Welcome to Our Analysis of The LOST Experience!

April 13, 2008

The television show LOST is in the midst of its fourth season. The show chronicles the lives of the survivors of downed Flight 815 and their experiences on an island in the South Pacific. What is especially significant about LOST is its advertising style, which the creative team named “The LOST Experience.” Instead of solely using commercials to advertise upcoming shows or using online websites and highway billboards to directly market the show, the LOST creative team uses fictional companies and characters in a real world setting to sell the show and its sponsoring products. For example, the creative team casts two major fictional companies within the program, The Hanso Foundation and Oceanic Airlines, as real-life companies; thus, these companies have their own seemingly authentic websites, commercials, and highway billboards. The creative team even writes and distributes press releases for the fictional Oceanic Airlines!

The aim of our project is to highlight the different strategies that ABC uses via The LOST Experience in order to gather a bigger audience for the show and ultimately to make more money. For more information on the history of the LOST Experience, please visit Lostpedia. This site was our primary resource for the project. The other websites and media we used are linked in the text. To view and understand how specific images and media associated with The LOST Experience work, continue reading below!

*Please note that the images and videos in this photo essay are not our own. They belong to ABC, Disney, and their affiliates.


Hanso Foundation Commercials

April 13, 2008

In May of 2006 during the show’s second season, the creative team released a series of television commercials for the fictional Hanso Foundation. These commercials aired during the show’s actual commercial breaks and ended with phone numbers and web addresses to inspire further research. At this point during the series, the Hanso Foundation played a relatively minor role, and more casual fans of the show were unlikely to catch that the Hanso commercial was a reference to LOST, nor might have even seen the commercial to begin with. In order to remedy this, the creative team made the commercial especially ambiguous; the commercial never states what Hanso is or does. The advertising principle the creators use is intrigue: the ad includes words like “curious,” “imagining,” and “possible” in conjunction with images of clouds, spaceships, and the DNA double helix, in order to captivate the audience and lead them to believe that Hanso inspires greatness. This way, even those who wouldn’t automatically associate the commercial and the television show would still want to find out what exactly the commercial was about. Furthermore, the originate airdate of the first commercial created so much buzz among fans that people who potentially missed it the first time – along with those who had already seen it – purposefully set aside time to watch the commercial breaks in the hopes of catching another LOST-related commercial.

This is the original Hanso Foundation commercial.

The number that is listed at the end of the commercial, 1-877-HANSORG, is no longer in service. However, immediately following the original broadcast, the circuits were so busy that it took some fans dozens of tries to get through. Once the recording actually picked up, it gave several options, including general information and extensions for various characters associated with the foundation, including Alvar Hanso himself. Of course, the extensions go directly to each character’s voicemail boxes instead of to the characters themselves. Much of the recording is in different languages, but during the hold music for Thomas Mittlewerk, the vocalist mentions “lemon line” and “lymon” specifically. These are indirect references to Sprite’s Sublymonal advertising campaign, and as seen a few weeks later in another Hanso Foundation commercial, the lyrics in this song are no coincidence. Sprite unofficially launched its Sublymonal campaign via the Hanso Foundation commercials.

Listen to one user’s experiences with the different options on the Hanso Foundation hotline.

The Hanso Foundation commercials continued through season two and resumed again after the hiatus in season three. After the original inclusion of the Hanso Foundation’s hotline number at the end of the ad, the succeeding commercials all listed websites as well. These websites, such as letyourcompassguideyou.com, sublymonal.com, and hansocareers.com, all seem a little mysterious and potentially LOST-related upon first glance. However, the now defunct letyourcompassguideyou.com was actually a Jeep website advertising the new Jeep Compass. Likewise, sublymonal.com automatically redirects you to the Sprite website, and hansocareers.com is simply a shell site for monster.com, a classified site for finding jobs.

The purpose behind these commercials is to first and foremost intrigue the viewers so much that they cannot resist going to these websites in order to research the Hanso Foundation. Furthermore, for the serious fans, these websites were a potential source for solving some of the major secrets on the show. After all, the creative team is known for placing easter eggs in various places on the internet as well as in the DVD sets, and these craftily hidden extras give away more knowledge about the show than can be gathered from just watching the episodes. The creative team behind the commercials knows their audience. The hardcore fans will go through any means necessary to find out more about the show’s mysteries, and even the casual fans are easily intrigued and thus will let their curiosity get the better of them and check out the websites. They will then be exposed to the sponsoring companies’ products, which is of course the ultimate goal.

The Bad Twin Manuscript

April 13, 2008

In the second season episode “The Long Con” (2×13), Hurley, one of the main characters, is seen reading a manuscript entitled Bad Twin. Later that season in “Two for the Road” (2×20), Sawyer, another one of the main characters, also reads this manuscript written by Gary Troup.

