The Strain

Subhumans of NYC

Click to view: www.subhumansofnyc.com

The Ask

The Strain, from visionary storytellers Guillermo del Toro and Carlton Cuse, was FX Networks' biggest launch of 2014 and one of the most hotly anticipated shows of the summer. FX (tagline: Fearless) embraces unconventional marketing, and approached AvatarLabs to develop a long-tail viral campaign designed to get early influencers talking about the latest AAA property and sustain buzz and tune-in deep into the season.

There are no lovestruck, milquetoast vampires in The Strain; there is no detente between humans and the undead. The Strain presents a new breed of remorseless "viral vampire" that sheds all pretense of humanity and seeks only to feed, and to spread their bloodlust like an epidemic. New York City descends into lawless chaos in a matter of days. It was vital we articulate this new pulp-horror vision for the vampire genre to our audience.

The Approach

AvatarLabs was inspired by the social media phenomenon Humans of New York (humansofnewyork.com), which documents the lives of everyday New Yorkers. So was born Subhumans of New York, exposing the underbelly of a city and its citizens on the eve of vampire infestation. Every shot-both visuals and copy-would be invested with a sense of unease and foreboding. Dark times were on the horizon, though the precise nature of the calamity remained a mystery until after the show's launch, when cryptic imagery and messaging would give way to scenes of overt violence. AvatarLabs embedded this narrative arc in the content plan. Tease at first, then ratchet up the tension and finally crescendo in time with season one of the show, when human and vampire blood are spilled in buckets.

We conceived over 100 images and accompanying personal stories documenting a New York City plunged into figurative and literal darkness. We cut without mercy-50 images remained after the cull, and the stories were developed to hint at the story beats to come. Nearly 40 images ended up being right for use in the online piece.

The Result

AvatarLabs and FX embarked upon a manic 48-hour photo shoot up and down the island of Manhattan, mostly in the wee hours of night. Extensive post-production transformed the raw imagery into lurid and fantastical works of art, replete with Easter eggs and sly references to The Strain. The plan initially called for an "underground" discovery-style launch, allowing the photos' horror stylings and hat tip to Humans of New York to generate excitement organically. A shift in launch timing necessitated overt branding and paid media promotion, but the heart of the campaign remained-a New York City spinning out of control as viral vampires overtake the city, paralleling the rise of a new kind of horror on the cable airwaves.

As we were working on developing content, we were on a parallel path designing and building the online destination built within the HTML5 Tumblr platform in order to capitalize on the built-in audience. The design was meant to be simple in order to highlight the content and be accessible on mobile/tablet devices; even so, we found clever and elegant opportunities to create a piece that felt premium by adding rollover animations, custom "hearts" and more to our simple layout.

The main driver to this would start with PR. Key members of press were sent a 6 pound heart in liquid in a glass specimen jar, with a black velvet cover. When the cover was removed, the heart would beat every once in a while, coming to life of its own volition. A note warned, "Warning: This heart is infected. Do not open this specimen jar. You will witness sporadic movement when the heart is exposed to light. These movements will increaseā€¦ as HE gets closer." The call to action sent press to the site, http://www.subhumansofnyc.com. (Hitfix article: http://goo.gl/bFzXDy).

FX Networks' The Strain snared nearly three million viewers during its two-hour premiere and received positive notices from critics and fans alike; causing it to quickly be renewed for season 2. Subhumans of New York will be refreshed throughout season one (and potentially beyond.)

Show premiere: 7.13.2014