Giant hillside Sudoku flags up Sky show

Campaign: Launch of Vorderman's Sudoku Live Client: Sky One PR team: Sky Publicity and Taylor Herring Communications Timescale: May-June 2005 Budget: £20,000 (plus £5,000 prize fund)

To capitalise on the biggest puzzle phenomenon since the newspaper crossword, Sky One commissioned Vorderman's Sudoku Live, pitting contestants against each other to play the mathematical brainteaser for the chance to win a top prize of £25,000.

The first programme, presented by Carol Vorderman, was a one-hour special, thought to be the first televised live Sudoku-solving event.

Objectives

To boost awareness of the show with an arresting visual stunt that would attract the national press, particularly the broadsheets, in the run-up to the June transmission.

Strategy and Plan

Using crop circles and the 180ft Cerne Abbas Giant (aka 'The Rude Man') in Dorset as inspiration, Sky One and Taylor Herring Communications built the world's largest Sudoku puzzle - planned to 'mysteriously' appear overnight on a hillside in Gloucestershire eight days before Sudoku Live.

A simple puzzle, designed by Sudoku expert Wayne Gould, was reproduced by crop-circle designers with weather-resistant white canvas. The grid contained 81 squares, each measuring 30ft x 30ft, with 15ft numbers.

The location - a hillside in the village of Hinton, adjacent to the M4 - meant the scale of the design would be clear in photographs. The puzzle was visible for up to three miles away, and it was estimated that a potential one million motorists would see it over the course of the week-long installation. Officials from Guinness World Records certified the hill puzzle as the world's largest.

Unbranded aerial photographs were sent to national and local press, after which a Sky One banner was added to the design to plug the upcoming show to motorists and hikers.

Measurement and Evaluation

With the unexpected death of Vorderman's Countdown co-presenter Richard Whiteley nine days before Sudoku Live, PR slots with Vorderman were dropped. However, she had already conducted print interviews for the Media Guardian, The Sunday Telegraph and Closer, and appeared on GMTV and various BBC radio shows.

Coverage of the giant Sudoku game included full pages in the Daily Mirror, Daily Express, The Guardian, The Times, Financial Times, Daily Star, OK!

and The Weekly News. Regional coverage included the Evening Standard, Eastern Daily Press, Western Daily Press, Bristol Evening Post and The Gloucestershire Gazette.

Results

The giant grid was also used to promote a £5,000 prize competition, which attracted more than 2,000 entries via Sky One's website.

Daily Express reporter Martin Evans says: 'At the time we and other papers were writing lots of features on Sudoku so it was an excellent picture story to run. The images were also really strong. PR pictures are often not good enough, but the quality of these meant we didn't need to take our own.

'The story had extra impact because of the timing of Whiteley's death - we mentioned that it was Vorderman's first project since he died. However, we would have run the piece anyway.'

SECOND OPINION

Johnny Pitt, founder of Launch PR, runs outdoor campaigns for BP and Ford Forgive the Cerne Abbas pun, but I like this campaign because it's ballsy.

You have to be brave and bold in consumer PR, especially with outdoor activity, and this was certainly eye-catching. It was well thought through, and seems to have been well implemented.

The execution was neat (I like the Wayne Gould link) and the official stamp from Guinness World Records gave extra PR appeal. I also bet the stunt generated a lot of chuckle from those addicted to the puzzles.

The success of any visual stunt comes down to what else is going on around it, and the involvement of viral activity with a link to Sky One's website was useful and helped create the needed ownership.

I read the story about the stunt on the tarmac at Heathrow Airport in The Times and remember thinking 'that's clever' - but where it doesn't quite do it for me is how, set against the original objectives, it managed to drive audience figures for the Sudoku Live show. I don't see evidence of that in the evaluation.

I certainly don't remember immediately thinking 'Sky One' - something about Sudoku, yes (great for general sales of Sudoku books), but Sky One? I'm not so sure.

But that said, maybe I was too busy working out the puzzle.

Creativity: 4 Delivery: 4 8/10

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