This unusual book marketing campaign, from author Jeff Sweat - who is also the founder of advertising PR agency Mister Sweat - and his novel Mayfly sees a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles come to life in VR and audio signals.
Called 'Mayfly Quest', the campaign explores new ways of telling stories and is intended to span the gap between Mayfly and its sequel, Scorpion. It decodes LA (now known as Ell Aye) 100 years from now, long after a mysterious plague called the End has wiped out all adults and continues to kill kids before they reach the age of 17.
It expands upon traditional online scavenger hunts by hacking Google Maps with 360-degree VR images of LA landmarks that have been 'apocalypsized' and populated with clues to the cause of the End. Clues - which appeared on on Twitter @projectlonglife and on Instagram @jeffsweatbooks - could be redeemed at mayflybook.com for swag and bonus content like deleted scenes and short stories.
Mayfly Quest is unusual for book publishing, which rarely mounts the kind of campaigns that marketers do for entertainment and brands. Most of it is focused on getting books into the hands of people who weren't already fans. For Mayfly, Jeff wanted to reach people who didn't know they should be fans - and to do so, the crew at Mister Sweat drew heavily on Jeff’s own advertising and PR expertise, as well as his connections in the ad business.
He gave the full story to LBB's Addison Capper.
LBB> Tell us about Mayfly! What's the premise and what was your inspiration for the story?
Jeff> Mayfly is the tale of a dystopian future where no one lives past the age of 17 and children have had to become the adults. Think of it as Lord of the Flies meets Mad Max. It follows the main character, Jemma, as she is forced to leave the tribe she grew up with in search of answers to what’s causing everyone to die.
I’ve always been obsessed with the end of the world. I grew up in the ‘80s during the Cold War, and it wasn’t a question if the world would end, but when. As a reader and an author, I started looking for fascinating ‘whys’ - why would the world end, and how would we survive it?
Then I read a study that said that humanity had two major population booms: when we developed agriculture, and when we became old enough to have grandparents, at about age 30. Having ‘old’ people around meant a memory to find food and water and avoid danger. It meant calmer heads to avoid war. So I asked myself: what would happen to the world if no one ever got old? We might survive, but civilisation as we know it would cease to exist. And I knew that was the story I had to write.
LBB> The campaign acts as a bridge between Mayfly and its sequel, right? Why did you decide on that approach and how have you framed it so?
Jeff> After the release of Mayfly in May 2018 I realised that traditional book marketing tends to work best as a form of word of mouth for people who already love books. So I wanted to figure out how to reach someone who would be a fan, but doesn’t know it yet. Timing wise, the Quest took several months to build and that solidified the decision to time it closer to the launch of my second book, Scorpion.
LBB> What was your starting point when developing the campaign? Was it always your intention to leverage VR and hack Google Maps?
Jeff> It actually started with these ‘apocalypsized’ VR images - this idea that you could stumble upon an image of an LA icon and see it through totally different eyes, the way it might appear a hundred years from now. Then we realised we could build a quest around it, connecting the book to the landmarks mentioned in the story.
LBB> Tell us a bit more about how the campaign played out and how you got people involved.
Jeff> We promoted the campaign across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram both organically and through paid media. The paid campaign outperformed all original goals with a video completion rate of 74%, above the original 21% goal, and over delivered impressions by 18%.
LBB> This is pretty unusual for a book marketing campaign - why did you want to do something that bucked the trend? And how is it different from more typical campaigns?
Jeff> There’s a lot of competition for readers, both on the page and off. My own kids have seriously cut back on reading, which is mortifying. So I wanted something that would help me stand out - but that would also engage people on the devices and apps they love. I also realised that this is my first and best chance to succeed as an author, so I wanted to put every resource I had into that shot. I was fortunate that my day job is in advertising and marketing, and that I had a lot of favours I could call in.
LBB> Why do you think book campaigns usually follow such a typical pattern?
Jeff> A huge part of it is budget - the type of campaign we did would be impossible for most books. Because of that, publishers don’t typically tap into the kind of marketing that a brand or an entertainment property would try.
LBB> In the release - and you mentioned this briefly earlier - you say that you "wanted to reach people who didn’t know they should be fans" - what do you mean by that and how did you pull it off?
Jeff> There is a dedicated core of YA post-apocalyptic fans, and they’ll usually find a book like mine through the usual channels. But the books that have broken wide, like Hunger Games or Harry Potter, drew in people who normally wouldn’t consider those genres. I wanted to reach the crossovers, people who just want a thought-provoking novel in a fascinating world. So when we launched Mayfly Quest, we targeted sci-fi and comics fans, as well as Angelenos. And we saw great responses from them.
LBB> What kind of reaction did you see to the campaign?
Jeff> Some people in LA thought the emergency broadcasts were real! I got called Orson Welles by one commenter on Instagram, and there was a whole thread of people who believed a real-life plague that killed adults was being spread through flea bites.
LBB> What were the trickiest components and how did you overcome them?
Jeff> There were so many moving parts to the quest between writing the clues, creating the VR images, recording radio signals, making snapchat filters, and putting together physical promotional bags that we sent out to bookstores and libraries. The biggest challenge was figuring out how to piece it all together so it was just the right amount of challenging and engaging to both existing fans and new ones.
LBB> How did you personally find the experience of working on a campaign for your own book? You were your own client!
Jeff> Oh, man - it gave me newfound respect for both clients and agencies. As a client, I was constantly second-guessing myself. And as an agency, with every milestone we hit, we realised there was some piece we hadn’t thought of yet.
LBB> Any parting thoughts?
Jeff> I’ve promoted all sorts of work over the years, but this was the hardest for me. It’s tough to put yourself out there when it’s your own brand. But I decided that if I couldn’t invest in myself, who else will?
Agency - Mister Sweat
Client - Mister Sweat
Founder - Jeff Sweat
Account director - Laura Nicolas
Copywriter and strategist - Joy Allen
Photographer - Jeff Sweat
Social content specialist - Jadrian Thomas
Project management - Matthew Rodriguez
Account coordinator - Lauren Van Delden
Experiential Activation Agency - Boom Howdy
Creative Director - Tim Canton
Technical Director - CK Hicks
VR Image Creation
VR Matte Painting Artist - Justin Hemsley
VR Matte Painting Artist - Suzi Hemsley
Media Strategy - North
Media Strategy Director - Caroline Desmond
Performance Marketing Manager - Devon Brown