In May of 2006, the LOST creative team took this seeming insignificant part of the series and elevated it to high importance by releasing a book by the same name. The mystery novel by the fictional Gary Troup was ghostwritten by Laurence Shames is set in the LOST universe. Bad Twin contains references to the Hanso Foundation and Thomas Mittlewerk, as well as to the Widmore Corporation and Paik Industries, which are fictional companies owned by the fathers of prominent characters in the series. Despite the book’s mediocre writing, it soon appeared on multiple bestseller lists, including debuting at number fourteen on The New York Times Bestseller’s List.

The marketing here is rather simple. Just like the Hanso Foundation commercials, Bad Twin caters to two different segments of the population. First and foremost, the book is enticing to major fans, who feel compelled to do as much research as possible about the show in order to uncover more of the island’s secrets. Moreover, ABC hopes that the book will appeal to general mystery fans who also may be casual viewers of the show. Based upon the large number of books sold even in the first week, ABC’s marketing strategy worked perfectly; they’ve made money directly from fan purchases when the show wasn’t even airing instead of from the usual advertising spots during the season. Finally, because the book was written by a fictional author, ABC doesn’t have to pay extravagant royalties to a well-known writer; the ghostwriter is unknown and thus doesn’t merit a large salary.

Oceanic Airlines Ad Campaign

April 13, 2008

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.

Oceanic Airlines Website

April 13, 2008

Oceanic Airlines Website

Upon a first glance it is easy to see that this site was left in disrepair after the pre-fourth season “Lost Experience” craze blew over. The announcements section has text overlaying in an obviously sloppy manner showing that the site has not seen an update since the original air date of the Season Four premiere. Aside from the text issue the site looks rather authentic until exploration.

The makers of this website built it with irony pertaining to the show in mind. One may attempt to book a flight, but there is no way to return. That is irony that is easily understood if they watched LOST. All of the flights have been canceled for quite some time and it seems as though the airlines will never reopen, but the site still exist like the remnants of an evolving trend tossed aside as newer fads enter the mix.

The website advertised on the Oceanic billboards, flyoceanicair.com, at one point automatically directed users to this site as well. However, now the flyoceanicair address redirects to the find815.com website that was scribbled across the billboards in graffiti.

The majority of the links on the Oceanic Airlines site no longer work; most will figure out quickly that something is amiss. The “Terms of Use” and “Privacy Statement” link to the Disney website, which ABC who airs LOST is in collaboration with. The website is copyrighted by Touchstone Television in 2005.

The Hanso Foundation Website

April 13, 2008

The Hanso Foundation Website

The Hanso Foundation website is a Flash site that seems to do very little. There are no links within this page, just a letter from the fictitious Alvar Hanso. The Hanso Foundation seems authentic since there are no links which would cause one’s belief about the validity of the site to waver. Alvar Hanso’s letter thanks his daughter Rachel Blake for her efforts. A peculiarity between this site and another Hanso-related site, hansoexposed.com, is that Rachel Blake is the supposed creator of the Hanso Exposed site, which is fully against the vile creations and actions of the Hanso Foundation as well as her father Alvar Hanso. This is similar to the subversive advertising as seen on the Oceanic Billboards. Alvar Hanso ends with “Namaste,” which means “I bow to you” in Hindu.

While the Hanso Foundation commercials were regularly airing, this site was famous in the LOST community for being a repository of LOST secrets. The creative team regularly updated the site with easter eggs and messages from the fictional Hanso Foundation and its critics. Towards the end of the third season, however, the Hanso Foundation slipped into the background in favor of focusing more on the Oceanic Airlines advertising campaign.

Hanso Exposed Website

April 13, 2008

Hanso Exposed Website

Appearing much like a game, the Hanso Exposed website lures visitors in with its futuristic Flash introductions. After giving away an email address and a password, the site allows the user to freely navigate the no longer working site. After logging in, the user is brought to the a page where they may enter in codes to uncover the supposed wrongs of the mysterious Hanso Corporation. There is a problem. There are no links to getting started and no help to provide users a means of recovering codes. The instructions ask the user to find glyphs which can be obtained for codes, but there is still no assistance from the website as to how to find any glyphs. The “questions” section to the right of the login section appears authentic as it provides a sort of FAQ and definitions area for those who may not be up to speed on the lingo or scenarios which unfolded during LOST. This is a great attempt to drag those ignorant of LOST into the loop.

Like the graffiti on the Oceanic Billboards, this site appeals to a younger more subversive audience. The purpose of the website appears to be to unmask the evils of the Hanso Foundation, which is part of a large conglomerate of corporations such as the Widmore Corp. and Paik Industries, and more rebellious, truth-seeking fans and potential fans can relate to bringing down large organizations who abuse their power. The irony of this is that LOST and this site are owned by ABC and Disney, one of the largest corporation blocks in America, and the website attempts to solicit e-mail addresses for profit. Moreover, this site is supported by even more corporations, as evident by links to the Sprite, Jeep, Monster.com, and Verizon websites.