Christine Loman writing for Buzzsaw:
In the summer of 2001, 40 beautiful women whispered “save me” into the ears of men in San Francisco, dropped business cards into their pockets and promptly disappeared. The question, “Is it just a game?” was found scrawled in red lipstick on bathroom mirrors. Men dressed in black suits and dark sunglasses stood on the corners of busy streets during rush hour with cardboard signs that read, “The truth is majestic” and “They are watching you.” The bottoms of donut boxes sent to office buildings read, “Who feeds you your information?”
All were part of an advertising campaign mirroring the content of a new video game called Majestic. The brainchild of San Francisco-based Ammo Marketing, the campaign succeeded in generating press and users to Majestic. Part of this success, according to Martin Howard, author of We Know What You Want: How They Change Your Mind, may have been due to the use of buzz agents in the campaign.
Paid by marketing companies, buzz agents make up a subsection of the increasingly popular guerilla marketing strategy. But when phone, car or liquor companies secretly pay for this kind of marketing, it ceases to be the recommendation of a friend and becomes something more calculated: a seemingly invisible commercial.
Information on buzz agents, who are often actors, is scarce. Like most advertising campaigns, their target audiences vary based on the product they’re trying to push. The guise of the buzz agent is the mundane: a fellow bar patron ordering a specific brand of vodka, a tourist with a specific camera. Their guise helps capitalize on the vulnerability of innocuous conversations. Harder to spot than product placement or tattoo advertising, a buzz agent takes fleeting encounters and stamps them with invisible “this message sponsored by…” post scripts.
Some are easier to spot than others. In one of the more well-known cases involving YouTube, an Australian woman named Heidi Clarke beseeched the viewers of her video to help her find her Prince Charming. Hesitantly, Clarke explained she had met a man in a café, a “wonderful, smart, funny” man with whom she felt “this connection.” He departed before she could catch his name, but like any good pseudo-fairy tale left something behind: his suit jacket. Clarke went on to describe the jacket, its beautiful tailoring and quality, and that she was sure her mystery man would want it back.
The video turned out to be a hoax constructed by Australian marketer Naked Communications. The actress’s name was Holly Hardy, and although it’s brand name was never mentioned, she was advertising the jacket her mystery man had left behind. Hardy had previously modeled for Witchery, the company that made the jacket.
In the case of the Majestic campaign, the business cards slipped into the pockets of curious men led to a hotline advertising the game. The campaign got coverage from almost a dozen media outlets on the West Coast, resulting in increased sign ups for the game. The women did not disclose their identities.
The effectiveness of buzz agents lies in their ability to secretly insert advertising messages in everyday life…
[continues at Buzzsaw]