I spent most of my non-snowboarding time in Vail doing two things--
- Ripping through Word-of-Mouth Marketing books
- Listening to Donald Trump rip into Rosie O’Donnell
The end result is this story, a most uncommon of mash-ups—a Surprise story about W.O.M. marketing starring The Donald himself. Well, kinda…
Here’s how it goes:
When Garner and I started Airborne Entertainment, our marketing budget was miniscule, and spent primarily at making a splash at the semi-annual CTIA Conference (Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association for all you non-moblies). At CTIAs past, to keep Airborne face-forward, we would produce some sort of take-away collateral or swag, each of which would cost us about five or six dollars.
R.O.I. on these standard items (t-shirts, glossy brochures, the usual suspects)
was less than spectacular, and at the San Francisco conference in 2004, we were looking to spend
less but get more bang for the buck…particularly since we were launching our
mobile version of Donald Trump’s Real-Estate Tycoon game at the time. The brainstorm was
the following, which reduced our cost to a mere buck itself:
The brainstorm was the following, which reduced our cost to a mere buck itself:
This was no photocopy or flimsy replica; we took 750 American singles and rubber stamped them with our message, which led interested parties to our show booth and a special website.
People flipped out.
First at Airborne.
“Aren’t we going to get arrested for that?” staff worried.
“I hope so,” I replied. “We can use the publicity!”
(Truth be told, we used a vegetable-based ink that would fade over time…hopefully before I’d get out of prison for defacing American currency.)
Then at CTIA.
On the first day, we sprinkled the money on the conference floor and had a blast watching different reactions to the free dollar bills. Some people discretely picked ‘em up and pocketed ‘em; some looked both ways for hidden cameras before stooping; some grabbed, read and laughed; some ignored them completely, adhering to the “If It’s Too Good To Be True…” theorem.
Cute, but no big bang.
That came the following afternoon, when I was speaking on a panel about mobile games. The ballroom was packed for two reasons—the subject matter was intriguing for the industry, and one of the panelists was the neo-celeb Trip Hawkins, one of the co-founders of gaming giant Electronic Arts. As a small company punching above its weight at the time, Airborne had to make a splash here. And I had five hundred friends left to help.
At one point in the panel, we were asked to talk about our most recent project. Bingo! As I started my shpiel, I surveyed the crowd. Seated in the corners of the room were four Airborne co-conspirators, each with $125 of the Trump bills in their hands; I had the other $125. The plan was as soon as I finished the sentence “…but we decided to promote this Donald’s way!” we would toss the bills into the air.
And toss we did. From my vantage point on the stage, it was a thing of beauty:
Poof! Five little clouds of cash, each rising up like firework explosions before cascading to earth like giant snowflakes.
And then the real
explosion began. Bedlam!
And then the real explosion began. Bedlam!
The gathered crowd bolted from their chairs and battled for fistfuls of dollars. Chairs flew, bodies dove, tables overturned. Decorum was shattered into dust. Hawkins was incredulous. “How do I follow that?” he said out loud.
Needless to say, the stunt was the talk of the rather staid conference. Here are two of the “reviews” from bloggers:
Over at the Moscone West Center it was down to Airborne's Andy Nulman to liven up the definitive panel on mobile entertainment. It's been a long time since I've seen a panel member throw dollar bills to the audience.
-- Monty's Gaming and Wireless Outlook
In one memorable moment, Andy Nulman flung about 100 singles in the air. Although each of these had an advertisement for the company's Donald Trump's Real Estate Tycoon printed on it, they were much sought after by a suddenly enlivened crowd. Several dozen mobile executives scrambling in response to Nulman's extension of largesse seemed an appropriate metaphor.
For two days, I couldn’t move without people either asking “Are you the guy who threw the money?” or, more often, asking for samples. And to this day, five full conferences later, people still come up to me and inquire: “Are you throwing any more dollar bills this time?”
Of course not.
Been there, done that. That's what you're expecting.
I’ve gotta find new ways to Surprise you!