Fsociety Brings an Alternate Reality Game to the Party
USA Network’s Mr. Robot brought a series of interactive marketing experiences to New York Comic Con earlier this month. Like the show’s presence at last summer’s San Diego Comic-Con, the events provided a multilayered experience that combined conspicuous activities with a hidden alternate reality game (ARG) for those who were able to follow the clues. [See: “The Multilayered Mr. Robot Marketing Experience.”] The activities at New York, however, added an additional wrinkle. Whereas San Diego presented a single secret path for players to follow, the New York experience was multi-threaded, providing multiple parallel paths of varying depths for players to explore. At the conclusion of the main event, all the attendees were brought together for a group capstone experience.
Although there was no panel session for Mr. Robot at New York Comic Con this year, elements of the TV series appeared in multiple locations in and near the Javits Center. The program’s fictional narrative blended with the real world through three elements: Bank of E sign-up opportunities, the Red Wheelbarrow BBQ truck, and — most notably — the Ecoin launch party.
Bank of E
The only official Mr. Robot presence at New York Comic Con was a desk at the Javits Center where people could sign up for an account with the show’s fictional Bank of E. In San Diego, new Bank of E customers received a Bank of E card loaded with 20 Ecoin, the show’s fictional cryptocurrency, that could be used to buy items all around the city’s Gaslamp Quarter. At New York Comic Con, signing up for an account merely rewarded fans a few tchotchkes, such as Bank of E branded sunglasses and a key ring.
There are, however, ongoing perks for Bank of E customers. Since New York Comic Con, Bank of E members have been offered a free Ecoin Power Bank and an Amazon Echo Dot. During New York Comic Con, members could also grab a free lunch at a Red Wheelbarrow BBQ food truck.
Red Wheelbarrow BBQ
At San Diego Comic-Con, the Mr. Robot activation (as these marketing events are termed) included a full reconstruction of the Red Wheelbarrow BBQ, the eatery that plays a role in season 3 of the series. At New York, in contrast, a Red Wheelbarrow food truck was available at a different location each day. Bank of E members could enjoy a complimentary lunch of pulled pork (supplied by Starr Catering), chips, and water. Folks who weren’t Bank of E customers could sign up on the spot.
Ecoin Launch Party
The centerpiece of the Mr. Robot Experience at NYCC was the launch party for Ecoin. Due to all the concurrent activities taking place, many of which were hidden, it’s difficult to fully document the experience. This account is based on my own experience and information gleaned from other accounts (most notably the excellent write up at GameDetectives.net, along with additional accounts from TV Guide, MTV, and Nerdophiles.)
From any vantage point, the launch party — developed by USA Networks along with BBQ Films and Civic Entertainment Group — was an impressive event.
Although Ecoin was prominently featured at San Diego Comic-Con, in the show’s extended real-world narrative, that was merely a pilot project. The official launch of the cryptocurrency took place at New York Comic Con.
Invitations to the event went out over Twitter and elsewhere. Fans who responded quickly received a confirmation message. (More on this RSVP response later.)
The entrance to the venue at New York’s Terminal 5 was arrayed with Bank of E signs and banners. A large E Corp logo was projected in light on an adjacent building.
After checking in, party guests received a badge with the Ecoin logo and slogan: “A new currency for a new era.” The badge was marked “BACKSTAGE,” implying you would have access to more than the events occurring in plain sight at the party. And, indeed, many attendees participated in activities behind the scenes.
Upon entering the building, guests were met by servers offering flutes of champagne. E Corp advertising was prevalent throughout.
An artist was putting the final touches on a large painting of E Corp’s dominance of the Manhattan skyline. A small side stage was set up for the live broadcast of the event.
The venue’s main space was a soaring three-story atrium. At its pinnacle, a large letter E was suspended.
On the main stage, an actor portraying Debra Heller, E Corp Senior Vice President of Marketing, welcomed the crowd and introduced the band, the Keystrokes, fronted by vocalist Robyn Adele Anderson.
Hors d’oeuvre were served and drinks flowed leading up to the keynote presentation by E Corp CEO Phillip Price.
More Than Meets the Eye: Behind the Scenes
While these celebrations were underway, covert activities were taking place at various locations throughout the venue.
Confederates for some of these endeavors were recruited before the night of the event.
Observant fans noted something intriguing about the RSVP notification they received: some of the bubbles above the champagne flutes were more prominent than the others. Beneath the phrase CELEBRATE IN STYLE WHILE YOUR SENSES WE BEGUILE! these larger bubbles appeared under the letters BITLYSEWGI. This implied a bit.ly url: http://bit.ly/sewgi
Following this link sent you to an RSVP page for the event. (Subsequent to New York Comic Con, the link redirected to the Bank of E’s Ecoin site.) At the bottom of the page was an image with celebratory confetti and ribbons. The central set of ribbons were variations of the letters SILENT SIN.
Entering “Silent Sin” on the RSVP page returned the message:
People who submitted their email address received the message:
Other clues were distributed over Twitter before the event to selected fans who had tweeted using the #wearefsociety hashtag, advising them to “Go to the champagne station and find Charles. Tell him, ‘I am the 99%.'” or “Go to the serving station on Floor 2 and ask for the Chef. Tell her ‘I am a one, not a zero.'”
