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Rabbits and Invented Media

Another way that companies are creating experiences that reach the hard-to-reach is by inventing new media for their messages—quirky little shows that catch customers' attention (and hopefully stir their laughter) by popping up bizarrely in a corner of life where they are least expected

We call this kind of invented media a rabbit. Rabbits are little surprises that are warm and fuzzy, or weird and funny. Our response to this is "Ah-ha!" or "How clever!" or "That's cute!" Like the rabbit that's pulled out of a magician's hat, a show business rabbit can be a pleasing, magical surprise.

The New York discount furniture retailer Basics Furniture used rabbits to help introduce its brand to a local audience when it opened its doors in the Chelsea neighborhood. They started by sprinkling 5,000 quarters around the streets of New York, the floors of taxicabs, and in the coin-return slots of pay phones. The quarters, which were real, were covered with stickers that had the store's phone number and the message, "Hi, Thrifty, we've got your furniture." The fiscally-conscious passerby who decided to retrieve the coin got a little "gotcha," but also a reward, and hopefully a smile, associated with the new brand in the neighborhood. At the same time, Basics was sending its customers home with shopping bags that read, "This is a shameless moving billboard for Basics Furniture," and included comical instructions on how to display it with correct posture. When Basic's newest tagline, "A cheap chair for your cheap ass," was introduced in both posters and on miniature signs on the back of messenger bicycles, the buzz began to spread. At one point, half the customers walking in the door said they had seen the "ass" ad, and several of the bike signs were reported stolen when customers became over-attached to the show.

"We find that the experience is exponentially increased when the right medium and the right creative work together," says Eddie Bamonte, co-creative director at STAIN nyc, who developed the Basics campaign. A good rabbit finds a medium that reinforces both the message (the bike seat) and the brand (quarters, for a "cheap, affordable furniture" company). Other creatively invented media seen recently include:

  • A run-down public swimming pool outside London's Heathrow airport, repaired with support from Evian, who placed their brand on the pool's bottom, where it is visible to airplanes flying overhead

  • Logos at the beach, including brand sand sculptures and a company that gave out free flip-flop sandals with raised logos on the soles—leaving the brand imprinted in the sand with every footstep

  • An imaginary movie trailer for an action movie called Lucky Star, starring Benicio Del Toro and the new Mercedes SL sedan, which was shown in theaters across Britain even though the movie never existed

  • A host of brand placement options from Manhattan's GoGorilla Media, including rolls of toilet paper, fortune cookies, and dollar bills (talk about circulation!); clients can spread their message on the wrappers of condoms distributed at night clubs, or reach a male-only audience with branded urinal splash guards (yikes!)

03fig01.gifFigure 3-1. Rabbits appear in the unlikeliest of places. From the back of a quarter. . . Photo courtesy of STAIN nyc.

Of course, this can all get quickly out of hand. The danger of rabbits is that when they become too popular they become an intrusion, another instance of advertising noise and clutter that customers will feel a need to retreat from. Do you really need an advertisement when you go to the restroom? In the worst cases, companies have shown disrespect for public environments by leaving marketing graffiti on streets and buildings without concern for how to get it off. IBM ran afoul of the law in San Francisco when it painted the logo of its "Peace, Love, Linux" campaign on sidewalks. They had planned for it to be done in biodegradable chalk, but when things got out of hand, the company wound up with a large fine and an unattractive perception of its brand.

03fig02.gifFigure 3-2. . . .to the back of a bike messenger. Photo courtesy of STAIN nyc.

The better cases of rabbits we've seen add actual value that the customer appreciates. Audi AG sent out teams to search the streets of Amsterdam and gave every parked Audi they could find a wash and a polish. The owners returned to find a sparkling finish and a note on the windshield, "Sorry, but we couldn't resist. Yours sincerely, Audi." In the case of Altoids, mysterious stickers advertising www.toohot.com didn't deliver their punch line until the audience participated and followed their lead, which added a nice element of interaction to a rabbit.

At a minimum, rabbits should genuinely entertain their target. Cleverness is of no use to a customer if it's not something relevant, and no use to a company if it doesn't generate customer interest in the brand. "Before it's even about the client, it has to be about the customer," says Bamonte. "If we don't catch their attention and bring them something that they like, then there's no point."

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