The whole world is a stage

The Daily Texan
By Ken Tran

Scientists have recently uncovered the extraordinary fossil remains of ancient monsters, hundreds of feet long and unlike any life-forms ever recorded. These discoveries have been reported in India, Siberia and Iran. The Indian fossil reportedly washed onto the coast after the tsunami in December 2004, which unearthed an ancient city at the same site.

What makes this story even more incredible is the simultaneous discovery of giant statues depicting these creatures in Peru and the Philippines.

These findings were reported by the Web log "Giantology," an enthusiast's journal seeking to "build a case for the mythology and culture of giants through the ages of humanity."

I guess the world isn't exactly how our modern society has always pictured it after all.

Especially in light of the fact that everything stated above is part of a subversive advertising scheme to promote a video game.

"Giantology" is actually a sophisticated marketing campaign by Sony to promote a game about, yes, giant mythical creatures.

It's part of a trend emerging, especially in the video game and movie industries, that blends undercover marketing and alternate-reality games, or ARGs.

In ARGs, players are sent on a goose chase across several convincingly faked Web sites to uncover information and solve a mystery. E-mails, telephone calls and other communication may also come into play, drawing the reader fully into the fictional universe. Advertising ARGs all eventually lead to the release of a product, through prizes or other tie-ins.

Early ARGs, such as Electronic Arts' "Majestic," were straight-forward games with players choosing to have fantasy elements inserted into their everyday lives. But campaigns such as "Giantology" thrive on deceiving the unaware by pretending not to be pretending at all.

In fact, "Giantology' hammers home the brand name by exposing its own hoax, reporting, "Some of you are saying it's another hoax… and possibly even connected to a video game campaign. I'm looking into whether or not that really is the case, and will post my thoughts probably next week." The quote includes a link to the game's official Web site.

Cynics may point out that accepting claims about ancient monsters requires more than a little suspension of disbelief. What's important though isn't the material but the medium, and Giantology puts up a very convincing front.

The site looks exactly like a personal blog, complete with a list of interests and a childhood photo; it even uses a real blogging service.

It contains well-executed footage of fake news reports and photos about the claims, interspersed with links to actual news sources. In fact, the story about the discovered ancient city above is real. So is all the speculation about whether the site was an advertising campaign. Snopes, the urban legend Web site, even wrote a feature about it.

It should be noted that online campaigns don't necessarily need to be this complex or sophisticated to create buzz. The Web site of the Boneless Pig Farmer Association of America contains information about a petition to bring back McDonald's McRib sandwich. Ads like this, however, rely more on humor than deception, and are relatively innocuous.

The "Giantology" campaign is incredibly smart and creative, but it raises serious ethical questions. Its lies have the potential to completely undermine the ways people communicate.

How can we distinguish between opinion and endorsement, when one masquerades as the other?

How can we trust what the media tells us? Look no further than the BBC, which is running its own ARG about a fake celebrity's death and has included him in its Radio 1 content, which lists real recording artists.

How can we trust what the government tells us? "Weapons of mass destruction" were fiction made to sell a war.

How can we even trust what normal people tell us? Guerilla marketing campaigns exist, and they pay normal people to pitch products in everyday conversation.

All of these elements were already present in social discourse before the arrival of subversive marketing, but no other medium has precipitated them in such a seamless way.

Paranoia is the new reality. Trust is dead, and someone is selling its corpse.

Tran is an anthropology junior.