With digital marketing – as with many things – just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Exemplar of this is the 2008 Saatchi & Saatchi LA Toyota Matrix campaign, soon to be making its re-appearance in a US courtroom.
In brief, the creative campaign was an elaborate online gag in which people received unsolicited emails from spoof, dodgy characters with seemingly real online profiles which appeared to involve the recipient in the fictional online stalker’s chaotic life. The creative panel that road-tested the campaign when launched appeared genuinely impressed with the concept, creative input and attention to detail while their concerns seemed to focus only on how believable it was for the person being “punked” or spoofed. The essence of the campaign – a clever prank – fitted with the DNA of the desired audience of 20-something men.
But one email recipient, Amber Duick, didn’t see the funny side of being digitally stalked by the Toyota campaign’s fictitious, English football hooligan character, Sebastian Bowler (where did they get that name? Surely he should’ve been “Gary”) and looks like she’ll get her day in court with Saatchi on various charges and with a potential price tag of $10m if she wins.
Without wanting to be hard with hindsight on Saatchi – and there’s no doubting the boldness, left-field creativity and relevance for the actual target audience in the campaign – the missing element in the thinking process seems to have been “where could this go wrong?” and “is there a potential reputation problem here?”
An exciting creative concept takes on a life of its own and probably any agency can become wedded to delivering it, no matter what the possible fall-out. Even potential controversy can be considered an added bonus. Call me risk averse – or even an old stiff, if you like, but this was probably a case of controversy that Toyota and Saatchi could’ve done without. At the time, it seems there wasn’t a Toyota social media team (as it has now) involved in the campaign.
Nowadays, the Toyota social media team tells me that its mix of PR, marketing and customer relations people is “part of the larger digital umbrella” operating at the company. It’s a fair example of where integration among marketing disciplines – including those with a keener eye for corporate and brand reputation – can help to avert potential disasters when the creative juices get carried away.