CAMPAIGNS: Turning PCs into screen savers - Hi-tech PR

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.

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.



Objectives



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

semi-expert.



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

internet.



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

Russia.



The campaign has been so successful that there are plans under way to

carry out a similar workout for MSN in Australia.



Results



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

test.



Client: MSN

PR Team: The Red Consultancy

Campaign: Naked in a room with the internet

Timescale: 10 - 14 May 1999

Budget: pounds 62,000



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