What Scientology ads might look like
Campaign: Limitless – The Clear Pill
Client: Momentum Pictures; Relativity Media
Agencies: M2M, Thinkmodo, etc
On the tube last week, I saw what is almost one of the best ads of recent years.
My first thought was almost, “That’s nice – Scientology is advertising.”
I don’t think I would have been stupid to think so. The man in the ad is dressed in the same management-mannequin style as favoured by Tommy Davis, the chief spokesperson for Scientology. “Clear” is a term given to Scientology recruits who pay for enough courses to rid them of all their bad-vibe memory aliens. And like the guy in the ad, lots of celebrities you sort of know – like the woman from Jag, the Human Beat Box and most of the cast of That 70s Show – are Scientologists.
In fact, I almost thought, it’s surprising Scientology hasn’t advertised before. You’d think it would be a natural medium for them to spread the Word. (Not the absolutely libellous and untrue Word about how great it is to play psychotic games of musical chairs at an internment facility called Gold Base in the American desert. No, the one about how great it is to sign 1-billion-year contracts to work for minimum wage painting all the individual sprockets in Tom Cruise’s motorcycles by hand. That Word.)
Unfortunately, I didn’t think these things. What I thought instead was, “That’s a pretty convincing ad for Limitless, the new film, starring that guy.” (Come on. How do you forget a name like Bradley Cooper?)
Which is a shame. Because, though it’s not the first film ad to ‘mimic’ the movie’s reality, it’s a step up.
District 9 was the pioneer here. You remember.
As “realistic” as these ads were, though, nobody was going to mistake them for real warning signs. We don’t have prawn aliens living among us. (Scientologists, I heartily encourage you to exercise your religious right to disagree in the comments box below.)
The Limitless campaign ups the ante by mimicking something we DO have: crappily designed vitamin supplement billboards. Like those Vitabiotics ads in London.
This man is well.
In the Limitless campaign – in fact, in all similar mimicry campaigns – the sense of realism is increased when juxtaposed with naturally occuring elements, such as a random dude sleeping one off:
The agency then supplemented the Tube ads by sending NZT information packages to film critics, addressed by name. They also launched a pharmaceutical-style website, cleverly (and addictively) centered around a brain-power quiz designed to show how NZT can help you.
And as a smart adjunct, they uploaded to YouTube a now well-known video of a man apparently projecting his image from a rigged iPhone on to the giant video screens in Times Square, a brainwave he attributes to the brainwave-amplifying effects of NZT.
The video “earned”, as they say, a couple million views, and was outed as a hoax about as rapidly as was last year’s Liquid Mountaineering video for the Hi-Tec outdoor equipment firm. Which is to say, it took months, and lots of people still believe it could like, totally be true.
(Incidentally, the Times Square hack wasn’t as fake as most people thought: Thinkmodo, the company who made it, say they paid to have the clip run on the screens, just like any other advertiser.)
But as successful as all this earning and hoaxing and Scientology-referencing is, the whole campaign was undone by one simple thing.
Come on, you scared little bitches. TRICK US. Don’t run a bunch of fair to moderately convincing viral fauxvertising and then blow it all with huge billboards that give the game away. How are we supposed to get creeped out by Clear Pills in March when we saw the trailer IN DECEMBER?
It’s like trying to convince your boss you’re sick in the afternoon when you’ve spent the whole morning freebasing at your desk.
There’s probably a name for the transition point when an ad campaign has to stop tricking you and actually inform you of the existence of a new product. But with all the new “creative communication agencies” falling over each other to claim that traditional advertising is so 2006 and it’s all about new collaborations and hybrid interactions and making future magic, it’s a shame they still let traditional strategies – “put movie star face on bus” – sink all their freaky forward-thinky ideas.
I propose the following: a campaign that never reveals its product. It can faithfully reproduce a bad film’s fictional reality by using insecurity quizzes and books and films and a multi-level induction process that encourages viewer loyalty by promising an ultimate spiritual payoff that is forever deferred. I call it Scientology.