In today's dot-com world, creating enthusiasm for an Internet site is becoming increasingly difficult - especially when a site is devoted to something as unglamorous as health insurance. Such was the problem faced by Highmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield, a Pittsburgh-based healthcare insurance provider, after revamping its Highmark.com Web site earlier this year. To create a stir and drive traffic to the redesigned site, executives at Bozell Kamstra, the company's agency of record, created an innovative mystery campaign where everyone involved - including the client - was kept in the dark.
Bozell Kamstra's plan involved painting 30 actors blue and dressing them in porkpie hats emblazoned only with '.com.' Known as the Blue Crew, the actors appeared in random locations throughout western Pennsylvania starting with a July 7 debut in downtown Pittsburgh, and offered no explanation of their blueness or purpose other than cards that they passed out, which read, 'Remember where you saw us and you could win.' The cards referred to an online contest that would be launched after the unveiling of the Blue Crew.
Secrecy was of the utmost importance. To maximize curiosity and create speculation, few people (even on the client's side) were clued in to the campaign. The Blue Crew actors were kept in the dark as to their purpose and who they were working for so they wouldn't play the role differently or leak information about Highmark Blue Cross /Blue Shield. Bozell went so far as to hire Kukovick Associates to act as a ghost agency in the initial stages of the campaign.
The July 14 Pittsburgh Blues Festival was picked as the venue for the unveiling. The decision was based on more than just the blue tie-in. According to Lowers, the event was sponsored in part by Highmark and benefited the local food bank, so it would showcase the company's philanthropic side while introducing the public to the Blue Crew and the Web site.
'We thought that if someone knew our agency was behind the Blue Crew then it wouldn't be hard to run down our client list and tie it in to Highmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield,' says Bozell Kamstra account supervisor Melinda Lowers. 'All media contact that first week was contracted out to Kukovick.'
Kukovick Associates sent press releases tipping off the media as to when and where the Blue Crew would turn up next. The agency, which was in on the ruse, also handled all media inquiries during the first week.
At the Pittsburgh Blues Festival a Blue Crew sightings contest was kicked off, wherein participants were invited to log on to the site for a chance to win prizes over the next 30 days.
The first week of the campaign, dubbed 'Silent Week' by Bozell, garnered footage of the Blue Crew's first appearance on WTAE-TV (an ABC affiliate).
KDKA-TV, a CBS affiliate, also recapped several of the crew's sightings.
Both stations revisited the Blue Crew on July 14, along with NBC affiliate WPXI-TV, showing footage of them at the Blues Festival explaining how the contest would work.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review each ran several extensive stories with photos on the Blue Crew throughout the month. In addition, neighboring newspapers such as The Erie Daily Times and The Altoona Mirror covered the Blue Crew and the contest. The promotion more than doubled the number of visitors to the Highmark.com site and logged over 5,000 contest registrants.
Highmark plans to redirect some of its allocated ad dollars toward PR because the Blue Crew campaign produced dramatic results at relatively little expense. 'This was much more cost-effective than the traditional ad campaign and delivered the exact results we were looking for,' says Jean Edwards, the director of external affairs at Highmark.