It’s a strange relationship, that which exists between journalists and those in the marketing biz.
For the most part, it’s a game whereby the marketing firm tries to a) Convince the journalist that people will read about the product they’re flogging; or b) and if ‘a’ doesn’t work, try to get their attention with a viral campaign or stunt.
The journalist responds by either a) Getting their back up and thinking to themselves ‘I’ll determine what people are interested in thank you very much’; or b) Justifies covering the stunt/viral “because everyone else is” and the easy hits are hard to ignore.
Most of the time the two circle each other warily and keep the friendship just warm enough, because to survive, one needs exposure and the other needs content.
But there are plenty of times when, to borrow a phrase, the streams cross, like a couple of weeks ago when we ran the story: “ONE LUCKY B…..D’S JOURNEY: From Melbourne To Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Assistant In 10 Tweets“.
The Terminator star and former California governor was, according to several media reports, eyeing off a property just north of Newcastle, NSW.
— Dylan Blocke (@dylanblocke) July 28, 2014
What caught our eye was the line about Arnie’s “brand spanking new assistant Dylan Blocke”, who after a quick search, turned out to have a Twitter account started just two weeks previously which seemed to track his progress from Melbourne filmmaker to Arnie’s LA doorstep.
There was some internal wrangling about whether it was a hoax. “Dylan Blocke” having no social media presence before flying to LA was the obvious bellringer. He had no online history apart from a blank LinkedIn profile, and while happy to follow me on Twitter, refused to answer any direct messages.
There was however, no doubt Arnold Schwarzenegger was a genuine part of whatever “Dylan” was plugging.
In the end I decided something newsworthy was going on, with Team Schwarzenegger on board, that involved an Aussie. The details would no doubt come out in the wash soon enough. And we’re a business publication, and there was obviously business involved here somewhere.
As it turned out, Dylan Blocke was indeed a fictional character created by Melbourne ad agency BWM for REA, the owner of realestate.com.au.
Two weeks after Blocke – revealed later as Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts graduate Wade Briggs – started tweeting, the first of several ads starring his “new boss” Arnold Schwarzenegger began to appear on Australian screens, TV and online.
It’s a great campaign. Schwarzenegger, who has never been shy of playing self-deprecating roles in movies from The Last Action Hero right through to The Expendables, is clearly enjoying hamming it up as a noob investor in Australian real estate. (Because he really knows Austrian real estate, right?)
And for a young screen hopeful with a couple of theatre roles and a recurring part on Josh Thomas’s ABC sitcom Please Like Me, Briggs looks comfortable enough alongside one of the biggest movie stars in screen history.
But a couple of questions remain for anyone watching the ads and anyone who followed Blocke’s “journey” to Hollywood. Why did Arnold Schwarzenegger agree to plug an Australian real estate website? And when do the benefits of running a viral hoax outweigh the risks of alienating your target audience?
How to get a date with Arnold Schwarzengger
BWM’s executive creative director Murray White and managing director Mark Watkin walked us through the process of securing a Hollywood superstar.
Watkin said the team never set out by targeting Schwarzenegger, nor any celebrity. The entire premise of the campaign started with the line “Australia Lives Here” and what that meant for property buyers and owners wanting more information on their investments.
“The whole idea was based on the confusion on Austria/Australia,” White said. That’s what led us to Arnie as the most famous Austrian in the world.
“How we got him, it’s simply down to the fact he really, really liked the idea and the writing in the script.”
“He’s very cooperative. He loves the script and the writing, and – this is unusual – the scripts as they were written changed barely a few per cent to what was actually shot, so that was a real credit to our team.”
BWM approached Arnold through a Hollywood director who was a mate of White’s, John Hamberg. Hamburg directed Along Came Polly and I Love You, Man, but you’re probably familiar with his work as the co-writer of the Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers and Zoolander.
“Through a number of contacts, we managed to secure time with John and Arnold together,” Watkin said.
“Arnold invited John over for breakfast and Arnie cooked oatmeal and they discussed the idea.
