USA's 'The 4400' Gets Promicin Injection

  • by May 22, 2007
Promicin, a fictional drug that gives those who take it a 50/50 chance of either dying or gaining superhuman abilities, takes center stage in an unusual Web campaign promoting the fourth season of "The 4400," the sci-fi drama on USA Network.

The multimedia campaign for the show kicked off yesterday with three Web sites that aim to involve fans and hook new viewers to a series of videos that set up a faux national debate over the drug.

The "Battle for Promicin" campaign theme essentially picks up where the third season ended when lead character Jordan Collier distributed the unpredictable drug. The new campaign extends that theme, aiming to build buzz in preparation for the show's season four premiere on June 21.

Created by Campfire, the effort includes seven Web sites that will feature more than 70 videos illustrating both sides of the Promicin debate.

Three of those sites launched yesterday, including PromicinInfo.com, an informational hub on the "Battle for Promicin"; PromicinTerror.com, an anti-Promicin site; and PromicinPower.com, a pro-drug site, with the rest debuting over the next couple of weeks.

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Banner ads driving viewers to the sites will appear on dozens of blogs like CrooksandLiars and fan blogs, including those of shows with cult-like followings like NBC's "Heroes," ABC's "Lost," and Fox's "24".

USA will also run ads on major Web sites and networks including Yahoo, and plans wild postings in five cities promoting The4400.com with links to the Promicin sites, and additional live events in three cities. TV spots are also part of the mix.

A user-generated component devised by Campfire lets fans shoot, share and upload their own Promicin political campaign-style videos to YouTube. USA and Campfire anticipate plenty of wacky fan-created videos created to showcase Promicin-induced powers. "The campaign was designed to be a very specific part of the 4400 franchise, it's like entertainment within that [4400] world," said Gregg Hale, creative director, Campfire.

Shooting 78 videos ranging from 20 seconds to 5 minutes in length over a two-month period, was a challenge. "This is the largest amount of videos that we've done and it's certainly the most direct outreach to people that we've come up with so far. I think this is one of the biggest online extensions of a TV franchise that's ever been done," Hale said.

While "The 4400" was the most-watched new series at the conclusion of its first season, promoting a series that's headed into its fourth season isn't a no-brainer, so USA needed a radical idea.

The network hopes the idiosyncratic effort will re-energize the show's fan base while also wrangling new viewers to the franchise.

USA's goal with the "us" vs. "them" battle over Promicin "is to dimensionalize it and put the audience right in the middle of the conversation," said Chris McCumber, senior vice president, marketing and brand strategy, USA Network. "It's a very easy and understandable way into the season ... It sets up a very clear and provocative conflict."

The mock videos appear earnest and convincing. In a pro-Promicin video, people tell the camera they took the drug to promote world peace, because they care about their children and their children's children, among other aspirational ideas.

"Daisy," inspired by the iconic 1964 LBJ/Goldwater presidential campaign spot for which ironically, many of "The 4400's" younger viewers have no reference point, a little girl tears off daisy petals one at a time as a voiceover intones: "Tell your elected officials to ban Promicin ... The stakes are too high for you to stay quiet."

In "Disappearing Wife," a testimonial-style video, a character named Roberta McGovern from Dayton, Ohio says she took the drug and far from dying, now possesses powers that give the ability to disappear.

"We really wanted to create this viral conversation that puts viewers into the central theme of the show," McCumber said.

A teaser video for the campaign lives on The4400.com and will serve as the gateway for the campaign's launch.

Campfire began seeding buzz for the new season a few months ago by creating opt-in e-mails and other forms of communication with hardcore fans.

PromicinDance.com, debuting in coming weeks, will feature a show character whose Promicin trip enables him to unlock the "inner dancer" in people; a live event is planned based on the character.

Viewer feedback and research found that fans wanted lighter moments on the show. PromicinPassion.com is likely to highlight a character with special sexual powers, Hale hinted.

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