HBO targets 'True' vampire fans

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Ads for True Blood focused on in-show elements
Ads for True Blood focused on in-show elements

HBO's new vampire series, True Blood, will debut September 7 after a nearly four-month campaign targeting vampire enthusiasts. HBO's conversation with this community doesn't stop there, how­ever. Later this week, the cable network will launch an official True Blood Web site featuring a wiki designed as a place to engage fans of the show.

While this may sound like a limited niche marketing exercise to some, HBO discovered through the campaign that vampire enthusiasts are more widespread than it had originally thought.

“There are thousands of Web sites and blogs devoted to the vampire, horror and comic book genres,” said Zach Enterlin, VP of advertising and promotions at HBO. “What we found interesting was that genre fans aren't as distinctly sepa­rated as we had imagined, so there is some crossover between groups.”

True Blood tells the story of a world where humans and vampires live side-by-side, thanks to the invention of synthetic blood. The first few months of marketing around the launch of the series was designed to reveal story elements that take place before the first episode of the show.

By providing consumers with insight into the narrative in advance, HBO hoped that targeted potential fans would become show evangelists and spread awareness of the series through word of mouth. The wiki, where consumers can update and edit information about the show and the broader vampire mythology, is a continu­ation of this strategy.

“In this age of tremendous consumer microparticipation, there could be thou­sands of sites [around a popular piece of entertainment],” Enterlin said. With the site, designed by Behavior Design, “HBO is providing a place for the True Blood [fan] community to coalesce [around],” he added.

During the initial launch, HBO is pro­moting the wiki directly to fans of the Charlaine Harris books on which the series is based.

In May, HBO targeted the vampire enthusiast community with direct mail LISTS

to subscribers of horror magazine Fangoria and bloggers across vampire-related genre. The piece had no branding on it and was written entirely in a dead language, as if vampires were reaching out to other vampires by using a language that only another 1,000-year-old vampire could understand.

“The goal was to ignite curiosity and elicit a response from a commu­nity that is in the know,” Enterlin said of that direct mail campaign.

The initial mailer was followed by another direct mailer containing what was labeled as a sample of Tru Blood, the synthetic blood drink that allows vampires to live among humans. The sample was actually candy. Campfire created both direct mail pieces.

The campaign also included several Web sites, such as Bloodcopy.com, a blog created by characters from the story in an effort to solve the dead language ads; TruBeverage.com, the official Tru:Blood drink site for vampires and LoveBitten.net, a vampire/human dating service.

Overall, the various Web sites associ­ated with this campaign are approaching 6 million page views and more than 1 million unique visitors. However, it wasn't until the end of July that HBO began promoting the True Blood show by name and with trailers.

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