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Why Hulu used ambient rooms to promote Only Murders In The Building

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By Chris Sutcliffe | Senior reporter

July 29, 2022 | 7 min read

Hulu took the unusual approach of creating ‘ambient rooms’ on Youtube to promote the new series of hit drama Only Murders In The Building.

Ambient rooms are a form of content unique to streaming services. Against the rise of ASMR videos, creators tapped into the increasing popularity for long-form, immersive video. These videos pair specific scenery with atmospheric music to make viewers feel like they are in the space. Some of the most popular are libraries with roaring fires, coffee shops or a living room window looking out to falling rain.

Popularity grew over the course of the pandemic, with some ambient rooms earning tens of millions of views.

Only Murders in the Building's first ambient room ARG

The ambient rooms allow viewers of the mystery show to scour the characters’ rooms for clues / Reach Agency

Official branded ambient rooms are few and far between, though some creators have made unlicensed versions of rooms from franchises such as Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Sherlock Holmes to huge success.

Tapping into the trend, Hulu put ambient rooms front and center of a marketing push for its hit comedy mystery Only Murders in the Building.

The show, starring Steve Martin, Selena Gomez and Martin Short, takes place primarily within the bounds of the iconic Arconia building in New York. It follows the characters as they investigate a murder, taking viewers into their impeccably decorated apartments and those of their fellow residents.

Each of the hour-long ambient room videos for the show recreates the feel of the apartment of a main cast member. The latest, for Steve Martin’s character, launched today (July 29).

The concept came from Reach Agency, which designed the campaign on behalf of Hulu. Co-chief executive Gabe Gordon says the format was perfectly suited to fans of the show – likely to be true crime fanatics like the show’s main characters – who could pore over and discover secrets hidden in each one.

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“Fans of the show are into mysteries and theories, and what better way to surprise and delight than creating an environment where they can immerse themselves within the fictional world they adore, while also embracing their inner detective?” Gordon says.

“In that sense, it doesn’t feel like advertising. It feels like we’re inviting them to be a part of the ride. They can join us whenever, wherever on YouTube or the Hulu app. That’s the beauty of streaming.”

Features such as YouTube’s ‘most replayed’ markers also allow users without the time to watch the entire video to take part in the experience.

Since first launching two weeks ago, 1.7 million people have watched the first ambient room and another million have watched the second.

Gordon also notes that the format of ambient rooms has been a mainstay of streaming since its inception. Streaming services such as Netflix have launched branded rooms around occasions including Christmas, but the use of ambient rooms for marketing purposes is something that’s yet to be explored fully.

He continues: “Anyone who is a fan of the show is a fan of the Arconia. The building has such a wild history and appealing atmosphere, and each character’s apartment is a character in itself, leaving fans wanting an invitation to look around and stay awhile. And given the recent popularity of ambient rooms on YouTube paired with the show’s epic music and cool animated ASMR developed by Reach Agency, we thought it would be a treat for Only Murders and ambient room fans alike.”

The use of Easter eggs throughout the ambient rooms – which feature brief introductions from the cast in character – is designed to play into the rise of alternate reality games (ARGs). These long-running marketing campaigns make participants of the audience by providing them with a mystery that needs to be solved collaboratively. Given that communities around shows such as Only Murders spend a significant amount of time sharing theories and speculation, it makes sense that the ambient rooms would also include some aspects designed to appeal to that community aspect.

A still of Martin Short's character's room from the show Only Murder in the Building, with audience comments and speculation below

Gordon added: “I’d tell you but... each room has a handful of Easter eggs, perhaps a murder weapon or two or three. So much of this season is about the characters being framed and evidence randomly appearing in their apartments. We took the same approach to the Easter eggs.

“You really have to pay attention, listen and notice the subtle clues, music and audio cues. The good thing is we already have superfans theorizing and time-stamping everything so you don’t have to. Perhaps they’re on to something. We shall find out.”

The show airs on Disney+ in the UK, and the ambient rooms are accessible on YouTube. As the show has been renewed for a third season before its second finishes, there is the possibility that more ambient rooms or mystery-based marketing will launch around the IP in the future.

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