“John spoke to Arnold about how he understood the idea, that it would never be endorsement, it would be performance and he was just tickled by it. He’d never done something like that before.”
The campaign is three ads in, with four more to launch in the next couple of weeks. The social media campaign started about six weeks, with Blocke’s speculative “trip to LA”.
The team’s hopes were for Arnold to get the eyes first, which would then translate into interest in the Blocke backstory.
“From the very beginning, we had a creative idea that we knew we wanted – a brand experience we brought to life over three stages,” White said.
Stage 1 was to create the backstory of Blocke’s journey through social media. Stage 2 was using TV to link Arnie’s interest to Australian property to realestatecom.au, and show how the site gives someone with zero knowledge of the Australian property market the tools they need. Stage 3 is simply a follow-up, ensuring that future news advice and products “really substantiate that confidence we’ve started to build”.
As for Briggs, he got the gig as Dylan Blocke through the usual screen test route, but Watkin and White say he had no idea where his success would take him.
“Wade didn’t find out until two days before the shoot or probably the day he was getting on the plane to LA. We wanted to protect the confidentiality of the project.”
“We wanted to give him time to prepare but not enough to give it away, so we told him that morning what it was about, or something pretty close to it.
“He was a cool player. He had to audition with one of the scripts we disguised, but he made a few deductions.
“He may have thought he was going to work with De Niro.”
How to convince your client they need more Arnold
The ad campaign is just the end product. All up, it represents a nine-month proposition for BWM.
“This has always been brand reposition project,” Watkin said. “We spent the first four of nine months just finding realestate.com.au’s brand position and understanding the needs an wants of customers and determining the best way to catapult that into the market.”
White said the proper credit for the project had to go to REA.
“If you talk to them, they’ll all say the moment we presented the work it stood out but their immediate reaction was ‘Wouldn’t that be great but nah, we can’t.’
“It was more a case of ‘I hope we can get him’. We had it on the wall, we knew both Mark and I had worked with celebs in the past, big names.
“We knew the process we had to go through, we knew who to talk to and we would never have presented an idea we never had a chance of realising.
White said “there was a lot of laughter” when the idea went up on the wall, followed by “Oh wait, can we really do this?”
“Then at the end of the week the weekend test suddenly on Monday turned it into “We’ve got to do this!,” he said.
“I think on their way back home it started to dawn on them how powerful this idea could be.”
The dangers of going viral
White said Schwarzenegger hasn’t actually been out to Australia, and while the campaign lured interest through the development of a false, but plausible, Twitter account, there were no moral complications on BWM’s behalf.
“The Twitter campaign was based on something we thought was appropriate and permission was granted, it was all above board.
“The tweets Arnie puts out are hastagged #ad. When it’s part of the campaign or advertising you have to do that.
“In the US it’s pretty much mandated now. There have been cases where promotion by a celebrity has been misleading that but certainly wasn’t the case here.”
“The whole thing was annotated correctly.”
— Arnold (@Schwarzenegger) August 10, 2014
Internet history in particular is littered with PR stunts that backfired, in some cases taking entire businesses down, but Watkin said there was always a proper way to manage such risks.
“It’s an interesting one. It goes back to the strength of the idea and whether it’s got enough tolerance in it to create really good PR,” he said.
“(The Arnie campaign) is very principled because there’s that ‘Is he or isn’t he?’ aspect and because he is who he is, it’s very interesting for viewers.
“Positive sentiment on the campaign is at 98 per cent right now, and we’re incredibly proud of that. It’s not just people loving the ad, it’s fans of Arnie saying ‘We love that you used him in that’.”
While they’re unwilling (or unable) to share any figures about the cost and ROI, both Watkin said the campaign, with several ads to go, has been “hugely successful”.
“We’ve exceeded every target we set, even at this very early stage.”
And there’s unlikely to be any sequels starring other celebrities. White said the initial task was one of “discovery”.
“It’s not something you can repeat over and over,” White said. “We just needed people to discover the many products, tools and services themselves; that’s why the initial creative idea had to be so strong.”
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