It’s been decades since all work and no play made Jack a dull boy, but for fans of Stephen King’s seminal horror novel The Shining, time essentially stopped on the day the grisly Overlook Hotel claimed Jack, its last victim.
Not so, purports King’s new novel, Doctor Sleep. In fact, time has marched on, seeing young and gifted Danny Torrance grow into an adult, albeit a troubled one. He now goes by the more mature moniker “Dan,” but retained the power of mind that connected him to the Overlook’s dark secrets while also giving him the ability to slip its evil grasp.
A new digital campaign tied to the book release seeks to connect fans directly to the disturbed protagonist while giving the reader a hint of the visceral fear that made The Shining such a horror classic. It syncs the user's smartphone with a microsite, making the experience at first a user-driven one. Eventually, the user's browser is "taken over" by Danny, who drops plotline breadcrumbs amid flashes of story images and setting scenery.
“Conceptually, it made sense for us to hinge the campaign around a shared curiosity that I think any Shining fan has: Whatever happened to young Danny Torrance?” said Jonathan Hills, founder of independent digital creative agency Domani Studios, which developed the campaign. King's publicist for the book, Katherine Monaghan, noted that young Danny's fate is something King himself often wondered about— and, in fact, he was actually prompted by this curiosity to pen the sequel.
“We are big, big fans of his, and of The Shining—who isn’t?—so we basically jumped at the chance to work on something with him,” Hills said.
The challenge put to Domani Studios, Monaghan said, "was to create an immersive online experience that would give readers a taste of where Danny’s been, [and] what kind of life he’s had, without spoiling the novel or the reading experience."
Domani felt that allowing fans to use their phones to "shine" with Danny and letting him take over their browsers, "would be an interesting and personal way to tell his story," Hills said.
"An overall ‘earned’ approach that gave King fans a share-worthy experience unlike anything they’d seen before was the key driver," he added. “We needed to get them to share a moment with Danny, scare them a bit, and amplify a curiosity that left them with a lot of unanswered questions.”
Domani—which has among its clients Nintendo, Westin Hotels and Estee Lauder—was approached for the project by Scribner, the book’s publisher. The shop was given free rein creatively, but a very small budget. The digital experience that resulted, Monaghan said, is one element of a multi-faceted marketing campaign that began four months ago.
"This project fit into the 'uncharted territory' category for us," Hills said, "mainly because we were doing some things with the two screens that we'd never done before. The techniques we created to let users 'shine' with Danny and the coding we worked out to give the user's browser a 'possessed effect' allowed the team to flex muscles we don't often have the opportunity to flex with clients."
Check out a video of the experience: