A new video series from Pereira and O'Dell will let Facebook fans shape the plot and star in a "social film" promoting Intel and Toshiba.
Alex, the protagonist, has a weird condition: Every day he wakes up looking completely different - young, middle-aged, old; black, Asian, Caucasian; bald, hairy, etc. Inside, he's the same person. But how can he convince the woman he falls in love with, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead ("Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter"), that he's the same person inside?
This plotline allows for a variety of fans to play a role, and a Facebook casting call for "The Beauty Inside" went out on Tuesday. Wannabes can upload videos and ask their friends to share and like them. Alex's outside will be played by as many as 30 different people, who will be chosen to appear in the video or in posts on the Facebook page.
PJ Pereira, chief creative officer of Pereira and O'Dell, said the campaign is a co-marketing project between Intel and Toshiba, both of which want to appeal to young consumers. "New consumers have a much wider range of brands they can pay attention to, and they pay attention to electronics in a way that no other generation ever has," he said.
While Alex looks and sounds different, there's one constant in his appearance: He always has his trusty Toshiba Portégé Ultrabook ready to document his life. He also uses the laptop instead of a mirror to check out his appearance each morning. And, it's a handy way for viewers to identify him in each episode.
"The product is there, and everyone clearly knows what we are doing," Pereira said. The message to consumers is, "I respect your intelligence, and you know I'm here, but it's not a pitch."
The videos will be directed by Drake Doremus ("Like Crazy"), and star Topher Grace as Alex. (Although various consumers will play the role, the character's internal voice belongs to Grace, and he will appear at some point, as well.) Grace, who reportedly made $6 million per season for his work on "That 70s Show," evidently has foregone movie-star earnings for "The Beauty Inside."
Pereira would not disclose the budget for the production, but said, "We're not talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. It's like an experiment -- a big experiment, but an experiment. The story was so charming that a lot of people got involved for the story, not the money."
The first episode will debut on Facebook in 15 countries on August 16. Weekly episodes will continue for six weeks. Fans will be able to connect and interact with "Alex" on Facebook, while writers and editors will stand by to incorporate auditions and posts that best fit into the storyline.
The new video is a new take on Intel's long-running "Inside" messaging, and follows last November's "Inside", the story of a young woman trapped in a dark room with only a connected laptop. According to Pereira, that campaign garnered 15 million views in the United States and 35 million in China.
"Inside" had a strong gaming aspect: Fans had to solve codes and figure out how to rescue the woman. From that, the agency learned that people love to have a role to play - and also to cooperate with each other. "In a social film, it's not about you, it's about the crowd," Pereira said. "This is also an experiment in creating an instant society. People will find a way to organize themselves to give Alex proper advice or make questions that will represent the group."
While "Inside" had a fairly standard thriller plot, in "The Beauty Inside, the challenge is simpler and more human, Pereira said. "You're not trying to save a girl, you're trying to save a guy's heart."
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Susan Kuchinskas has covered interactive advertising since its invention. The former staff writer for Adweek, Business 2.0, and M-Business covers technology, business and culture from Berkeley, CA.
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