From Deborah Netburn at the LA Times:
Savvy Web publicists, such as those for the ABC show “Lost,” have been adept at using promotional materials that spill out beyond the edges of the show, creating mysteries embedded online or in the real world for fans to chase after.
Sometimes, however, a publicity machine can be too clever for its own good, as was the case this fall when the PR department at Fox hoped to court this community with press materials for the new hour-long thriller, “Vanished.” So carefully embedded in the documents were the clues, that few even realized they were there, and a great viral mystery was not only left unsolved, but a slumbering world remained unaware that the trail even existed.
The show’s publicist finally called the Times to explain the vast web of clues hidden in the show’s press kit, apparently so that at least someone in the outside world would know what the publicity team had tried. That’s gotta be a bizarre call to make.
I can’t see most political operations trying anything this, er, subtle, but it’s still a good cautionary tale for anyone trying to do a clever viral campaign. Make sure that the intended audience can recognize that it even exists! Thanks to occasional guest columnist Burt Edwards for the tip.