Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Engaging Customers With the Help of Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck stirs controversy, and controversy engages an audience, so we weren’t complaining when Glenn Beck complained to his national radio audience about one of the digital signs we enabled in Times Square way back in 2007.

We’d been approached by an agency to help with the interactive portion of a series of billboard ads announcing BBC’s arrival in America. The pictures in the ads were striking – clear, sharp depictions of controversial world events. The interactive part was simple, but effective. Unwired Appeal enabled mobile voting so that people viewing the signs could weigh in on what they thought of the picture. For instance, a picture of Chinese soldiers flying the Chinese national flag asked viewers to vote whether the soldiers were “Friend or Foe” A simplification, to be sure, but sometimes an issue has to be boiled down to a single word or image in order to hook an audience.

The participations rates were fantastic. Each picture prompted thousands of votes, and the fact that pedestrians were stopped on the street, cellphones out, prompted even more people to look up at what was happening. Between the number of people in Times Square every day, the number of votes we gathered, the overflow of number of people looking at the people voting, we estimated that over a million impressions were made. Our agency customer was happy, and the BBC seemed to be happy as well.

But when Glenn Beck decided to weigh in on his then nationally syndicated radio show (this was before he joined Fox), the voting shot through the ceiling.

"I walk by this thing everyday and its driving me nuts", commented Beck during his show. He was referring to the first in the series that showed immigrants being stopped at the border. The question was simply “CITIZENS” or “CRIMINALS” and Glenn was upset that the “left” side of the billboard was beating the “right” side.

In a hilarious broadcast, Beck sent his executive producer Stu to report "live" from in front of the sign while he instructed his listeners how to vote from their cell phones (you can listen to the broadcast at Glenn Beck's broadcast). Suddenly, thousands of votes were pouring in.

BBC and our agency called in a panic – we didn’t yet know that Beck was talking about the sign, and the assumption was that someone had created an automated voting program that was "stuffing the ballot box". We quickly monitored the most recent log of calls and saw that they were coming in from all over the country. It seemed that the populace had suddenly become interested in the BBC’s marketing campaign.

The BBC sign wasn’t the first time we did an interactive Text-to-Screen application for a client in Times Square, but to date it is one of the most successful. The lessons, for us, were two fold:
  1. Your campaign doesn’t have to be complicated from a technical point of view in order to be engaging
  2. Getting noticed by a nationally syndicated radio host helps.

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