Derrie-Air’s Lesson for Media Buyers

These days, it seems that everyone is the butt of someone else’s joke. Consumers have grown accustomed to being fooled, thanks to infamous shows like “Candid Camera” and “TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes.” It was only a matter of time before the cultural elite got theirs, and they did starting in 2003 with MTV’s “Punk’d.”

Then earlier this year, E! debuted “Pop Fiction,” a show in which celebrities fool the paparazzi and news media into believing, capturing, and disseminating happenings in their lives that aren’t at all true. Last week, the media and consumers were left red-faced when it was revealed that a newly launched airline, called Derrie-Air — along with the ads that promoted it in the “Philadelphia Inquirer” and “Philadelphia Daily News” and on — was a fake.

With a tag line that read, “The more you weigh, the more you pay,” the concept was that the airline would charge customers by the pound for their airfare, a system that makes consumers accountable for the additional fuel they require due to their mass. For its part, Derrie-Air would plant trees to offset the carbon released into the air by its planes.

A Web site provided consumers with more information, along with a disclaimer that explained the truth: the airline and associated ads were just a one-day campaign by Philadelphia Media Holdings (owner of both publications) to prove the advertising effectiveness of its print and online properties and jump-start a discussion about environmental issues.

Online, marketers and Internet users are quite familiar with this type of ruse. It’s not uncommon for brands and their agencies to dream up elaborate viral marketing campaigns in an effort to generate more buzz than would typically be accomplished by a straight media buy. Teaser campaigns are also a popular choice, and as revealed in the recent cross-media campaign to promote the film “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” wit and eccentricity can produce some impressive and memorable results.

In most cases where the masses are meant to be duped, the media and its ad placements play an essential role in distributing the fake information, whether publishers know it or not. For Philadelphia Media Holdings, its media buy was central to the campaign in every way. Companies investing in this type of alternate ad campaign often leverage their existing media buys and publisher relationships to secure inventory through which to promote their unconventional efforts. Here, convention meets innovation, and it works.

To buyers and planners, this point should be of great interest. We’re always looking for ways to make our client’s buys more creative through customization and unique site partnerships, believing this is the best way to draw attention to their ads. In fact, the most standard of ad buys, whether online or in a print newspaper, can deliver extraordinary results when used in conjunction with an extraordinary campaign. What a great reminder of the importance of campaign concepts and ad creative and how they work in tandem with our buys.

Even though Derrie-Air was meant to demonstrate the power of Philadelphia’s newspaper advertising, it did the whole practice of media buying a favor by drawing attention to the close relationship between media buys and ad effectiveness. Without a sure-fire way to reach the masses, Derrie-Air would have been nothing but a funny idea that made its way around the office before growing cold with the coffee.

Most marketers take their work very seriously, but there’s still room for fun and games — the more unexpected, the better. We, along with everyone else, will continue to be fooled, but when it comes to our turn, it’s our media buys that will help our client’s heavyweight campaigns take flight.

Meet Tessa at ClickZ Specifics: Online Video Advertising on July 22, at Millennium Broadway in New York City.

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