Sunday, July 13, 2008

Are You Selling a Groundhog?

Self-described online thought leadership and viral marketing strategist David Meerman Scott recently wrote a funny (but of course completely relevant) blog post in which he described how many times -- when he gives a speech or seminar -- people will say "But my buyers aren't online. My buyers don't use Google to find answers to problems or to research products."

Meerman Scott says when he hears this he immediately thinks the person is just afraid of social media and is making an excuse so they can stick to traditional marketing. That's when he reminds them that nearly everyone -- from corporate CEOs to the janitor who cleans the CEO's office is probably on line. He makes his point with a great juxtaposition: he's suddenly discovered the one industry where the buyers are not on line, the camel market in Riyad, Saudi Arabia (watch his sandstorm enhanced video here).

His point got me thinking about my favorite on-line marketing effort of all time: the series of viral videos created by the Pennsylvania Department of Tourism for Groundhog Day 2004. If you don't know what Groundhog Day is then you must be hibernating: it's the event, every February 2nd, where Punxsutawney Phil (the event happens in the north central Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney) is dragged from his burrow on Gobbler's Knob to see whether or not he sees his shadow -- if he sees his shadow, that means there will be six more weeks of winter.

The online marketing campaign entitled "Groundhog Chase", features a series of eight short videos that chronicle the exploits of "The Groundhog" and "The Shadow" as the groundhog (a guy in a groundhog suit) attempts to catch his shadow (another guy in a black groundhog suit) by chasing him all over town with hilarious results. The first video was launched in early January 2004 with more videos released over the subsequent weeks leading up to Groundhog Day in an effort to build buzz about the annual event. People were encouraged to sign up to receive e-mail alerts about the release of a new video. In my house, my son and I eagerly awaited the newest installment and got on-line immediately to view it.

Groundhog Chase was fairly cheaply made: two guys in groundhog costumes, a handful of additional actors and a couple of guys with a handheld camera made this video in less than a week in Philadelphia (but notice how they try to keep the locations somewhat generic so as not to make this a "Philly" thing).

It created great buzz, so good in fact, that PA Tourism followed up Groundhog Chase with Groundhog 202 a take-off on the Jack Nicholson film "The Shining" that was written up in everything from AdRants to the Philadelphia Business Journal. 2007 brought Groundhog Crossing, in which Shadow has fled Punxsutawney and Groundhog must track him across the country (read the critique of this campaign at This year Groundhog and Shadow went celebrity in a new series of viral videos called Groundhog Duel complete with a companion blog site, Celebrity Plush.

My point being: maybe camel sellers in Riyad don't go on line or use viral marketing. But if an organization as venerable as the 122 year old Punxsutawney Groundhog Club can be dragged into the emerging media of the 21st century, then anyone can -- and should!

P.S. if you only have time to watch one of the series of videos, watch the first one. The videos might seem a little bit "last year" but keep in mind, this idea was hatched four years ago (a lifetime in viral marketing) and on a shoestring budget. My favorite episode is the one in the laundromat (check out how Shadow flirts with the girl doing her laundry). And see if you can catch the continuity mistake in the one that's shot in a men's room.


David said...

Thanks for pointing to my camel video. That was fun to make. I'll check out the groundhog stuff.

Take care,
David Meerman Scott

Anne said...

David --

Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog! I hope you enjoy the groundhog videos.

Good luck with your own blog and all of your other pursuits and thanks for all the great insight you provide.


Heidi said...

Yay! You got a DMS comment, too!

Anne said...

Yeah, how psyched was I!