s note: Fans first spotted the words ‘Find815.com’ graffitied on the Miami billboard on January 8.]
DN: The online fan community wants to know, does Find815.com exist in the same ‘universe’ as “The Lost Experience,” the worldwide marketing/online campaign that ABC Entertainment marketing and their overseas partners launched a year and a half ago? MB: “The Lost Experience” was a parallel storyline to Lost. What we’re doing with Find815.com is directly related to the storyline that will premiere in this season. Everything that is in Find815.com, which has been dubbed as an alternative reality game, directly relates to the storyline on television. And it’s for that reason that we think fans will get into it a little more. We work very closely with Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, so every message that we put out there is related to the series and the storyline. “The Lost Experience” was really great for core fans. We wanted to make sure that the new campaign, albeit experiential, was something that would really pay off in the series. We’re approaching it more like developing content and by doing that feel it’s going to make the series a better experience for people who may speculate the right or wrong things.
DN: Speaking of speculation, the online Lost fan community really wants to learn some answers. And I know you are pretty much sworn to secrecy, but we’re hoping you can shed just a little light on some of the Oceanic/Find 815 mysteries. MB: Okay.
DN: Is there any significance to the word ‘Manhattan’ in the ring box that Sam is holding up in the video clip on Find815.com? MB: I’m not going to answer that.
DN: You guard your secrets well. MB: It’s fun for us when fans see things and they speculate, and get it right… or get it wrong. That tells me that our marketing is working. Sometimes they find things that we had no idea that were there! I know pretty much what’s there, but there are things placed in there that I don’t know about. The web company might put it in, because they know something is good and they want to make even better because they are huge Lost fans. It’s exciting for them for someone to find something they’ve buried in there as an Easter egg. So that happens once in a while.
DN: Okay, a few more. Another fan had a question about the Lost Season 4 poster and particularly the reflection in the water; is that the skyline of Los Angeles? MB: (smiles) It’s ‘a city.’
DN: And it looks as if there’s a dark circle below that, and one of the fans pointed out that it might be a “9” and that there was a reference at the very end of the last season that only nine people make it off the island. Is the poster connected to that in any way? MB: The fans are seeing some things in the poster that are on the right track, but they’re not quite right. I will tell you that in every piece of media that we’ve created for this we’ve buried something in it.
DN: …One last question that fans are dying to know: Is one of the people on the poster the person in the casket [in Jack’s flash forward from the Season Three finale]? MB: Now that I definitely can’t answer!