The latest in our ICYMI series takes a trip down under to look at a 2009 campaign from Virgin Mobile.
Launching ahead of that summer's V-Festival in Sydney, the telecoms giant set out to reconnect people with Virgin and its musical roots.
So, with a heavy dose of humour and some slick content, Droga5 created an incredibly engaging integrated campaign that ensured Aussies would stop, collaborate and listen.
The Big Idea
Firstly, some context.
Virgin's place in music history was cemented back in the 1970s, and 80's having given birth to the careers of seminal artists, including the likes of The Sex Pistols.
However, 30 years on and a raft of subsidiary Virgin brands doing a multitude of 'things' - no Aussie teen had the faintest idea of this musical past.
So, with the sole purpose of creating debate and reasserting Virgin as a brand that knows 'what good sounds like', a campaign was born around an unlikely ally in the form of everyone's least favourite 90's flash in the pan pop star Vanilla Ice.
If like me, you weren't old enough to remember the summer of 1989, the magic of Mr Ice's plastic hip-hop one-hit-wonder 'Ice, Ice, Baby' may have passed you by.
But put it this way; it sold a lot of records but is generally held up on high as an aberration that makes music lovers wince. Loved only by wedding DJ's and ironic dancing dads. It's not good.
With Vanilla Ice onboard as provocateur-in-chief, Virgin Mobile decided to put him on trial and make him apologise for his heinous crimes against music.
What They Did
First things first – mea culpa time.
Creating a video featuring Vanilla Ice in which Vanilla (real name Robert Van Winkle) gave a full and frank apology straight down the lens.
"I'm sorry for the hair-dos, the baggy pants, the scandals, the lies, the gangs, and I'm sorry about the music"…"I was young, manipulated, and I was a puppet."
Launched online and promoted by Virgin Mobile without a great deal of explanation, the video very quickly started to go viral with 350,000 views in a matter of 48 hours.
Raising the odd eyebrow, causing a fair amount of debate but most importantly leading viewers to a specially created microsite RightMusicWrongs.org. Here people could vote in an online poll to determine Vanilla guilty or innocent as well as sentencing a raft of other third-rate musicians (personal taste depending) such as The Fast Food Rockers and Right Said Fred for their melodic misdeeds.
While the debate raged on, Virgin Mobile kept things ticking over and the fire stoked by drip-feeding further videos.
One involved Vanilla hitting the streets with a megaphone to apologise in public, cut together with vox pops as people gave their personal verdict on the fading rapper's work. This was then followed by another of Mr Ice randomly ringing people in Australia in the middle of the night to leave apologetic voicemails, followed by a print campaign using some of the sound bites from the calls and featuring retro 90's images of Vanilla.
After two whole weeks of other 'stuff' ranging from pavement graffiti and guerrilla flyering (remember when that was cool?) it was time for the big finale as Vanilla headed down under to face the music in person.
The countless TV and radio interviews continued to build the hype and pointed toward his sentencing, via a public vote, in which it would be determined if he was 'cool enough' to take to the stage at Sydney's V Festival.
Needless to say, he beat the wrap, and they let him… rap.
I mean it worked, right? Well, I think it did at least.
It's safe to say that it lit the blue touch paper of debate and the constant stream of content drew upwards of 250,000 active users to the website with each either uploading or voting on the musical misdemeanours of a wide range of artists and acts.
Also, in the four short weeks between the original apology video and Vanilla taking to the stage in Sydney, "Sorry" became Australia's most-viewed YouTube video of all time. Around 1 million people saw it and with about £150,000 spent on the whole thing from start to finish – the advertising bods' magical pinch-of-salt maths suggest approximately 22 million people worldwide. That's a lot of people.
Vanilla even enjoyed such a sharp rise in profile that he decided to make a short-lived comeback. Thankfully he has gone away again, and Virgin Mobile apologised, but it happened, and that's something.
Firstly, a lot of people saw it. A lot of the right people.
It sold a lot of tickets for V Festival and left a residual feeling that Virgin are “the music guys". It was also a relatively brave campaign all in that relied heavily on people in Australia going along with a single gag stretched out over four weeks.
However, there is a nagging feeling that, in the end, it probably did a hell of a lot more for Vanilla Ice than Virgin Mobile.
I don't remember the campaign at the time, but having researched it and watched the videos, read the articles and looked at some of the debates online I can't help feeling that many probably remember this as 'That Vanilla Ice campaign' rather than one from a brand.
A fun campaign that worked at the time and would have been a PR dream.
But, in retrospect, a few rough edges that certainly helped raise the profile of a fading novelty act potentially more than it did Virgin.