"Snakes on a Plane" campaign takes Web 2.0 marketing to new heights

If you've set foot on the Internet lately, you've heard of the forthcoming popcorn flick "Snakes on a Plane," starring Samuel L. Jackson. Well, if any movie deserves an award for best use of the Internet for marketing, this is it.

Internet users grabbed hold of the movie's delightfully laughable title and premise (it's about snakes ... on a plane!), posting tributes -- including writings, graphics, and videos -- of all kinds in forums, blogs, and viral video sites like YouTube.

This new brand of Internet marketing, which is inexpensive and highly effective, has been integral in creating an astonishing buzz (hiss?) about "Snakes on a Plane." In fact, the movie producers wisely noticed the attention the film was receiving on the Net and even re-filmed parts of it, incorporating lines that fans had made up in fake previews they'd created.

Advertising and marketing agencies should take note: There's a case study here in leveraging Web 2.0 technology to brainwash, er, get your message out to the masses. (Heck, I'm even letting myself become a tool in it.)

The latest use of said technology to promote the film is really pretty remarkable, both in terms of its general creativity as well as its technological execution. You go to the Web site snakesonaplane.varitalk.com, where you're prompted to type in your name and the name of someone who you'd like to receive a personalized recorded message from Samuel L. Jackson about the flick. Then you select some info about that person through some dropdown menus, stuff like the person's job and means of transit.

The site will then generate the personalized message in Jackson's voice, nearly seamlessly slipping in references to the details you provided about the recipient. (There are a lot of names in the database, though I found that my name -- Ted -- was missing, as was the name Simon, which means I couldn't send the message to my sister's Siamese cat.)

And here's the most interesting bit: When it comes time to send the message, you can opt to use e-mail, or you can key in the recipient's phone number. Within moments, his or her phone will ring, and lo, he or she will hear the message you've created. That is, if the person doesn't hang up first.

The underlying technology for the site, as far as I can tell, is called Modulate 2.0, which comes from a company called VariTalk, based in Chicago. Modulate is a the company's CDMS (Concatenated Digital Media Server), which the company's Web site says "delivers personalized audio output that is indistinguishable from a real human voice."

The company's Web site asserts that Modulate can generate and encode more than 500 fully personalized 60-second audio applications per second on a single host.

I'll get more specific on the technology, once the CTO of VariTalk, Frederick Lowe, has a chance to catch his breath. He tells me the campaign has been the company's most successful ever. More details to follow -- but not today.

In the meantime, why not send some of your friends and relatives a personalized message from Mr. Jackson? They'll be delighted. Or confused. Or possibly annoyed (like my girlfriend was. Sorry, darling!).