Promoting “Lost” farewells
Marketing a series finale of a hit TV show should be relatively easy. However, with “Lost”, just as with its storyline, nothing is ever as it seems, as Zeitgeist has previously reported. In that instance, the marketing team at Disney’s ABC network went to great lengths to introduce some clips, that they hoped would go viral, of the start of the final season, only to have the terribly web-savvy fans -whom it had been assumed were desperate for any crumbs falling from the “Lost” table – reject the clips out of hand, choosing instead to wait until they could see the episode in its entirety, and in HD.
Their ultimate gambit was to simulcast the show’s finale (for which, in the US, they charged advertisers $900k per 30-second spot according to Time magazine, “more than anything save the Oscars and the Super Bowl”) across multiple timezones, meaning it was at a comfortable 9pm PST (unfortunately those viewers still had to avoid any spoilers for the three hours after it was broadcast on the East Coast) and a bright and early 5am for those in the UK (with higher viewing figures than the show usually gets in its 9pm slot). Variety reports, “59 countries will air the final episode of “Lost” no later than 48 hours after the U.S. broadcast.” To Zeitgeist’s mind, this sort of thing has not been attempted before to such an extent. When we think of other broadcasts that are viewed live globally, we think of the Olympics and the World Cup; “Lost” hoped to piggyback on this aura of unity. By closing the viewing windows it also discouraged piracy, though Sky Player suffered unfortunate hitches, as did Zeitgeist’s Sky+ recording, which stuttered its way through the entire finale, leaving Zeitgeist to wonder why he paid a premium for corrupted content that he could have easily downloaded for free (albeit illegally).
However, what such synchronicity meant was that, at the time of its airing, there would have been a lot of buzz (facilitated by ABC’s “Lost” page that allowed users to sign in via the site to Twitter and Facebook to post their comments) about the show online, more or less simultaneously. What would usually have been a community of fragmented chatter that was localised by geographical region, with people talking about the same episode, at different times, suddenly became coherent. The official “Lost” Facebook page certainly did much to help promote the show, with regular status updates (commented on by hundreds, “like”d by tens of thousands), clips, as well as the obligatory Facebook event page for the finale, “attended” again in the tens of thousands. Conversely, a lot of people went into hermit-mode during the run-up to the finale so as to avoid any hint of a spoiler. The New York Times writes “The show’s time-bending storyline and layers of mysteries can mean that a single indiscreet tweet might ruin a whole episode for someone who has yet to see it.”
The simulcast was the last in a series of bold moves those in the marketing department had made for “Lost”. To promote the series premiere, bottles were wedged into the sand on the East and West coasts of the US. The doomed plane’s airline that the passengers fly, Oceanic, had its own, official-looking website (which now redirects to ABC’s “Lost” homepage). Variety continues “The Oceanic Web page idea morphed into a competing site claiming a conspiracy behind the plane crash; Find815.com was nominated for an interactive Emmy. The network posted Oceanic billboards in several international cities connected to series characters, then ‘vandalized’ them with conspiracy claims.” During the finale in the US, SMS messages that viewers had sent in were displayed, presumably during commercial breaks. A UGC competition was also run online to see who could create the best trailer for the show (see video below).
Further to this of course were comic books, podcasts and videogames – not to mention the fan-made wiki Lostpedia – that expanded the mythology of the show’s universe. Moreover, as Mashable points out, “Lost was among the very first series available on iTunes, giving the option to watch on-demand on your computer, iPod or iPhone… At the time of writing, seasons 1-6 are available in HD, all for free (with ads) on the ABC website.” Michael Benson, one of ABC’s executive VPs of marketing said that “viewers want to believe there really are people lost on an island somewhere.” By playing on this insight, Benson and his team have crafted a lattice framework of exciting, original promotions. The proof is in the pudding; six years on, “Lost” bows out as one of the most talked-about shows of the past decade.
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