Organic Facebook reach has become awfully tricky the past few years as the company has worked to better match users with relevant content. To get more than even a small percentage of followers to see page posts these days, brands generally have to pay for it, though there is at least one realm within the social network where the give-and-take remains unfettered by algorithms and other mysterious things that would digitally divide us: Facebook Messenger.
“People are still using social but moving away from writing on each other’s walls,” said Anna-Lucy Terry, director of audience development for the Mistress agency. “The WhatsApps and the Facebook Messengers are overtaking the social platforms, and the ways in which people share information and talk to brands.”
Mistress recently developed a Facebook Messenger campaign for Audience network’s new thriller Mr. Mercedes that shows what can be done with the technology: A chat-bot experience that uses artificial intelligence to let users talk one-on-one with the show’s sadistic serial killer, Brady. It’s a fun and unique way for a viewer to engage with the show, but even better, once that viewer is hooked, it’s a direct and unfettered way for the show to engage back.
“We’re looking at it as a creative piece but also as a marketing channel where we can push content that is guaranteed [to reach] the fans that have opted in,” Terry said.
Based on a novel by Stephen King (who is having some kind of year), Mr. Mercedes follows the cat-and-mouse game between the aforementioned murderer and a retired detective obsessed with bringing him down. The psychopath, Brady Hartsfield (Harry Treadaway), also happens to be a computer wiz and electronics store customer service agent who takes to the internet to digitally taunt Det. Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson). Yes — Mr. Mercedes is a commentary on the dangers of online trolling couched in a serial killer thriller, which makes it a perfect subject for a Messenger-centric marketing activation. “There’s synergy between the story and what a chat bot can do,” Terry said.
Most active internet users have communicated with chat bots at one time or another, as they frequently exist to assist customers in online banking, shopping, travel planning and many other industries. Mistress’ take on the material seems at first like just another one of those experiences. Speaking from the virtual helpdesk of his IT store, Supreme Electronics, Brady starts by running some diagnostics on your computer. He doesn’t find much, but he does find your profile picture, which sets him down a path of increasingly eerie personal questioning – should you choose to participate. Different responses to the questions trigger different pieces of content from Brady, including his calculation of how psycho you are, and a link to UnderDebbiesBlueUmbrella.com, another (fake) social network that was created when the Mr. Mercedes novel was released, and which has a nasty surprise for fans who are directed there by the bot.
“What you’ve basically opted in to is to be part of a new kind of news channel,” Terry said. “We can now send at any point a broadcast message through the chat bot, such as a trailer or a piece of news, or a piece of content that we want to get as much earned reach with as possible. And we can do that with push notifications.”
Push notifications—those little red tallies that pop up in the corner of every Facebook user’s account, or right on top of their phone screens. Unlike, say, a random post that just appears on your Facebook feed, a push notification creates a little burst of pure dopamine in your brain that makes it nearly impossible to resist. Content sent through push notifications has a lot of value in that it’s almost guaranteed to be clicked on, and it costs almost nothing to distribute and set up, with anyone who interacts with the bot for any length of time considered “opted in” to it.
Said interaction entails nothing more than clicking on the “Send Message” button on the Mr. Mercedes Facebook page. (In a clever touch, the page’s reply status is listed as “Very responsive to messages”.) Anyone who dares to click it and socially dance with Brady will thereafter receive a steady diet of Mr. Mercedes push notification gold, including weekly tune-in messaging, random episodic treats, and of course, more creepy content from the mind of an evil lunatic.
“That will always be the end goal,” Terry said. “To creep someone out.”