In order to create buzz for the fourth season, in late 2007 the LOST creative released a series of viral advertisements for Oceanic Airlines, the fictional airline that appears in the show. The first part of the campaign involved issuing a press release stating that Oceanic has decided to reopen despite the fictional the crash of Flight 815 three years prior.
Below is a copy of the press release for downloading.
Oceanic Press Release
As you can see, the press release looks official and does not once mention LOST, ABC, or any of their affiliates. The purpose of this press release is to attract the attention of serious news outlets, only to eventually have them realize that Oceanic Airlines does not actually exist. Ultimately this press release will lead its audience back to the television show, whether the audience knows from prior knowledge that Oceanic is a Hollywood construct or whether they do research on the “company” and then find out the press release is actually a stunt by the LOST creative team. Either way, the press release draws attention to the show in the hopes of gathering more viewers and thus more commercial watchers and consumers.
The press release was only the first part of this advertising campaign. The next involved billboards along interstates in the nine cities listed in the press release. These cities have all been mentioned in the show itself and are listed below:
- Los Angeles, CA
- Tustin, CA
- Ames, IA
- Miami, FL
- New York, NY
- Portland, OR
- Knoxville, TN
- Seoul, South Korea
- Sydney, Australia
The highway billboard campaign was two-fold. First, the creative team released the original billboards, which featured pretty, pleasant, smiling female flight attendants in front of beautiful landscapes. The Oceanic logo and catch phrase “Taking you places you never imagined!” are also prominently displayed. This is the billboard that was placed in Portland, Oregon and advertises flights to Seoul, South Korea.
These billboards are not primarily marketed to fans of the show. Rather, like the press release, the billboards look real, authentic. People who have not necessarily even heard of LOST or Oceanic are expected to be drawn to the billboards and, if they’re flyers, to checking out this “new” airline that they had not heard of previously. Even casual fans may miss out on the connection between the advertisement for Oceanic and LOST. Obviously the major fans will identify the billboards as part of the LOST Experience, but even moderate fans should be able to see the relationship because of the Oceanic logo, which has become a huge LOST icon.
After these billboards were up for a few weeks, the creative team launched the second part of the billboard campaign. Now over the once pristine billboards was the website “find815.com” scrawled in a black graffiti-esque font.
Below is a picture of the Oceanic billboard in Knoxville, Tennessee, post-graffiti.
With the graffiti, the billboards took on a more subversive tone. Whereas before the intended audience was either families or professionals – those who take vacations or travel frequently for business – the intended audience then became a younger, hipper crowd, those who are likely to rebel against or disregard the status quo.
As with the press release, the billboards were meant to spark curiosity and ultimately attract more viewers the show. And a bigger viewing audience means a bigger consumer audience, which in turn means more advertisers wanting to spend money to showcase their products during the program.
The final part of the Oceanic Airlines advertising campaign thus far is a television commercial similar to the Hanso Foundation commercials during seasons two and three. However, instead of airing during a regular break during LOST, the Oceanic commercial aired during the television show Eli Stone, which is a new program that runs after LOST. Also unlike the Hanso commercials, the Oceanic commercial more boldly displays that it was paid for by ABC, and, well, you’ll have to watch it to see how else it’s different.
Aside from the text about ABC sponsoring the ad, the commercial seems authentic at first. It features the same attractive smiling flight attendants in beautiful landscapes from the billboards. Soon though, a scruffy, disheveled man breaks through the feed and says, “You can’t trust these people. Oceanic Flight 815 – we found it.” Similar to the billboards, the commercial at first attempts to legitimately attract consumers to its “product” but then subverts itself by having the man mysteriously break through the transmission with his cryptic message.
LOST fans and most television watchers in general would undoubtedly recognize Flight 815 if they hadn’t already recognized Oceanic itself, so the main purpose of the ad is to generate more excitement for the series and also to send fans to the websites flyoceanicair.com and find815.com. For those who had no idea what the commercial was about, the intended effect is to incite enough curiosity to lead them to at least the websites if not eventually to the show itself. The websites are also marketing tools, which leads us into the next section specifically about the plethora of LOST shell sites online.