Twitter is a powerful way to connect socially with fans and friends online. And thanks to a series of digital billboards, Conan O’Brien and Lamar Advertising have found a way to tweet in the real world—and build their brand profile in the process.
For a week earlier this month, Lamar used available digital inventory to post the former and soon-to-be talk show host’s offbeat Twitter musings on 225 billboards across the country. (Typical tweets: “I’m confused by the new census form. There’s no box for ‘Sickly White.’” “Jewish fun fact: If you celebrate Passover on top of an overpass, you go back in time.”)
The idea for the campaign came after a meeting with some digital network experts, where Lamar execs brainstormed about ways to showcase the power of digital billboards, said Tommy Teepell, CMO of Lamar.
“We talked about how active Conan was on Twitter and his high fan base there,” said Shannon Perry, assistant to the CMO. “We thought we could give him a place on our digital boards, because it would be very easy for us to feed the tweets live to our boards.”
By why jump on Team Coco specifically?
“We love him and we just though it would be funny,” said Perry. “His
tweets are extremely fresh, he only does about one a day, and they’re usually pretty PG/PG-13. We thought we’d just put them up on the boards and see what would happen.”
Keeping it Real—And Legal
No wanting to risk a copyright lawsuit, Lamar checked with its legal department, who said that because Twitter is public and Lamar wasn’t making any money off the campaign, it would be legit. The company also talked with Mike Mitchell, the artist who created the now famous “I’m With Coco” image and got his permission to use the artwork.
The campaign was executed very quickly, even by Internet standards. On the same day they came up with the idea, art director Trammie Tran Anderson and Nicholas Guercio, marketing coordinator/copywriter created an accompanying Web site, www.aplaceforconan.com.
“We covered all our bases, and stressed that it was not affiliated with Conan,” said Anderson of the site’s copy. “We wanted to make it clear that Conan’s team had not paid for the campaign, that it was all on our end.”
On the backend, Perry coordinated with Lamar’s digital team to work on loading the tweets on the company’s billboards across the country. Lamar controls 1,146 digital billboards nationally via the Web from its corporate offices in Baton Rouge, LA.
The tweets were run in spots that were basically remnant space, between paid contracts on the boards. About 224 available panels were found across the U.S. to host the tweets, says Teepell, noting that a typical digital board has six spots on it, which each run about 6-8 seconds, depending on the market. This means the tweets appeared on those 224 boards once to one and half times per minute.
Timing is Everything
The campaign ran from April 6-18. The start/end turned out to be great timing, as O’Brien announced on April 12 that he was signing on with TBS for a new show to begin in the fall.
“The timing on this was so huge and so perfect. Conan fans were starved for Conan,” says Guercio. “If we had gotten this idea and we were able to get it up the same day. If we had gotten it up a week later, he would have already had a show. “
Since there was such as huge viral jump in recognition after the TBS announcement, Lamar looked primarily at the metrics pre-April 12 to gauge the impact of the billboards. Between April 6-11, aplaceforconan.com got over 70,000 hits, 55,000 of which were unique.
“Fans loved it and we got a lot of comments online about how funny it was, and what a great break in traffic the billboards were,” says Perry.
To celebrate the end of the campaign on April 18, Mike Mitchell created a special piece of creative to mark the date, which was coincidentally Conan O’Brien’s birthday.
The result of the campaign overall turned out to be not only increased recognition for Conan but Lamar as well.
“When we did it, we did it just to be funny, we truly did,” said Teepell. “It wasn’t until we realized, ‘wow, all these people are hitting the Web site’ and when we looked at Google Alerts, that we saw all the people who were responding to this.”
“One of the reasons fans really liked this campaign is that we never made it very ‘markety,’” said Guercio. “The Web site doesn’t mention all the cool things you can do with digital, and who you can contact to buy [billboard space]. Nothing we wrote on any of our social interactions with people ever mentioned buying or selling or anything like that.”
That fact that Lamar kept the whole thing tongue firmly in cheek also gave them some cred with Conan’s loyal fans.
“When you put yourself on the same playing field as everyone else, suspicions aren’t there and that wall doesn’t go up,” said Guercio. “When we first put it up everyone was saying ‘oh, Conan paid for that’ or ‘oh, they’re doing this to sell this or this’. After a few hours that was all gone. The intentions were pure.”
Networks Tune In
One really interesting outcome was that two of the first businesses to contact Lamar regarding the campaign were television networks. They wanted to know who executed the campaign, how did it happen—and why weren’t they contacted first, said Teepell.
“The funny thing was that we had been in front of these people all the time, talking about the flexibility of ways they could promote their shows or events [via digital billboards]. One example I could give you would identify the network right away. And they were miffed!” said Teepell with a laugh. “We said, ‘look we just did it for fun. And we didn’t do anything we haven’t told you about. You just chose not to do it.’”
Using the EyesOn traffic pattern tracking data, Lamar was able to track not only how many people drove past the spot, but how many who drove past likely looked, and what were the demographics of those people. The company then had a little fun with the data, comparing those numbers with how Jay Leno was doing on a regular night on television.
The campaign has also gotten Lamar a lot of attention from consumers, who prior to this probably drove by the billboards every day, not giving who put them there a second thought. Lamar now has over 2,200 fans on Facebook.
“Shannon has been doing a great job of keeping up with comments,” says Anderson, noting that after Mike Mitchell posted on Facebook about the campaign around 3 p.m. on a Friday, over 1,000 comments were posted over the weekend. “People are really identifying with the campaign and saying on Facebook ‘Lamar rocks! You guys are so cool. If I had $500 extra, I’d totally buy a billboard.’ And we worked over the weekend to respond and give Lamar a personality, so they know there’s a person and not just a corporation.”
“That was a great learning experience from this whole effort,” she said, noting that Lamar also created some mini desktop size billboards to giveaway in a contest as a little something extra for fans. “You have to give your brand not just a voice, but a hip, funny voice that people want to talk to.”
For more on the ideas behind the campaign, and the response from Team Coco, visit the Big Fat Marketing Blog: http://bigfatmarketingblog.com/2010/04/23/conans-sweet-tweets-hit-the-big-time/