In case you're not familiar with her, Bree was a fictional 16-yr old character in a drama created in the early days of YouTube. The twist was that she was introduced to the world as if she were real; the show's creators revealed the conceit only after her videos had helped mainstream the idea of user-generated content by generating some of the immense site traffic to YouTube (that eventually helped it collect lots of money from Google).
Lonelygirl15 wasn't some cute kid posting rambling vblogs, but rather an Internet show, replete with a story arc, supporting characters, plot twists and, a few weeks ago, a season finale. Viewers typed in instead of tuning in, and witnessed the program via short video posts.
The creators have started to monetize their investment, both by placing the spots on Revver (which sells ad space and shares the cash with video producers), and finding novel ways to put commercial products into the programs (a new character was actually purchased by Neutrogena).
Now that Bree is dead, however, I think the Internet video-phase of the property is over, too.
The creators promise that other girls will take her place and further the plotline – some evil cult is chasing girls with a certain blood type, which is a little creepy if you think about it – but more video segments, and more commercialization, won't make Season Two any bigger, better, or more directionally intriguing than the first.
It's just not the phenomenon it once was. There are lots of competitors now. Many of Bree's early and most rabid fans were less interested in her skills as an actress, and more intrigued by the possibility that she was a real 16 yr-old posting her innermost thoughts online. YouTube is awash in video content.
I think Lonelygirl15 as an Internet video show is dead. But what may be very much alive is where the creators could be taking it next.
You see, the program was never truly linear, nor was it particularly self-explanatory. Episodes have hidden clues and messages. Fans didn’t just watch, they got involved, inventing many more explanations and backstories than were evident in the actual content. The episodes didn’t make sense, really, unless the viewer helped complete the experience with his or her own effort and creativity.
It gets even better. At least once during its inaugural season, the show invited viewers to a real-world event: some meeting referenced in an episode actually took place somewhere in Los Angeles, and viewers showed up to witness a straight-faced, play-acted gig, at which they found further clues that fed back into the Internet videos.
So the potential for subsequent seasons of Lonelygirl15 isn’t so much creative content for videos, as it is the broadening and extension of experiences into reality.
Imagine the show as less of a program, and more of an ongoing puzzle. What matters is both how people experience it, and what behaviors are a part of that experience.
It could involve a variety of communications tools – email, voicemail, mobile calls, billboards, whatever – as well as plot hints that have real-world corollaries (find a physical clue hidden on a train, or count the number of skyscrapers visible from so-and-so vantage point). Gigs in the real world…events, parties, you name it.
Think multiple plotlines, depending on which angle a viewer/user chooses to follow. We're talking media experience as quantum moment: your own conscious involvement completes the content, versus simply witnessing it.
And what you're doing is all around you, rendering moot the distinctions between real and virtual. The story here isn’t a newfangled technology to send messages to friends, but rather the concept of integration. Ubiquity of creative.
Lonelygirl15 isn’t creating this approach, but rather contributing to something called alternate reality gaming, or ARGs. The genre that has been around for a few years now. Entertainment companies use it to help market movies by burying hints in posters that the most-curious can follow to discover things. Some pure games, like the UK's Perplex City, got thousands of people to search for real-world clues in order to deliver the plot payoff.
As a marketer, this is really exciting stuff, not because games can be used to promote the next toothpaste or car launch. That's too easy.
Rather,the dynamic of consumer involvement in the game experience should suggest ways to get people involved in brands, instead of just engaging with marketing communications. ARGs don't promote brands: they are brands. It's a way to deliver consumer involvement, and perhaps purchase behavior and repeat loyalty, in ways that are far more compelling and lasting than the funniest branding ads.
So imagine a new product launch that itself is an ARG, not just using a game as a tactic that incorporates the brand imagery or colors. This is a rich area of exploration and experimentation for marketers, presuming we can kick our addiction to telling instead of doing.
And it might make reality the precedent-setting domain of Lonelygirl15's next season. We could probably learn something from following it.
Bree is dead. Perhaps her progeny will live on someplace near you. Really.