Last night during LOST, a strange commercial caught my attention. Pimping "The Hanso Foundation," something about the ad seemed oddly familiar.
It invited viewers to visit the Web site http://www.letyourcompassguideyou.com/. So I jotted down the URL and logged when the show was over to see what it was all about.
The site proved somewhat puzzling--it is some sort of game, or clue; the kind of enigma a viewer of LOST is drawn to like a doomed moth.
The page is titled "Permissum Vestri Complector Rector Vos." Perhaps there's something there other than an intermittent high pitch fluttering noise, and a compass that revolves to follow the cursor. The center of the compass looks like a yin/yang symbol, and there is a faded image of a dark haired woman wearing a labcoat or an overcoat. Nothing seems to open. Nothing seems to change.
Turns out, this is not the first time ABC and the producers of LOST have concocted an extracurricular ad campaign designed to send viewers online in search of clues about the show.
According to an article in USA Today "Hanso is part of the "LOST Experience," a marketing scheme created by ABC, Channel 4 in the UK and Australia's Seven Network. Developed by the creative team behind LOST, the content is intended to provide more insight to the island's secrets."
This strategy of embedding hidden information about the program into a fake ad reminded me of an something I read recently in the Tech Section of New York Times.
In the article "Someone Has to Pay for TV. But Who? And How?" Randall Stross warns of new features coming to TiVo and other like services that will prevent viewers from skipping the commercials: "If the viewer trie[s] to circumvent the system by recording the program and skipping the ads during playback, the new, improved recorder would detect when a commercial segment was being displayed and disable the fast-forward button for the duration."
The plan, according to Stross, is to offer consumers the freedom to surf--for a fee.
The producers of LOST and the savvy folks at ABC may have devised a better plan. By providing what might be descibed as "enhanced content" during the commercials themselves, they are rewarding those who watch the program and the ads that support it.
It's a strange reversal on the concept of product placement. Rather than jam products into the content of the show, they are sneaking content into the ads.
Or are they?
Even as I was tooling around with the pointless compass, some more dedicated viewers (perhaps on the East Coast with a 3 hour head start over California viewers like myself) had already begun to crack the code...
Some genius figured out that this whole set-up is nothing more than elborate ruse: an advertisement for Jeep. (Type "compass" into the "Search" box, and feel the burn as you scroll down to the "Let Your Compass Guide" you link.)
How dare they use ad space for...advertising!