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Alien vs. Predator: Who will win?

Project type:
Movie promotion
In support of:
Alien vs. Predator (20th Century Fox)
Summer 2004
The site for Alien vs. Predator is not a particularly immersive site; if anything, it's a pretty traditional press kit site. There's a bit of theming built around the corporation that ultimately finds the Aliens and the Predators who fight it out in the movie, but this doesn't go much beyond than the movie that introduces the Flash version of the site. Once you're there, there's the usual collection of plot synopsis, cast and crew interviews, downloads, and so on. You can choose an "alien" and a "predator" view of the site, but there's really rather little difference between them.

I should whine a bit about the organization of the information -- for instance, the Cast and crew section, which most sites would use as a launching page for short descriptions of the individual cast and crew members, is simply a list of the people and their roles in the movie. The details you'd expect to find here are instead buried in a remarkably long production notes document. Reasonable information is there, should you choose to wade through the entire thing. But whatever.

There are two reasons I'm bothering to mention Alien vs. Predator at all. The first is the movie's use of SMS messaging: by registering with the site via your cell phone, you can (quoting the site)...
  • Test your knowledge of the classic Alien and Predator franchises
  • Cast your vote to predict who'll win the epic battle
  • Get privileged insider info to LOOK 4 while watching AVP
  • Play the DID UC Challenge after viewing the film
  • Access showtimes and ticket info
  • Receive instant promotional updates
The first round of these games is meant to test your knowledge of the movie itself, as in the following sequences of SMS messages:

AVP:Welcome to AVP Mobile. Coming soon: Sneak Peak Trivia, Polls, Wallpaper, and Tones! If U want msgs 2 stop, reply with AVP

     time passes...

AVP:Seen AVP yet? You may have watched it, but did ya really see it? Text DUC to test your attention to detail.

     I reply with "DUC"

AVP: Did UC how deep the ice shaft to the pyramid was estimated t be (in feet)? Reply with a, b, c or d. Reply: A. 1000 B. 2000 C. 3000 D. 4000

     I reply with "A"

Right! Did UC the name of the ship the humans take to the pyramid? Reply: A. M41A B. Derelict C. Bugstomper 2 D. Piper Maru

     I reply; several more exchanges follow...

AVP:57% Correct. Not bad, you must have only been half asleep while watching the movie.

So: It was kinda fun, although my participation was hampered by the fact that I hadn't actually seen the movie. Strictly speaking, there's no reason to play this game unless you've already seen the movie (ignoring people like me, who are doing it for purely scientific purposes...). However, it does get little bits of non-spoiler information out -- people are traveling to a pyramid that's been found at the bottom of a very deep ice shaft, etc. -- so perhaps there's a bit of "pre-sales" marketing value there. I can imagine a group of kids huddled around a cell phone arguing about how to respond to the questions, but the argument won't go very far since you don't get told the right answer to a question that you get wrong -- all you get is "Right!" or "Wrong!".

In any case, I'd love to know what level of participation the movie is getting for these interactions; so far, I haven't seen the kinds of clues about numbers that show up in some other events (like the Manchurian Candidate voice recognition game). But it certainly ties into the cell phone focus of its target audience, and, since the players themselves pay for the delivery of the messages, it doesn't cost the studio much.

The other, more visible, part of the campaign is the vote they're holding to let you choose who you think will win the battle. Voting can be done on the website or via the SMS service, and the results of your vote are shown instantly on the web. Currently -- on the Monday after the movie's release -- the site indicates that over 4.5 million people have bothered to come to the site and cast their vote. By my rough estimate, votes are still coming in at a rate of about 500 per hour, which is pretty impressive considering that the movie is already out and, of course, you have to know that, thinking purely logically for a minute, there's no point in casting a vote (especially now!), since the votes obviously aren't going to have any effect on the movie's outcome.

I'm mentioning this mostly because of the numbers, and the limited expense of collecting them. We may be comparing apples and oranges here, but the Alien vs. Predator folks would seem to be getting a lot more bang for their buck than did the creators of the Manchurian Candidate game. Did the extended and more intensive interaction of the latter pay off in ways that we're not seeing in the simple numbers? Is someone out there saying that maybe we shouldn't trust these numbers too much? (What? You'd question the word of a movie industry press agent???) Right now, it's hard to say....

Update, 25 August 2004: Just a brief comment: The AvP folks deserve some credit for making the most of the cell phone connection. I received a message last Friday (the second week of release) reminding me that the movie was out, and today I got a second message that started off a sequence of survey questions about the campaign -- which feature I liked best, whether I actually saw the movie, if I thought the mobile campaign had an effect on my seeing the movie, and so on. Wow -- a real attempt to collect real data on the effectiveness of the campaign! Imagine that...

There's no evidence that I was targeted in any particular way (in a marketing segmentation sense, that is), but the direct company-customer link that's possible through cell phones opens up all sorts of survey and analysis possibilities. Nice to see somebody exploring these possibilities.

Update, 30 October 2004: I happened to go back to the AvP site today, and took a minute to check on the "who will win" part of the site. It's currently Alien: 2,984,259, Predator: 2,714,752. That means it's picked up about another million votes in the 2 1/2 months since I wrote this original article. That works out to about the same rate of 500 votes per hour that we saw when the movie was in its peak release period, and the traffic for this site has to be less by now. I don't know, but I think I smell a database script here...