With e-commerce now an everyday reality, The Red Consultancy and
its client Microsoft Network put the medium to the test by locking four
volunteers in a room for 100 hours with nothing but the internet to rely
on for food, clothing and entertainment.
The aim was threefold: to see if people could survive by the internet
alone; to become the number one visited gateway to the internet; and to
test how easy it is to order goods electronically.
Strategy and Plan
With the help of psychologist Dr Helen Petrie, an interaction expert
from the University of Hertfordshire, four volunteers were found through
an advertisement in the Guardian.
Dr Petrie was asked to interview the shortlisted candidates for
psychological aptitude before the final four were chosen.
Two men aged 42 and 67, and two women aged 30 and 43 were chosen as
guinea pigs. Their backgrounds ranged from an actress to a retired
fireman, and their net-surfing abilities ranged from novice to
The volunteers were taken to a London youth hostel and put in separate
rooms, with nothing except bathrobes. They were given access to PCs,
ISDN, individual Microsoft Hotmail addresses and a credit card with a
limit of pounds 500.
They were then left for four days to fend for themselves. Dr Petrie
monitored them on-line to study the effects of prolonged exposure to the
Every two hours she would e-mail them, asking which of 24 listed
emotions they were experiencing.
The four internet guinea pigs were only able to communicate with the
outside world via e-mail and internet bulletin boards. And the outside
world was able to follow their progress via a web site linked to a spy
camera on the volunteers’ PCs.
Five days before the experiment, Red briefed the Observer and sold
pre-recorded interviews to national radio and television and launch-day
footage to breakfast TV.
Measurement and Evaluation
In one week, the campaign broke all internet records for Microsoft by
doubling the amount of visitors to its site in one day. In total 228,000
new users logged on to the site in the week of the experiment.
A week before the experiment began the media were reporting that global
internet transactions over the next five years would be worth over
pounds 2,000 billion.
Media coverage includes over 25 national and regional television items
and 78 national and regional radio pieces. Fourteen national newspapers
including the Observer, the Sunday Times, Daily Mail and the Guardian
and 16 regional newspapers all ran stories. It was also mentioned in 12
international newspapers in countries as far afield as Indonesia and
The campaign has been so successful that there are plans under way to
carry out a similar workout for MSN in Australia.
Dr Petrie’s findings showed that none of the volunteers displayed any
sort of distress through their isolation and enjoyed the social
connections of the chat rooms and e-mails. The four volunteers managed
to feed and clothe themselves, buy CDs, electrical goods, gifts, and
books and generally kept themselves amused.
As this experiment was a first of its kind, it was almost guaranteed to
receive some coverage, but timing was also a key element. The agency
executed the campaign during a time when much of the media was talking
about e-commerce but while no one was actually putting it to the
PR Team: The Red Consultancy
Campaign: Naked in a room with the internet
Timescale: 10 - 14 May 1999
Budget: pounds 62,000