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Case Study: Call Girl

Client:  Prime Television
Agency: Draftfcb New Zealand
Award: Yellow Pencil / Radio Advertising / Radio Advertising over 30 seconds / 2013

New Zealand TV channel Prime wanted to generate interest in the new season premiere of 'Secret Diary of a Call Girl', based on the diary of anonymous sex worker Belle de Jour. The resulting campaign created a national media storm…

In just two weeks, DraftFCB New Zealand devised and implemented 'Secret Life of a Call Girl' - a stunt that involved staging a scene with a call girl and client in the upstairs bedroom of a house, which backed onto the studios of the country's leading radio network, 91.8 More FM Auckland.

Run over three days during November 2012, the stunt was witnessed and recounted live by the stations' DJs during their broadcasts. Commentary of the staged scenes unfolded before their eyes - both on air and via social media - generating significant social buzz and media interest from what was, in effect, a 72 hour-long unpaid-for live radio ad.

The Story

DraftFCB had been working with Prime for seven years, and the non-traditional and disruptive ads it created had built the broadcaster a reputation for high profile campaigns.

In late 2012, just two weeks ahead of the fifth season premiere of 'Secret Diary of a Call Girl', Prime briefed DraftFCB to reinvigorate interest in the show. Previous seasons had enjoyed modest ratings success and Prime was eager to ensure core fans returned and new viewers were attracted.

The budget was small and time was tight. "But because of the series' risqué subject matter, we were convinced a traditional 30-second ad just wasn't going to do it justice," says DraftFCB senior copywriter Kelly Lovelock.

"We believed we could do something different that would generate significant earned media and achieve far greater stand out."

“Radio is a strong medium to reach target viewers, and its immediacy and frequency work well driving TV audiences in the days running up to a show's broadcast”, senior copywriter Hywel James explains.

 So, initial discussions focused on how else they might utilise the radio environment and in particular, DJs' and audience's shared interest in scandal and gossip.

"In a shock jock era, scandal and radio go hand in hand. The question was: how to make the most of this? Some kind of paid for promotion was one route, but everyone sees through that. It had to be authentic to create great talkability," Lovelock adds.

"We set out to do something that pushed and challenged the boundaries of conventional radio advertising. After a number of high profile DJ pranks pranking made international news, we started thinking: how about playing a prank on the pranksters themselves?"

The thinking was simple: DJs love to talk, so why not give them something - a call girl scenario - which they couldn't resist talking about?

The Strategy

The first step was securing client approval. "I was immediately intrigued by the potential of the idea," says Kate Whittle, brand manager at Prime. "This was due to the innovative use of the radio medium and its potential to create broader conversations in other digital media channels during the lead up to the show."

An important next step was to find the right location close to a radio station, and secure the management of that studio's backing. "DJs can't discuss anything on air without their station's backing," Lovelock continues. "We needed approval from the top, but also their agreement to keep involvement in the stunt secret from the DJs to the ensure reaction to it was genuine."

DraftFCB identified 91.8 More FM Auckland as a possible contender – not only did the station have national reach, but it was based in a building which overlooked an upmarket residential area. Accompanied by a member of the agency group's media team, Lovelock visited the studios and secured the support of the station manager.

"To get the most out of the stunt, it was important to agree up front that once we got DJs talking, they would be allowed to continue the conversation over multiple days," Lovelock explains. "And that when we created our big 'reveal' the DJs would not be prevented from reading out the key programme information."

Ande Macpherson, network programme director at More FM adds: "Ensuring absolute secrecy was the key to this stunt's success."

Once the idea had been green lit, the agency had just five days to set up three scenarios - each lasting around ten minutes - involving a call girl (played by paid talent) and her client (played by a member of the agency's media team) to play out over three consecutive afternoons culminating the day of the season premier on Prime.

"It was all about targeting people on their way home from work as they were thinking about how to spend their evening," says James. "We hoped this would encourage DJs that followed to continue referring to it in later shows."

With no budget for paid media or any other additional support, the hope was that once they saw what was going on, the DJs would run with it creating related content - comment live on air and via personal and station social media - spontaneously. Lovelock notes: "Even just a few on-air references would have made it successful."

At a pre-arranged time on Day 1 of the stunt, a member of the radio station staff in on the prank drew the DJ's attention to the scene unfolding in the second story window across the street. Within minutes he was relating what he was seeing live on-air.

 Within hours, it’s all the DJs could talk about, and over the days that followed, DJs on the station's other shows and from other stations continued to reference the story, and a host of other content – including some saucy footage shot from a DJ's mobile phone - was spontaneously posted and widely shared online and via social media.

 "The house used to belong to a famous Kiwi personality," James adds. "We knew this, but got lucky when she started tweeting responses to the social media discussion about what was going on in her former home - it was a huge bonus."

 However, there were some challenges, for example, controlling the 'story' as it unfolded. "At one point, the homeowners neighbours’ started panicking as they assumed a member of the family living in the house was having an illicit affair," Lovelock notes. "We also got a call from the police pointing out it was illegal to record and distribute footage of illicit activities."

 Thankfully, the self-contained nature of the stunt and its short-lived duration helped contain negative reactions. And the fact that none of the scenarios were explicit ensured that neither the reputations of Prime, the radio station or agency were compromised.

 "It was all about implied sexuality," he adds. "There was nothing over the top or near as explicit as can be seen in many magazines. And it was that implication which gave it its power."

 The stunt came to a close on Day 3, when the ‘call girl’ lowered the blind in the window to reveal the message: 'Secret Diary of a Call Girl 9.35pm Tonight. Prime' - which the DJ watching read out live on-air.

The Impact

Over the three days when the 'Secret Life of a Call Girl' promotion ran, the combination of live radio coverage supplemented by social media comment and discussion created a 72 hour-long tease for the TV show.

There are no stats available to quantify the paid equivalent value of the media interest generated by DraftFCB's 'Call Girl' campaign. However, Prime audience data demonstrates that the campaign effectively fulfilled its brief to maintain audience levels for the new season premiere by bringing back existing viewers and winning over new ones.

"The results exceeded our expected viewership for a fifth season show,"Kate Whittle says. "Our aim was to maintain viewership and combat any potential attrition - which the campaign certainly did." And because of the way it pushed creative barriers, it was also totally on brand.

"We are only as good as a client will allow us to be. In this case, we had a client who trusts us and with whom we're already used to pushing boundaries," James adds. "This has been a great for the campaigns we have created for Prime since then."

"Looking back, using the radio station's social media channels was crucial to the success and share-ability of the story," says Lovelock. "The success of this campaign is down to a brave client and a commitment among all concerned to push creative boundaries and challenge traditional thinking. And what's still so exciting is that you don't need to be a global brand or have a massive budget to achieve that."

Watch the Secret Diary of a Call Girl Campaign That had Everybody Talking

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