[By Andrew Munday]

“Art is Resistance.”

That’s the name of the political movement whose rally you’re attending. You were instructed to come here by a voice on the other end of a cell phone you received from the back of a van outside a warehouse last week. That’s all you know.

Suddenly, your favourite band enters and begins to perform. And just as you begin to understand what’s happening, the concert is raided by a horde of armoured men.

Fans of the band Nine Inch Nails may recognize the preceding story as the alternate reality game used to market the album Year Zero.

To the uninitiated, alternate reality games (ARGs) are immersive games that invite participants to perform tasks within the real world, often using different media platforms to drive the games’ narratives.

Since 2001, marketing and PR companies have been utilizing this phenomenon to generate publicity and engage consumers, and the strategy has a number of benefits for brands looking to make their mark:

1) This type of campaign can engage even the most jaded of consumers. In response to the aforementioned Year Zero game, one fan stated, “It goes to show that you can get your word out about the art without being too commercial about it, flashing too many billboards.”

2) When audiences participate, they become fully immersed in the campaign. Take, for example, the “Why So Serious?” game in support of the film The Dark Knight, in which curious comics fans from around the globe were led on an elaborate scavenger hunt that included sky-writing and phones inside of birthday cakes.

3) They’re extremely memorable. Gamers have likely forgotten all of the TV ads for Halo 2, but many can tell you about the elaborate “I Love Bees” ARG that rewarded players with an invitation to try out the new video game.

ARGs engage audiences, build brand awareness and make lasting impressions. In short, they’re PR game changers.

(Photo by Andrew Munday)