It may be fiction, but it still needs guidelines
On a crisp fall evening, a crowd of journalists, photographers and super fans adorned with lanyards carrying the infamous Evil Corp “E” insignia huddle under the blue hues of Terminal 5’s marquee, awaiting entry to E-Coin’s launch party; a new currency for a new era. Well in all actuality, this E-Coin launch party was, in fact, a strategically timed guise to pre-screen the first episode of USA Network’s binge-worthy show Mr. Robot season 3 during New York Comic Con.
Authors: Matthew Dickason and Christine Sweet
Something script writers and set designers may overlook in the creation of their cinematic fictional brands are developing the standards of brand guidelines for use on and off camera, which brings about the common challenge of ensuring continuity of experiential marketing engagements with a show’s tone, visual direction and script. As exemplified by the E-coin launch party, these brands must feel like authentic companies with consistency in brand placement, use and representation. This past October, Studio OAX played a hand in ensuring the E-Corp brand image was upheld in its application for the E-coin launch party produced by BBQ Films in association with USA Network.
The guests’ deep diving journey into the world Mr. Robot began with attention to acute details, beginning with the question of what would an E-Corp corporate party truly feel like and offer. Studio OAX’s 3D event space modeling brought to life the real world application of Mr. Robot’s fictional corporate antagonist, E-Corp, for USA’s script writers’ review and approval.
The developed corporate event design and branding was complemented by BBQ Films event storyline, thus ensuring guest buy-in to the authenticity of the event, believing they are playing a role within the series. The storyline was driven with clue based Fsociety activations to stimulate viral social media content, involving guest engagement with scripted actors who played roles throughout the event as E-Corp staff and undercover Fsociety members, not to mention an in-person appearance of E-Corp CEO Phillip Price played by Michael Cristofer himself.
Mr. Robot is not the first show to introduce fictional brands in its plot. Traditionally, fictional brands are created for one of two reasons; to imitate or satirize an existing brand, or to avoid copyright infringement. It is true that real brands can be used for product placement, but sometimes writers prefer to not use existing trademarks in their shows.
A notable example of a fictional brand is Oceanic Airlines, an airline with its own specific logo most identifiably used in Lost. As the show centers around a plane crash, the creation of a fake brand is crucial in order to avoid being sued for defamation due to misrepresenting an existing airline. Oceanic Airlines has since appeared in shows such as Fringe, Once Upon a Time and The X-Files. Due to the usage of brands like Oceanic Airlines in multiple franchises, fictional brands often times take on a life of their own.
One aspect that sets the E-Corp brand apart from other fictional brands is how integral it is to the show’s plot versus being utilized in small detail. In many ways, branding is a part of the show’s critique of society. Since the E-Corp logo appears in many different projects related to the franchise, consistent brand messaging and imagery is necessary for the storyline to function on and off the show’s 10 p.m. Thursday time slot.
First of all, the E-Corp brand itself is ironic. Side by side, it looks almost identical to the logo of the now defunct Enron Corporation, which went bankrupt in 2001 after a financial scandal related to security fraud. The E-Corp “E”, is both a satirical image of the Enron Corporation, but a reference carrying the emotional audience response to corporate greed and fraud. This allows E-Corp to become one of the prime antagonists of the show, although it is a corporate entity rather than a person.
The transition of the logos and corporations in Mr. Robot to real-world scenarios like the E-coin launch party, exemplify the importance that fictional brands are to be well crafted in the likeness of true corporate identities, because they may, in fact, grow a legacy all on their own expanding outside of their fictional worlds.
© Studio OAX, LLC. Team: Petr Dubecky, Christine Sweet, Veronika Bruhova & Tomas Nedoma