HBO The Pacific: 8 Emmy’s but No Promo
Back in the fall of 2009 we we’re approached by HBO to create an online experience to promote their upcoming mini-series, The Pacific. The series followed a group of soldiers through the Pacific campaign during World War II and was backed by big names like Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman. Following up on the massive success of the 2001 mini-series, Band of Brothers, The Pacific was a huge property to be able to dig our mitts into. We all were excited to get started, but certain unforeseen events never made it see the light of day until now.
So where do we start? Well we knew that the past series, Band of Brothers, was a very real and gritty depiction of WWII. We knew with the same people along for the ride, The Pacific, would be no different. We wanted this promotion to keep all those elements and check by playing down the promotional elements and bring focus on to what those soldiers had to go through and essentially give thanks. So let’s dive straight in to brainstorming ideas.
Episodic Path Using Google Maps
This concept was based on better connecting the actual events and the time line of the series. We’d use google maps to trace out the path of each episode – plotting points of key events in the series as well as additional key moments, during the war. Users could comment on certain locations, telling the world which parts of the series made the greatest impact on their viewing experience.
Feedback: The mapping system was intriguing but lost some of the emotional impact we we’re all trying to keep connected with the real life events.
Episodic Timeline with User Submitted Soldiers
Staying with the episodic direction, this concept moved into creating a virtual memorial wall adjacent to the timeline of the show. Each week a path would move from different locations throughout the pacific region highlighting important events, battles, and deaths during the show. Living on the same timeline users would be able to learn more about the actual soldiers in the war that could pull real historical content from ancestry.com.
Feedback: The virtual memorial seemed to be the best fit for the mini-series. It was an easy and effective way for anyone to give their thanks and learn more about the horrible time in our nation’s past.
Integration with SHOAH Foundation
The site would allow users to link soldier together by platoon, enlistment/deployment locations, and other historical content brought in by ancestry.com.
Feedback: Although the idea was down a smart path, the time frame we had to execute would cause for a large scale back on features, which we did not want to happen.
So now that the initial concepts were pitched, HBO and Nomadic agreed that the virtual memorial was best suited to complement the series. We all said great, and I started down the path of redefining what this wall should be. The initial pitch was based around an episodic time line with user placed location-based pins. Unfortunately, after researching deeper and through ancestry.com we found out not very many people would know exactly where their known soldier died, but most likely only that they fought in the pacific. This would certainly pose a problem if we wanted to create an informational memorial wall online.
Back to the drawing board
The concept of the memorial was certainly the best direction but we had to create a way to bring down the level of user submission dependence. We changed the wall into a U.S. map where anyone could give thanks and not just the ones who knew a soldier during the war. Users now would be able to give a short thanks and appreciation towards all vets and if they knew a soldier we would link their thanks directly to that soldier. The U.S. map would update in real time as the thanks appeared in the user’s location. Tying the map back to the series, we put pinpoints where the series soldiers’ home towns where users would get more information on each character.
The final Design:
Everyone Fall Back!
Now that the site design was finished and moving into development, both HBO Promotional team and Nomadic were feeling the site was going to be a great success. We were ready to give viewers of the show and others a centralized location to give thanks to the brave vets that fought for use in WWII. But right before we moved into QA and testing we received a startling call from HBO. The promotion site was to be no more.
It was quite the shock to us internally since we had already spent around 6 weeks researching and designing a great site that served a notable purpose. And with only 3 weeks to the site’s launch we were almost through development. Apparently the reasoning behind the call of was one of the executive producers, Gary Goetzman, felt the mini-series did not need or should have a promotional site attached to it. Goetzman’s feeling was that a promotion site could be looked at as disrespectful to the soldiers. There should not be a site promoting the series using a trip to Pearl Harbor and other instant win prize to entice visitors and viewers.
Although the blow was harsh and direct, we could understand his reasoning on the matter. Not everything needs a dangling carrot. Sometimes the promotion game has its issues, but not everyone can say a major film and tv producer of an 8 time Emmy winning mini-series killed their project without notice. At least I can…