A great story has the ability to plant the virus of an idea into the minds of viewers. It can shift perceptions, and create enough buzz around a product that will get even those who aren’t interested to take notice. To reach this level of “great,” though, a story must be clear, it must be engaging, and it must have some authenticity behind it. In the case that a story isn’t authentic, it falls upon the marketer, the person selling the product to make it true.
Tonight, I’d like to look at a case, in which the marketer went that extra mile, and made their story into a reality.
In December 2006, a site promoting The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was launched and advertised across many of the largest news sources on the web. The site was stark, with no real information or revelations about the show. And, honestly, the site itself was pretty poorly designed. However, the fact that it existed was enough to indicate that Haruhi was licensed for American release.
The curious thing about the site was that it was parked at asosbrigade.com. The SOS Brigade was the name of Haruhi’s school club in the show, and was short for “Spreading Excitement all Over the World with Haruhi Suzumiya Brigade.” With this domain alone, the licensor could have easily posted some key art, a press release, and maybe a few pre-order incentives before calling it a day, while generating a decent amount of interest from the core market. However, the folks at Bandai decided to take the promotion further. They decided to begin by telling a story.
On December 22, the ASOS Brigade was updated with a short “fan film” starring Patricia Ja Lee, Akiyo Yamamoto and Haruka Inoue as Haruhi, Yuki, and Mikuru respectively. The film focused on the characters’ voyage across the Pacific to spread her own brand of excitement in America.
Unlike the typical, heavily-produced trailers and promos, this was different. It was campy, it was cheesy, and it was incredibly low budget. In particular, it was painfully obvious that the short was filmed in the Bandai Entertainment office building, Lighting was poor, and the shots were shaky or taken in usual angles. The acting was terrible, and everything just reeked of 1960s-era Batman levels of camp.
More important, it got people talking, and it got them interested.
As time went on, Bandai continued to make this story increasingly genuine. The site was updated in the voice of the characters from the SOS brigade, particularly Haruhi and Nagato. In addition to the standard PR entries, there were regular updates from the characters. Some of these character pieces were simple musings about the process like “Where is that guy with my video, he should have had the next episode done by now!” Others were over-the-top outbursts, that included gems like the following:
What is up with that cat’s voice?! That doesn’t sound like what a proper japanese cat should in english! I DEMAND A NEW VOICE FOR THE CAT!!! It appears I’m going to have to visit the studio and direct these episodes myself
People began to tell themselves a story – these people, the ASOS Brigade, were a vital part to the experience. Without these people doing campy things and making silly website posts, we wouldn’t have the show on DVD to buy. For all intents and purposes, the ASOS Brigade was real… or as real as they could be for a trio of actors playing fictional characters, anyway.
Bandai released the DVDs to great fanfare in the market. People fell in love with the story they’ve been told, and the story they had told themselves. The first volume quickly rocketed to the top of sales charts, and was a phenomenon across message boards and blogs.
The ASOS had served their purpose. Haruhi sold. So, it was time to pack up and send the actors home, right? Not quite. In the aftermath of the DVD release, Bandai kept the ASOS Brigade on-hand. The group made an in-character appearance at 2007’s Anime Expo, where they held interviews with Comcast’s Anime Select, and invited attendees to join in their attempt to create “the largest impromptu Haruhi dance ever assembled at any con.”
Even after Haruhi’s DVD run ended, the ASOS Brigade continued to produce content. For every show going forward, from the second season of Haruhi to web series The Adventures of Haruhi Suzumiya-chan, the ASOS Brigade made a short.
By making their story authentic, by bringing a fictional story into reality, Bandai managed to build a brand that many have since attached themselves to. A show that would have otherwise gone to decent sales was helped by this story, and by the authenticity that Bandai gave it. People felt good, knowing they supported the “ASOS Brigade”, and they were happy to talk about it, and spread the ideavirus through the greater market.