Playbook 212: The Hanging Bear

“The story,” she said “is the same as it’s always been; if we want exposure, we attach ourselves to something people are paying attention to, putting our message next to the places they have to be and the things they like looking at. This gives us increased awareness, general visibility and improved recognition, and that exposure is revenue to us. And so our message ends up on a football jersey, on a race-side hoarding, or on a billboard beside a busy road. And of course, we have to pay more to get our message into those locations which have predictably high footfall (or eyefall).”

“TV refined the approach of course, because with a popular show or sporting event, you were no longer just reaching the 1200 people in a theatre or the 40,000 people at a stadium, but also the 5 or 50 or 500 million watching at home. Those numbers meant the kind of high values and big-bucks-stakes that demanded everything be measurable and quantifiable, so the budgets got bigger and we got to work with up to date viewing-figures and were able to monitor results pretty well.”

“During the tabloid age, we all struck lucky a few times when papparazo snapped celebrities attending our events, wearing our products or visiting our destinations. And in a lot of cases we were able to predict this – or even construct it – and make sure our message was in sight. We had some notable success arranging for friendly celebrities to ‘be seen’ next to one of our clients’ stores, which then got coverage in the press. What was new here was that although it cost us to get our message in situ, we weren’t having to pay for its distribution, as the news networks did that part of our job for us as a side-effect of doing their own.”

“As in every industry, improvements come from increasing revenue or reducing costs, and those of us at the most creative edges are always looking for innovative ways to achieve either.”

“In August 2014, our agency had better-than-expected results from a beachwear clothing campaign utilising low-rent billboards around California. The initial spike in awareness came after a five-foot teddy bear was spotted hanging from its neck outside the ninth floor of a public parking structure in Los Angeles and the reason was simple; as people spotted this oddity in their peripheral vision, they looked up and saw the campaign poster behind it. Less than three hours after sunrise that morning (when it’s presumed the bear was first visible), the first photos of it began to appear on social media – with our billboard in the background. By 5pm it had made the local TV news, by 9pm the rest of the west coast networks had picked up the story and by the time the news shows aired on the east coast the following morning, it had gone national.”

“In September of that year, we trialled a methodology which was later added to our playbook as #212 but is best known under its nickname ‘The Hanging Bear’ in honour of that first accidental success. There were several variants, but the basic technique was to rent non-premium advertising space and find ways to bring more footfall/eyefall to it than it would normally merit. Because it relied on attention-grabbing, it had to be used sparingly to maintain its effectiveness, but the technique gave us some great results and so we worked hard to expand on the original and improve its potency.”

“The following January, we instructed an agent external to the firm to set a small fire close to the outside wall on the eighth floor of the car park below the same billboard, and monitored the responses and coverage on social and traditional media. In February 2015, when one of our junior associates was first witness at a gang-related shooting in Bakersfield, he dragged the body to the other side of the road in front of a bus shelter hoarding, putting one of our clients’ message onto all the main news networks for three days.”

“That spring, one of our interns – a senior year business major with a hobby breaching computer security systems – hacked into the centralised system managing San Jose’s traffic lights and created a 76-vehicle downtown pile-up.”

“Now, before we take a look at where we’ve taken Playbook 212 in the 3 years since our first Hanging Bear; at the first unlawful death we authorised and how that led us to commission the 2016 military coup in Iran and the Bangladesh floods. I have been asked to remind all seminar attendees of the non-disclosure agreements you signed when you started working for the Algen & Wilson Message Agency.”

This piece inspired by an Elephant Words image originally posted at .

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Often musician, sometime projectbloke, occasional table, sporadic writer, serial traveler, irregular designer, internet addict with OCLD.

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