Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The jacket that blew up in the client's face

How would you like your brand name mentioned on most TV news programs and News Papers across the country for several days in a row? How would you like your brand to be discussed at BBQs on Australia day? And how would you like all this coverage without spending a cent on expensive TV media placement?

A Marketing Director’s dream come true, right? Well in the case of Witchery the dream that started out so wonderfully soon turned into a rather messy marketing nightmare: the one where you go to work with no pants on.

Rather than loosing his pants, a male Cinderella leaves his jacket behind. A pretty young woman, Heidi, in an impossibly neat almost art directed bedroom, posts a YouTube search for her man.


It’s a great idea based not only on a human truth but a fairy tale that is burnt into most English speakers minds. Brilliant.

But there’s an evil stepmother waiting in the wings of this story.

The various journalists, who had been ‘seeded’ with the story, understandably had some questions. (You didn’t think that viral campaigns went viral without lots of help, did you?)

They soon found Heidi, real name Lilly, who claimed the story was 100% authentic. They found that jacket was a Witchery one and that Lilly/Heidi had modelled for Witchery in the past. They then found Witchery’s Agency, Naked, who present themselves as anything but an Ad Agency, but are in fact ... an Ad Agency. Senior Naked executives claimed a surprising ignorance of the whole affair.

The story completely unravelled in a few short days.

THEN another YouTube video was released allowing Heidi/Lilly to confess all on behalf of her employers … and to do a little retail spruiking while she was at it.


Adam Ferrier is planning partner at Naked and he is quoted in B&T as saying, “We are very pleased with the start to the campaign – it has got people talking. No one I have spoken to has felt deceived. Everyone seems to be outraged, but they are not upset about it personally. It’s a playful campaign that creates a sense of intrigue. The word deception implies an element of harm. This campaign hasn’t harmed anyone, not even close.”

In 1974 then President Nixon is reported to have said, “It’s the lie that gets you.” That is, wrong actions are often forgiven, but deception just makes things worse.

I believe that is what’s happened here.

I’m sure (or I hope) there was a plan to eventually come clean and roll into the next stage of the campaign. But the fakery seems to have been tumbled much earlier than hoped. The agency and client seem to have variously panicked, hidden, taken a holiday, been untruthful, told us that being untruthful is OK if no one is harmed, and created a ‘come clean’ video after being sprung! At best they were off message. At worst they created an utter shambles.
What can we learn here? Several things.

- Consumers do not like being lied to, even if they are not being harmed. This campaign has variously been described in the non-advertising press as a hoax, a scam and a fraud.

- Too many industry players are disconnected from the real world. If Ferrier really knows no one who felt deceived, he needs to get out more. The builders, accountants, IT people, HR people, and teachers that I discussed this with feel VERY deceived.

- Any publicity is NOT good publicity. Naked has damaged Witchery’s brand image. Naked doesn’t look too smart either.

- Clients need to remember that Viral Campaigns are NOT free TV campaigns. They are 90% PR and 10% creative/production. Such a high level of PR means a loss of some control.

- Viral campaigns need to be planned EVEN MORE than traditional media. Undesirable outcomes as well as the desired one, need to be considered and prepared for. In this case a great idea has blown up in the faces of all concerned mainly because they had no plan for the direction it took.

After this brief but exciting part of the Witchery campaign I feel like we’ve all learned a lot about the still new channel of Viral + YouTube.

Will consumers and clients ever trust Witchery or Naked again? That I’m not so sure of.

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