Katy, over at Kitschbitch, writes about Nokia’s new “transmedia” advertising campaign, and comments on it’s ARG-iness – or rather, its un-ARG-iness – and feels disappointed, saying:

…given that Nokia were the trailblazers of using immersive play to engage with consumers, doesn’t it feel like they’ve missed a bit of a trick here?

I was going to comment, but my comment grew and grew, and it felt like a post in its own right.

I’m not sure I’d agree with some of Katy’s criticisms. What’s emerged as a “traditional ARG” has basically consistently turned out to be very engaging for a tiny number of users, very costly to run, and usually exhausting for all concerned. They’re difficult to sustain and few companies ever go for a second ARG.

So a “campaign you can interact with” is a much more realistic interpretation of an ARG, you could argue: it requires far less involvement to get people in, meaning that your advertising dollar reachers more end users; it doesn’t require too much of a long term committment; it’s not community driven, meaning people can have the experience on their own, without having to invest time in building new relationships; whilst it’s interactive, it’s a constrained form of interaction, meaning it’s easier to control and keep on the rails.

The one thing it does have in common with an ARG is that it’s timeboxed: it runs for six weeks. Want to play it after those six weeks? Tough. That’s actually one of the biggest problems facing ARGs: getting away from that timeboxed nature.

So whilst it’s not the bleeding edge of ARG design, it’s probably a much more practical decision for an advertising division on Nokia: it’s less of a loss-leader than another Beast or ILoveBees; it’s engaging a broader degree of consumers but at a shallower level; it’s an order of magnitude or three less complex than a full-blown ARG.

I’m not necessarily convinced by the implementation, but I don’t think the lack of scope is reason for criticism per se; if anything, the “simple ARG” is perhaps harder to get right than the long, complex narrative that you can fix in retcon later on. The upfront budget – advertising, filming, media costs – here is bigger than most ARGs; the running cost is smaller. That sounds like a sensible way of keeping costs where you’re in control of them.

And so I think I’d argue that it’s actually more innovative than throwing a massive ARG budget at the problem: they’re trying to learn from ARGs to see what an affordable, practical interactive campaign, made by advertising/digital media agencies (rather than ARG agencies) might look like. That’s got to be worth a point or two.

2 comments on this entry.

  • Katy Lindemann | 16 Oct 2008

    All really interesting points Tom – and can def see your side of the coin! The boxed-in nature is certainly something that’s common to both – and whilst it’s undoubtedly a two-fingers-up to the players, I’m not sure what the way around that is without keeping something going indefinitely and it turning into a huge money pit.

    I guess my disappointment is just in the nature of the more traditional client / agency approach of ‘let them interact a bit, but not too much’ – so whilst I’d agree it wouldn’t have been terribly innovative to do a straightforward repeat of the Nokia Game, I’m just a little uncomfortable with the notion of pushing something as highly interactive when actually the brand has explored much greater levels of openness and allowed much greater levels of interaction in the past.

    That said, it’s minor nitpicking only because I think Nokia raised the bar so high, and if any other client had done this I’d have nothing but praise, as it’s still a really solid and rich campaign, and a damn sight better than a standard banners-and-skyscrapers ‘digital’ campaign!

  • Phil Gyford | 16 Oct 2008

    “That’s actually one of the biggest problems facing ARGs: getting away from that timeboxed nature.”

    What would an ARG that was designed to run for, say, ten years look like? One that people could join and leave at any point during it? (I know little about ARGs so this might have been attempted and/or might be a daft idea!)