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Virtual Experience Marketing?

Cloverfield used it back in 2007/8 to give us the Slusho! drink and its parent company. Wall-E used it to give us BuyNLarge, the company responsible for destroying the Earth. In some ways, The Dark Knight had it as well, especially with the site for Gotham Cable News.

So far this year, I’ve found two more.

The Surrogate website,, which I have already discussed (

And now the website, which is a promotion for a low profile scifi flick being released by Sony Pictures this fall, District 9. As with Surrogate, and the other company websites listed above, this site purports to belong to a real fake company, Multi-National United, and provides information for humans and non-humans. As with Surrogate, there has been no official trailer released for the film, and this site is the movie’s official site according to

But why advertise a film this way? Why create a fictional company website that does not clearly provide information as to what to expect in the film? Why the misdirection by premiering an extended experience before the actual experience is provided?

This form of marketing got me thinking about what I’ve written about (paper to be presented at ICA, will provide edited version soon to Issuu and RUDAR) in the past, as well as the current research I am doing into virtual worlds.

In a way, we could say these “fake company sites” are extended experiences, with elements of viral marketing implied (idea of passing around word of the site, perhaps sharing something from the site, such as downloads or the create your own surrogate application). But the sites are also more than just your average viral marketing (they don’t reach the level of gameplay marketing found in The Dark Knight, because there is no toggling between online and offline behaviors.)

The creation of fictional companies could be seen as the creation of a virtual experience — an attempt to replicate the conventions (structure, parameters, etc) of a real company’s website to provide the fictional company with an authentic presence online.

Just as a virtual world (environment, game, etc) attempts to replicate the structure of the real (physical, material, etc) world to increase the sensation of immersion, realism and interest in that construct, the creation of such websites may likewise be an attempt to remediate company websites so as to make transparent the content — ie, to not hypermediate or draw attention to the fact that this is advertising.

The logic is that the modern, youth consumer (who are usually the main audiences for films in general and scifi/fantasy films in particular) is advertising savvy — enough to recognize when s/he is being targetted by an ad and more likely to be turned off by such an obvious ploy of marketing.

Thus, to reach said consumerbase, marketers have to create transparent campaigns that simultaneously take advantage of a) the youth’s social networking proclivities (I found because it was advertised as Multi-National United at Facebook), b) recognize the active nature of such technologically skilled youth, and c) is not so obviously attempting to sell them on something, such as going to see a movie they may not have heard of.

But what to call such marketing ploys? It’s not viral marketing simply. Perhaps virtual environment marketing? Remediated marketing? Virtual experience marketing? What exactly is this, and does it work as believed it should?

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