In early 2016, shoppers at The Grove—a popular, outdoor retail and entertainment complex in Los Angeles—found themselves in the midst of a crash landing site: A 17-foot-tall UFO sat buried in the central green space, encircled with caution tape and patrolled by two men in hazmat suits warning bystanders to steer clear. “Nothing to see here, folks!”
This sunken spaceship and all of the theatrics surrounding it were part of an elaborate, clever, and suspense-driven marketing campaign meant to drum up interest in the tenth season of the “X-Files.” The marketing team behind the live stunt also staged a complex campaign on Twitter and Snapchat, clearly intended to energize longtime fans of the series and lure younger viewers with cryptic and coded messaging.
“Anticipation marketing” has long relied on our innate interest in the unclear, unexplained or unknown. The dramatic tension is riveting. The not-knowing is what drives us to turn the page, to purchase the movie ticket, or to show up at our local Apple store twelve hours before opening and get our hands on the newest gizmo.
Of course, anticipation marketing is not exclusive to tech products, suspense novels and movie trailers. Any advertisement or campaign can (and perhaps should) play with consumers’ expectations to build enthusiasm. After all, suspense is an essential part of storytelling. A story with zero suspense—where all the characters act as expected, where every plot twist is predicted—is not the story you’re dying to pick up and read.
So, how do you integrate suspense into your campaigns and daily marketing strategies?
The plot unfolds.
Dropping a UFO onto an outdoor shopping mall was not an overnight scheme. Suspense marketing requires precise planning to make sure that (a) the campaign has the biggest impact and that (b) all the elements of the campaign are carefully coordinated.
Begin with a brainstorming meeting to identify the aspects of your product that are most exciting for consumers. If you’re launching a hair salon, what will pique your potential customers’ interests? Luxurious amenities? State-of-the-art equipment?
The celebrity hair stylist behind the brand? Create a list of these dramatic elements in your brand story and capitalize on them.
The plot thickens.
How and where will you create a buzz? Will you design a live experience? Will you cut together a short teaser trailer and release it in bite-sized chunks on Instagram? Will you devise a Snapchat scavenger hunt that brings consumers to your storefront and rewards winners with a free gift? Never be afraid to think outside the box, but always remember to stay on brand.
The climactic moment arrives.
You only get one chance to debut, so be sure that your launch is tactical and that you’re tracking consumers’ reactions and responses in real time. As with great storytelling, creating suspense is all about the timing.
Write the ending.
Throughout the process, keep in mind that you must sketch out your strategy from beginning to end. The audience may be in the dark—hopefully asking themselves “What comes next?!”—but as the storyteller, you must have a clear picture of the entire campaign and the results you expect to achieve.
Suspense marketing isn’t so much about staging gimmicks or tricking your audience; rather, it’s about getting the attention of and energizing the people who will ultimately become your customers (and hopefully your lifelong fans). Keep your consumers at the forefront of your mind, and you won’t go wrong.
About Brand Poets
Founded by Tana M. Llinas, Brand Poets is a collective of strategists, visual storytellers, and digital artisans crafting smart, poignant campaigns that command attention. www.brandpoets.com