The folks that brought you The T-Mobile Dance, the most-watched flashmob video ever, are back in town with a sequel, staged at London's Heathrow airport. The T-Mobile Welcome Back uses every trick in the book -- swelling choral voices, upbeat and uplifting music, great acting and candid footage -- to tug your heartstrings.
That's one reason why the video has gotten more than 5 million views since its October 27 release. But you can also chalk it up to a canny media and PR campaign that builds on two years of momentum. What's more, the "Life's for Sharing" campaign has paid off in increased sales as well as brand engagement.
"The minute we settled on an airport arrival, the objective was to try and make people cry. An airport arrivals area is the perfect place to do that, people are longing to see other people," says Paul Silburn, creative partner for Saatchi & Saatchi London. In this respect, he thinks, Welcome is even better than Dance. "There are more fun moments and, when you get to the end, it's also very emotional. It's amazing that people will actually cry at the ending of an ad."
Welcome is more sophisticated and complex than Dance, with 300 choir members both singing lyrics and voicing notes that would usually be played by instruments in what musical director Shai Fishman says is the biggest a cappella arrangement ever. Eighteen hidden video cameras captured the singers, costumed like a typical array of travelers, as they interacted in character with folks getting off planes.
"We don't come in as campaigns, talk to people and disappear off," says Anna Berry, planning director at MediaCom. "We used the branded engagement content and then shifted into more traditional product advertising in traditional offline media, always prompting people to go online and encouraging people to like, vote and share it."
Notably, the flashmob ads send consumers to Life's for Sharing, T-Mobile's YouTube channel, rather than to the company website. More notably, the campaign is so successful that T-Mobile now advertises the ads themselves ahead of their launch.
"An ad for an ad is a trend we're starting to see," says Matt Fiorentino, senior marketing analyst for Visible Measures, an online video analytics firm. "They're building anticipation for an ad, just like you would for a new show."
That first flashmob in January 2009 featured 350 dancers breaking into a choreographed routine at Liverpool Street Station. The creative team edited footage into a 2.5-minute ad and ran it during Big Brother, with an introduction from within the program.
MediaCom teased the original Dance video by handing out cards directing people to the Life's for Sharing channel and the Facebook page. Mediacom moderators worked the social media channels, continuing the conversations. Additional content was released, including making-of and behind-the-scenes videos. MediaCom also pulled in some of the best user-generated homages for the Life's for Sharing YouTube channel.
As a result, search volume on "T-Mobile" went up by 38 percent during the campaign and the company's word of mouth tracking more than doubled, according to MediaCom.
MediaCom leveraged its social media base for an April 2009 follow-up, Singalong. "We invited everyone we had engaged through all the social media and digital pieces to come to Trafalgar Square," Berry says. More than 13,000 people showed up for the world's largest karaoke -- also filmed and given the full media/social media treatment.
Welcome's launch followed the format: Tease consumers and the press, shoot and edit the piece within 24 hours to create an extended spot. In this case, the spot ran on all commercial channels in the UK between 10 and 10:30 on Friday evening.
Says Silburn, "That's part of the PR story, that the ads will be airing within 24 hours, and we tell them the specific time slots. All of that helps to drive appointments to view and awareness of what we're doing. All that side of it is as carefully rehearsed as the performance itself."
There's also a well-choreographed dance between commercial and viral media, Berry says. The idea is to get excitement and noise with PR and traditional media, and then keep things moving on digital and social media. To make the most of it, MediaCom retargets people who watch the video with direct response advertising.
Berry says that people who had seen the brand engagement video were 40 to 50 percent more likely to click through from a T-Mobile sales message, proving the value of the brand engagement.
"We're still trying to sell product, but we use brand engagement as the basis to retarget the message to consumers. And they're a bit more warmed up to the brand," she says.
Life's for Sharing is a gift that keeps on giving for T-Mobile. Today, Dance is the most-watched flashmob video of all time, according to TubeMogul, with more than 28.5 million views. (It's followed by Improv Anywhere's Frozen Grand Central, with 25.3 million views.) Singalong garnered nearly 4 million views.
All three T-Mobile flashmob videos made TubeMogul's Top Ten list of flashmob videos. The video advertising and analytics platform aggregated stats across multiple video sites, including unofficial and pirated versions, to create the list.
What's next for T-Mobile? Probably not another flashmob, according to Silburn. Saatchi envisions something with a story or thread that could run through a whole year.
But the acid test for ideas will remain the same, he says. "Would this make me get my phone out and share it if I was there?"
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Susan Kuchinskas has covered interactive advertising since its invention. The former staff writer for Adweek, Business 2.0, and M-Business covers technology, business and culture from Berkeley, CA.
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