Sometimes you can mount the most thoroughly planned-out marketing campaign and it just doesn’t grab people. On the other hand, the best idea could be something people feel is really cool. Combining good planning and the cool factor can put you on the path to greatness. That was the case with A&E’s Freak Your Mind, a viral campaign touting season 3 of A&E’s Criss Angel Mindfreak, a series about the freaky illusionist/magician.

We could dwell on the planning, the grassroots e-mails, the theater presence, A&E’s on-camera bugs or an e-mail blast to 1,500 radio DJs in the top 200 markets. Of course we could gloss over all that and go straight to the cool (and freaky) bit. OK, let’s do.

Once users got to, they were asked to identify key attributes of a friend, including the friend’s name, phone number and e-mail address. A few minutes later the friend receives a standard-looking e-mail with a link to a video upload site playing a video of Criss Angel. But when the friend watches the video, Criss seems to be speaking directly to them. He asks the friend to watch him do a standard card trick, but when the trick is over, the cards spell out the friend’s name, then they reveal the friend’s phone number. Then the friend’s cell phone rings. It’s Criss! His personalized message directs the friend to The reaction of the friend is similar to how viewers react to Criss’ show: How did he do that? [Editor’s Note: A&E told us, but we swore not to squeal.]

Besides being cool, the campaign certainly was viral. In the three weeks leading up to the show’s premiere, 500,000 unique visitors created 700,000 video items. Better, the season premiere was the series’ best among adults 25-54 and 18-49, households and total viewers (2.7 million).

Fast Facts

  • Freak Your Mind was the first viral campaign to use personalized video and cell phone technology.

  • Some 200 Criss Angel fan communities were contacted by an external grassroots agency. Some of the top web masters identified by the company were personally "freaked" by A&E using the video, phone and card trick described above.

  • A&E sent the link to several e-mail lists, including A&E newsletter subs who’ve identified themselves as Criss Angel enthusiasts.


Honorable Mentions:

USA’s The 4400 Promicin Campaign — USA used a plot element — the fictional drug Promicin, which kills the user or gives him/her superhuman abilities — to excite viewers for season 4. It mounted pro- and anti-Promicin sites featuring 70-plus original Web videos and UGC.

ExpoTV/Charter Media Beat the Heat Contest — To help advertisers tap into user-generated content, Charter’s St. Louis subs were urged to produce videos about products that helped beat the heat; winners were posted online and on a Charter VOD channel.

WWE’s Virtual World Promotions with Gaia and Habbo — To expand the time wrestling fans spend with its brand, WWE dove into the virtual world. Within minutes of introducing three avatars, heavy traffic forced a new server to be added.

Are You WWE’s Biggest Fan? Video Contest — To tout its brand and Comcast’s Ziddio site, WWE urged enthusiasts to submit videos showing why they’re wrestling’s biggest fan. The 2K entries were viewed 1 million times at Ziddio.

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