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Westworld Season 2: A Digital-First Story With Epic Pay-offs

basics
Industry: Media & Publishing
Media:TV & Cinema
Style: Minimalism
descriptioncnen
Synopsis
HBO launched Westworld’s inaugural season by selling the series as a luxury theme park, but as Season 2 featured a more aggressive and bold narrative—with the enraged hosts taking center stage—the marketing begged for a more audacious approach. With a goal of increased buzz around attention-grabbing, intriguing and highly-shareable creative, HBO compelled fans to work together to solve puzzles that unlocked new content. The goal was to transform casual fans into superfans, while inviting in new audiences into the series’ unique world, all while setting the stage for a season that refined the series’ narrative.
Strategy
Based on the ARG established in Season 1, HBO knew that Westworld fans are digitally-savvy and ravenous for story details. HBO targeted these fans with cryptic messages; under the auspices that the hosts were reaching out to those they could trust, codes started appearing in key marketing assets. Decoding each message yielded an in-story pay-off. Over time, the communications grew more ambitious in scope and complexity. Encouraging fans to work together, the campaign crescendoed leading into Season 2. By imbuing superfan clues into broad assets, casual viewers were coaxed down the superfan rabbit hole, discovering additional narratives and clues that would pay off with each episode that aired. Fans who had been playing along had all the pertinent story information first, and HBO established a digital ecosystem that paid dividends.
Outcome
After Westworld defined itself as HBO’s most successful series debut ever, HBO’s Season 2 pre-premiere digital marketing efforts focused on growing the social community, engaging with fans on a deeper level, and converting casual fans to superfans. The Super Bowl trailer amassed 21 million views; and trended number 1 across YouTube and Reddit. Five new or revamped websites garnered a total of 1.6 million page views. Westworld’s social profiles also saw significant growth and engagement, with 50,000 new Facebook likes and 330,000 social conversations around the show. All this was before Season 2 even premiered — the episodes would provide the biggest pay-off of all, showing fans that marketing was not supplemental, but in fact rewarded fans by making them part of the story.
Execution
The Season 2 campaign kicked off with a trailer during Super Bowl LII; within one video frame was a hidden binary code, which lead to a series of new websites that confirmed and stoked fan theories. Trained fans scoured all marketing assets, finding hidden codes in social media, digital key art, and several videos. A password, broken into pieces, was hidden in multiple markets of out-of-home key art, requiring a fans to collaborate in order to unlock a new site. The codes revealed videos with Season 2 footage, introductions to new characters and huge first looks at dramatic arcs of future episodes. Hosts, including former concierge chatbot Aeden, took control of DiscoverWestworld.com and roadblocked more than 10 linear channels to further their agenda. Every step along the way, HBO planted new easter eggs for fans.
CampaignDescription
The Westworld Season 2 campaign continued narratives seen in the show—only instead of acting as passive viewers, fans were invited into dialogue with the series’ hosts. Messages were planted in broad marketing assets using binary and hexadecimal code, pieced-together passwords, an interactive chatbot, social media and an ever-expanding digital ecosystem of “in-world” websites. Fans worked together on Reddit and social media to deconstruct the messages, unlocking pay-offs with huge narrative implications. The community’s collaboration created a second wave of buzz and conversation around every key asset—conversation exploded as fans realized they were becoming part of the story.
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awards
Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2018
Shortlist Social & Influencer
Multi-platform Social Campaign
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