CAMPAIGNS: Ad PR - Roach ad turns out to have legs

Client: Orkin Pest Control (Atlanta)

Client: Orkin Pest Control (Atlanta)

Client: Orkin Pest Control (Atlanta)

PR Team: Ketchum (Atlanta)

Campaign:’The Orkin Fake Out’

Time Frame: March-April, 2000

Budget: dollars 13,500

On the television screen was a fabric softener commercial with a smiling

woman and billowing laundry. Suddenly, a huge cockroach meandered across

the screen, causing viewers throughout the land to toss shoes, zap

towels and even throw a motorcycle helmet at the offending bug, often

smashing their sets. But then a chiseled, confident Orkin man walked on

to save the day, gassing the offending roach.

Obviously, a real cockroach did not walk across these viewers’ TV


But the fact that so many people called in with complaints and

compliments gave executives at Ketchum Atlanta, the exterminator’s PR

agency, an idea. Why not capitalize on the public’s being ’faked out,’

says Ketchum vice president and account supervisor Emily Marti, and

extend the life of the commercial?

Picking up where Orkin’s ad agency, J. Walter Thompson, left off,

Ketchum created ’The Orkin Fake Out,’ a contest asking viewers to write

in about how badly they were fooled by the commercial. The winner, to be

selected later this month, will get - natch - a new television set.


’We were watching the spot in a conference room one day, and we heard

all these stories from the people at Orkin that they were getting these

hilarious calls,’ says Marti, who along with Ketchum senior account

executive Debbie Hairston and account coordinator Dante McKay ran the

campaign for Orkin. ’We decided to leverage that and excite the

excitement.’ Such PR follow-through on an advertising campaign is rarely

seen, adds Andy Abend, an account supervisor at J. Walter Thompson.

Within three days of the idea’s genesis, Ketchum came up with a strategy

to send out a humorous media package that would serve the dual purpose

of reinforcing the commercial’s success while alerting the media to the



With April Fool’s Day just a week away, Ketchum decided to move fast

with its media kits. Fake fabric softener boxes with the fake brand

’Sierra’ featured in the commercial were sent to advertising, marketing

and business reporters at 50 major media outlets. Also targeted were

’banner outlets’ that regularly run offbeat features, such as The Rosie

O’Donnell Show, Live with Regis & Kathie Lee and The Late Show with

David Letterman.

In each box was the contest release, a videotape of the original spot

and screen-grabs - as well some rubber cockroaches.

After the packages went out, Ketchum executives followed up with calls

to the 50 outlets. They also faxed the contest release as a flood of

media expressed interest in interviewing consumer ’victims’ following an

Associated Press item on the contest. Ketchum expanded its effort by

creating a database of consumer stories and those consumers willing to

talk to the media.

(Example: Ed Moran from Marietta, GA reported that the commercial caused

post-dinner mayhem during a visit by relatives from Ireland. While

watching the weather, the Orkin spot came on, which soon had his wife

screaming, one cousin spilling his tea all over him and another dropping

her dessert.)


Despite the Elian Gonzales controversy and Nasdaq crash, the campaign

results were seismic. The contest was picked up by The Wall Street

Journal, The Washington Post and USA Today, as well as seven front-page

stories in smaller dailies. There were hits at 445 broadcast outlets,

including short segments on NBC’s Later Today, ABC’s Live with Regis &

Kathie Lee, CNN and a long piece on MSNBC.

’I had no idea it would generate this kind of attention,’ says an amazed

Martha May, director of public relations for Orkin, which claims 193.5

million impressions - 75 million print, 93 million television and 25.5

million radio. The Orkin Web site received one million hits, and almost

3,000 people have entered the ’Fake Out’ contest.


Ketchum is working to milk the advertisement further when Orkin presents

the prize to the contest winner in late May. But J. Walter Thompson’s

Andy Abend says that, since Ketchum’s campaign was driven by unexpected

customer reaction to the commercial, it may be tough to repeat such


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