Crank Yankers Case Study

Many business-to-consumer (B2C) campaigns are focused on the sell. You create an offer, send it to a database, and track how many recipients convert. Business-to-business (B2B) campaigns focus on building relationships. You create a message, send it to your target audience, and track how many leads are generated. OK, so the distinction between B2C and B2B is a simplification, but you get the idea.

Here’s a campaign that combines aspects of both. It’s a B2C campaign all about building relationships in an effort to promote a company’s image and products. It does so in a way that’s fun and technologically on the edge.

Comedy Central wanted to build excitement for its new show, “Crank Yankers.” “Crank Yankers” is highly visual and auditory, combining crank calls with puppets. It was set to debut in June.

So late this spring, Comedy Central launched an integrated advertising campaign. It used billboards, radio, print, the Internet, and other media to promote the show. On the Internet, it ran banners, designed promotions throughout its own site, and (of course, or I wouldn’t be writing about this) assembled an email marketing component.

The idea was to create an email marketing campaign that would reflect the show’s content. Comedy Central worked with eStara, a company that builds online communication tools. eStara is known for its “Push to Talk” services, a technology that lets Internet users click a button and speak to online businesses over the Web in real time (VoIP).

Comedy Central came up with creative designed for a tech-savvy, young adult market: a glossy, colorful HTML email with puppets, plenty of color, and a button users could push to hear a crank call. Comedy Central worked with eStara to combine the creative with the company’s technology. Comedy Central sent the mailing to its internal database of about 700,000 registered users.

The email pointed visitors to the “Crank Yankers” site. A pop-up window appears automatically. Visitors hit “457” on the virtual telephone (the code is listed in yellow toward the bottom of the Yankerville Yellow Pages section on the right) and click “Dial.” Up pops another window, where visitors enter a phone number and email address for the intended recipient. The caller selects a “Crank Yankers” clip to initiate the call. Once the call is made, the recipient receives an email message explaining what just happened.

Yes, you can probably see how this has potential for abuse. eStara built in important security measures. Each Crank Yankers call requires an individual authorization code. The service tracks IP addresses and telephone numbers to prevent abuse and unauthorized use of the system. Time parameters were set to prevent late night calls.

The results?

  • In the first week, calls went from 0 to about 4,000 per day. After a couple weeks, crank phone calls were up to about 10,000 per day and soon hit about 12,000 to 14,000 per day.

  • Comedy Central could look at email addresses entered and verify many of the recipients were from the core demographic (Ian Halpern, eStara director of marketing, estimates over 25 percent). Many addresses were from college campuses.
  • Campaign cost, says Halpern, was less than $1 per action taken (each crank call). (eStara campaign costs hinge on volume, work involved, and other factors. Campaigns runs from less than $25,000 to $250,000.)
  • Though it’s difficult to quantify how many calls originated with the email component of the campaign, Richard Loomis, Comedy Central VP of marketing and advertising, calls the CTR “significant.”

A final note: Comedy Central’s goal in this campaign was to promote “Crank Yankers,” not build the registered user database. Though Comedy Central did gather addresses, thanks to the nature of the promotion, Loomis notes the company has no plans on if or how to use them.

Meet Heidi at ClickZ E-Mail Strategies in Chicago on Thursday, August 8.

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