Although it has real-life applications, in PR circles, it's a buzz-phrase: word of mouth. Because a corporation, like, say, NBC, can bombard you with all the advertising it wants -- but what if it can actually make friends with you? Isn't that more effective? And then, what if it can get you to tell your friends how much you like it? How effective is that? In terms of sheer impact, probably no series ever used new and social media to that end better than ABC's Lost -- and it was clear at the special preview screening of the upcoming series The Event last night that, both in concept and marketing, NBC is looking to capitalize on that success.
Because the trick to effectively using social media is to make everything seem like a favor instead of a PR push, the PR people who threw the event couldn't be quoted and spoke in oblique, jargony terms I couldn't quite understand. But the gist is basically this: The PR folks used Facebook, Twitter and a "text-blast" campaign to get people to enter to win passes to the screening -- so there's the first part, is that seeing the show is "winning" -- and then gave people free popcorn, sodas and merchandise-themed T-shirts while they were there. They also filmed a promo that'll run on 9news, the local NBC affiliate, today.
The most effective thing I saw, though, was when the PR people corralled people after the show to talk about it, instead of just encouraging them to say positive things about the show, they tried to engage them in actual dialog, a give-and-take conversation. The idea is, then people go home and keep talking about it. Whether that conversation ends up being negative or positive, it amounts to promotion on a personal level, which is really the best PR money can't buy.
So let's talk about it: As far as the actual show, it's pretty good. For most of the pilot, it came off a lot like 24 -- there was even a black president (which, okay, isn't as surprising now that there's an actual black president), and The Event upped the ante by making him extra ethnic, from Cuba, which lent itself to some obvious allusions toward Barack Obama and the real-life saga of Guantanamo bay.
Also like 24, The Event at its best with the kind of tense, dramatic scenes that propelled 24 so relentlessly forward, and less effective when the action calms down for a few moments of character development. Like all truly plot-driven shows, the characters in this one are basically only as important as their functions within the plot, which makes them kind of hard to care about -- although I will say that Laura Innes's performance as some kind of shadowy cult-leader figure, with her constant, disconcerting tight-lipped smirk, was pretty creepy.
It wasn't until the end of the hour when the influence of Lost became truly clear -- and to detail exactly how would be giving it away, but suffice it to say that shit gets weird.
It's ultimately a pretty basic thriller, and if it currently lacks the intellectual ambition that made Lost so compelling, it certainly has the potential to get there if viewers care enough to stick with it. That'll be for the ratings-gods to decide, but for now, at least they got the conversation going.
The Event premiers Monday, September 20 at 9 p.m., 8 p.m. central on NBC.
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