Thanks to the fact that social networking reputation monitor Klout considers me a Specialist in my areas of expertise, I received a package from TNT promoting “Falling Skies,” a science fiction drama premiering Sunday, June 19th.
In “Falling Skies,” it’s several months after an invading extraterrestrial force has killed off most of humanity and we’re following a former history professor struggling to keep his family together while his knowledge of battles past helps him fight for the future.
Jeez, read that out loud, but try it with a Don LaFontaine voice: “This summer… he’s struggling to keep his family together… while his knowledge of battles past… helps him fight for the future…!” I should write copy, I tell you what. Oh, wait, I do.
Anyway, TNT sent me a box of branded “gear” to get me in the mood to fight aliens with Noah Wiley:
That’s a plastic canteen, a compass, a baseball cap, a hipster bookbag, a map of Boston (the “Mass” stands for Massachussets) and a child’s drawing of aliens and humans fighting. The whole thing came packed in shredded faux straw that I now have all over everything. Points for verisimilitude but the agency who put this together gets dinged for making people clean this crap up.
A big part of my day job is spent coming up with gimmicks like this — in fact, the agency where I work pitched on “Falling Skies” but ended up not working on it. So this whole thing is interesting to me as a marketer and as a creator. Let’s take a closer look:
The 2ND MASS COMMAND Plan And How It Falls Short Of Engaging
Bottom line, the goal is to get influential people talking about “Falling Skies” so lots of other people will tune in to watch. This is a buzz-building campaign that places participants in an “Army of Influence” with a prize of a walk-on role on “Falling Skies” for the top influencer.
To play along and get on the leaderboard, I have to follow @2NDMASS on Twitter. No problem; done. Then I have to tweet about these goodies I got and other “Falling Skies” stuff with the hashtag #fsincentivized. Okay. But…
This is where I think someone (probably not at the agency but rather in the chain of approval at TNT) started taking the easy path instead of really creating a fun, immersive experience that might just get people truly excited about the show.
The tweets coming from @2NDMASS, which number six as of this writing, kind of aim to create a narrative but it’s lazy, lazy, lazy. There’s only the barest concession to storytelling:
June 1st, we’re told that “They’re here.” An obligatory tip of the hat to the classic line from “Poltergeist,” which producer Stephen Spielberg had a hand in all those years ago, but… now what?
Later on June 1st: “They’ve taken our children, destroyed our homes and forced us into hiding. We have to fight back. We have to resist.” And later still on the same day, “Welcome to the resistance www.2ndmass.com.”
What a tremendous lost opportunity. That first tweet should have been weeks before, followed by daily tweets from someone “in world” from 2nd Mass describing the breakdown of civilization and order as the alien assault kicks our asses. The tweet about the kids being taken could have been expanded into a thrilling experience across several messages as the horrific situation becomes known, so that when the “Welcome to the resistance” call to action (that isn’t actually a call to action) is posted, you’re hooked, you’re invested, and you’re fascinated.
Instead, there’s one or two more bashful tweets on June 1st and then radio silence for two weeks, when we’re asked “Are you with us” and the #fsincentivized hashtag is introduced. Then nothing again until yesterday. I mean, if you’re not going to take advantage of the fact that you chose a username that ties directly to the story, why bother? Just buy @fallingskies from Casey Ferrer, who has only tweeted thirty times and whose handful of followers won’t miss his / her tweets about Lady Gaga and playing solitaire anyway. Seriously. Own your brand.
Also: #fsincentivized? What does that mean to someone who isn’t directly involved? What does it tell the uninitiated about “Falling Skies?” Nothing, that’s what. And that’s a failure. This could have been so much smarter.
“Falling Skies” Could Have Been A Story World
TNT’s slogan is “We Know Drama.” I’ve seen the pilot for “Falling Skies,” and they’re certainly going for interpersonal, character-based conflicts over science fiction action. The show’s one big science-fiction-y mystery is practically spelled out for anyone with experience in the genre and there’s a lot of (here’s that word again) lazy science in favor of pushing the story forward, but it’s really not about making the secret a good one that makes sense… it’s about having a plot turn in the middle of the second act (or middle of the season or show’s run, whichever comes first) to drive the character drama.
There’s a lot of hinted-at backstory in the pilot that could have been perfect for a transmedia story world. TNT claims to know drama, but when they’re presented with a product front-loaded with dramatic opportunities, what did they do? They produced a comic with Dark Horse that served as a prequel, but what about all those other stories that could be told? This is a setting where most of the human race and all of our infrastructure has been wiped out. There are six billion stories to tell. Where are they? They didn’t even opt to tell one with their Twitter feed, so far, at least, which should have been a given.
This is frustrating, but as I mentioned above, it’s probably not the fault of the creators of the show or even the agency charged with promoting it. The fault likely lies with TNT, where, as with any large entertainment entity, the chain of command draws ever tighter around the neck of risk and innovation the higher you go. That’s partly due to simple economics, of course — there’s only so much room in the marketing budget and it’s much safer to go with a couple of Flash games and web sites.
If that’s going to be the case, perhaps it’s time to make room for the development of story worlds in the production budget? Perhaps it’s time to think of marketing and content as parts of the whole creative endeavor?
“Falling Skies” Still Has A Chance To Be Interesting
Let’s say viewers take to the soap-opera-with-guns tone of “Falling Skies” and show up for the first few episodes, and TNT gives it a full season or even picks it up for a second. It’s not too late to build the “Falling Skies” story world, and it doesn’t even have to cost a whole lot of money. The fans can build the content, the producers decide what becomes canon (maybe even integrating viewer content into the show) and as for paying for it all, well, that’s what the sponsors are for, no?
I’ve got a few notions of how this would actually work, but rather than spilling them all here, let’s see what happens across the summer as “Falling Skies” succeeds or fails. If the fans show up across demographic lines like TNT hopes, the producers of the show will have a lot of creative raw material at their disposal. Will they use it?
What do you think about “Falling Skies” and their marketing efforts?