Opportunity: Making fun wherever – and whenever – you can get it

Blame it on the writers' strike. Over at Virgin Mobile Canada, which introduced its 'You call the shots' campaign this spring to push its new post-paid service, the marketing team was spending a lot of time chatting about Bill Clinton's antics on the campaign trail.

Blame it on the writers’ strike. Over at Virgin Mobile Canada, which introduced its ‘You call the shots’ campaign this spring to push its new post-paid service, the marketing team was spending a lot of time chatting about Bill Clinton’s antics on the campaign trail.

‘The average age of the communications department is under 30,’ says CMO Nathan Rosenberg. ‘They are plugged in with their friends and everything merges as a result. Issues which are external become internal.’

A campaign relying on conversations consumers were already having seemed appropriate for a service that puts users in control, says Rosenberg. ‘People were talking about Bill and then Jeremy, our copywriter, was like, ‘Bill’s out of control just like post-paid! Hillary hates that Bill’s out of control, and consumers hate [that they're not in control of their post-paid contracts]!”

The resulting ad ran in Metro transit papers across Canada, and Virgin received a wave of feedback from consumers. But that was nothing compared to what happened six days later. The timing of the Eliot Spitzer scandal was ‘fortuitous’ to say the least, says Rosenberg: within days, Virgin’s $5,000 ad featuring ‘Client number 9′ complaining about being ‘treated like a number’ was covered by 30 major news outlets and blogs, including Fox News, MSNBC and the New York Post, totalling around $1.8 million in earned media. ‘This is the merging of news and advertising into one,’ he says. ‘Literally the news becomes advertising, and advertising becomes news. It’s cyclical; we create an ad about a news story and then the ad becomes the story.’

Act three saw Rosenberg hand the mic over to the crowd, as Metro readers voted online for their favorite of three ads featuring Barack Obama, who is, like Virgin Mobile, something of a new kid on the block. The winning ad ran two weeks later. Rosenberg, who set aside some ‘fun money’ out of the campaign budget with AOR Zig to use when an opportunity arose, says has more tricks up his sleeve, but insists he’s keeping his options open.

‘We are absolutely at the mercy of what happens, but that’s what makes it spontaneous and interesting, right?’ he says. ‘We are prepared, no matter what else is going on that day, that if something does come up, we’ll go for it.’
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