Some collaborators were recruited through a Twitter Direct Message:
Parked beside the rear entrance to the venue on the night of the event was a white school bus with the windows covered with newspaper where a group of invited confederates assembled.
Inside the bus, participants were given cloth Ecoin swag bags containing an fsociety mask and were assigned secret missions.
Some of this group were appointed to sneak into the green room for E Corp CEO Phillip Price and hack his presentation. Others were disguised as waiters and waitresses to mingle with the crowd and distribute clues to other attendees.
Some bags contained notes for different assignments, such as:
As the party was underway, the secret missions began.
A number of participants — both those inside the bus and elsewhere at the party — were given a card with a Snapchat Snapcode. Scanning the Snapcode led to the web address:
That site displayed a brief video that intercuts shots of a hoodie-wearing member of fsociety with a sequence of messages:
The final screen shows the fsociety mask with the following message:
Once Jessie was located and shown the image from the video, some people reportedly received a 5/9 button. Others, like the group I was with, were further interrogated about our actions that evening and were then led down a series of dimly lit corridors.
During this journey, other groups were being led through the hallways to different locations, indicating that different missions (such as, perhaps, the green room hack) were simultaneously underway.
In my case, the group of three of us were eventually escorted into a small room illuminated with an orange light. There each of us was told to don the full costume of fsociety’s iconic figure — mask, gloves, top hat, jacket, and cane. One by one we then sat in front of a mirror to record our message of allegiance to fsociety. Speaking through the voice-altering microphone, we read from the prepared text on the sign in front of us:
After removing the costume, we left the room and returned to the party.
This was but one of several sequences of similar activities taking place.
Some people were handed a small fsociety 5/9 flag and told to keep it until the right time. Others received stickers advising them to go to the coat check room and say to the person there, “Are you seeing this, too?” Those who did were handed the cloth bag with the Ecoin logo containing an fsociety mask with, at least in some cases, a note attached. My note said:
Once Frankie was located and the pass phrase given, individuals were led to another corridor facing a row of doors to small bathrooms lit with either a blue or orange light.
Inside each room, as before, was the attire of the fsociety figure with instructions on the wall to take a photo and post it to social platforms with the #Wearefsociety hashtag:
Other bags containing an fsociety mask included different messages. One newfound friend at the party showed me his mask which included the message:
The Capstone Event: E Corp Hacked and Fsociety Triumphant
Meanwhile, in the main hall, the party continued. As the band finished the set with a rendition of Daft Punk’s Get Lucky, E Corp Marketing SVP Heller returned to the stage to introduce the evening’s keynote speaker: E Corp CEO Phillip Price.
After the audience was seated, staff members made sure participants who had not previously followed the clues to receive an fsociety mask were given a bag containing the mask.
After showing a promotional E Corp video, CEO Price (actor Michael Cristofer) came to the stage.
Declaring that we live in “dark times” where “dangerous anarchists” are out to destroy the world, Price then assured the audience, “with the right leadership, order and stability will be restored,” touting Ecoin as the new currency to “unite the world.”
During his speech, the screen started to glitch. The E Corp logo flickered. As Price continued, the glitching got more severe. The on-screen E Corp logo was then replaced by the fsociety mask. A pair of security agents safely whisked Price off the stage.
One by one, band members returned to the stage, each wearing an fsociety mask.
By this time, everyone in the audience had donned their fsociety masks.
The band members lined up on stage and led the crowd in chants of “We are fsociety and we are finally free.”
The giant illuminated E that had been hanging over the atrium was slowly lowed and carted away.
Fsociety banners and sheets filled with graffiti were unfurled from the upper floors of the hall.
A message appeared on the screen:
Clips from Mr. Robot appeared on screen. The audience was then surprised with an unannounced screening of the opening episode of season 3, not scheduled to air until the following week.
When the episode concluded, E Corp’s Heller returned to the stage flanked by a security agent. She apologized for the incident and announced the end of the party.
As people exited the hall, fsociety posters and graffiti covered the corridor.
The large E Corp painting had been vandalized with fsociety graffiti.
Outside the venue, masked fsociety members were protesting and distributing REMEMBER FIVE/NINE stickers. The large E previously projected on the adjacent building had been replaced by the fsociety logo.
By providing various concurrent levels of experience during the four-hour event, each participant felt they had a singular experience. Hardcore fans who cracked the online clues received an invitation to serve in a key role in the experience. Others uncovered clues on site that led them to other secretive missions. And all attendees joined together for the event’s final act.
It was a massively coordinated immersive marketing experience and alternate reality game that blended the TV show’s fictional narrative with the real world and let everyone play a role.
For a photo gallery of the Mr. Robot events at New York Comic Con, see: Mr. Robot Experience: New York Comic Con 2017
The images from the Mr. Robot video and websites are from potentially copyrighted content, the copyright for which is most likely owned by the program’s production company and/or distributor and possibly also by any actors appearing in the image. It is believed that the use of a web-resolution screenshot for identification and critical commentary on the film and its contents qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law. All other photos on this page are copyright © 2017 Kendall Whitehouse.
One thought on “Mr. Robot’s Multifaceted Marketing Experience at New York Comic Con”