Q&A: Asa Bailey

Viral advertising agency Asa Bailey became the belle de jour recently when it snatched up the just-expired domain name and put a picture of what looks like the feet of a cadaver, sporting a toe tag that read, ?If you understood the modern brand, you would know how to protect it.?

Viral advertising agency Asa Bailey became the belle de jour recently when it snatched up the just-expired domain name and put a picture of what looks like the feet of a cadaver, sporting a toe tag that read, ?If you understood the modern brand, you would know how to protect it.?

The stunt was picked up by advertising weblog, Ad Rants, and soon spread throughout the marketing, advertising and PR community. The site has subsequently been taken down. Asa Bailey, managing partner and planning director of the eponymous firm, talked to about the opportunities viral advertising provides PR people, his thoughts of large agencies? claims of such concepts as ?360 degree marketing,? and why he loves viral ads. Q. How do you define viral advertising? A.It?s the way people share things. Viral advertising is a very user-centered approach to marketing and creating commercial messages. The term ?viral? started being used around 2000, and has really captured the hearts of the industry. We started in 1998, consulting with large agency networks. We were talking about viral before it was termed viral. The advertising industry hasn?t changed a great deal in 60 years, since the revolution of understanding how to use television for advertising. But the advertising and PR industries have [championed] the viral approach as the next big wave. There are a lot of people [determining] different zeitgeists of what it is. I try to put a simple view across: if you could imagine a world where TV didn?t exist and big media budgets were not an option. How would you go about getting people to talk and hear about you? There?s another way to look at it, as in [viral] being an attitude. One company may call itself a viral company, but it?s something you could attach to a number of approaches, from guerilla marketing to advertising to product placement to viral commercials. The best definition I can give to viral is it?s a movement and brand in its own right. Q. Do you think the qualifiers have as much to do with its ?edginess? as its delivery? A. Yes. The thirty-second commercial is not dead. What may be dying are the channels it is delivered through. We all know that consumer media habits are dying. We need to think about how we can deliver those spots to people. It goes back to my first point. How would you plan a campaign without those mass media channels? But the creative of the ad is also changing. That?s because people won?t put up with bad ads. One, it does a brand no good to pipe out these things anyway. Two, the bad ad is out the window now, because they won?t get anywhere. People reward good advertising by talking about it online and off-line. Q. Has viral marketing allowed for more collaboration between advertising and PR? A. Yes. Viral has somehow replaced the word ?integrated.? Integrated should mean the integration of the people who are creating the adverts and the media it went through. That includes creating the buzz around the creation of the ad. That?s a PR problem. In a viral ad, you make things that are going to have current factors involved with it: things that are newsworthy or [pertain] to current pop culture, so you make things relevant. A viral campaign should have an elegant campaign from the production standpoint. But it should also have an elegant or clever PR buzz attached to the campaign. This is something where agencies might have to readdress how they integrate their departments. Q. As viral marketing becomes more prevalent, do you think this gives agencies such as yours an opportunity to get a larger piece of the pie and perhaps create an agency with a less-siloed approach? A. Definitely. It makes for more integrated agencies, as opposed to just an integrated campaign. You can?t really create an integrated campaign from a non-integrated agency. By being a small agency, we have the benefit of being able to build the new model by combining skills. It may be more difficult for a larger company to make this change, as they?re a larger ship to steer. Q. What personally spurs you to viral marketing? A. It?s the fact that you cannot make a bad ad. I like the fact that I get immediate response from what I produce. I like the fact that I can?t physically do bad work because it won?t go anywhere. You have to produce things that people will love, share, and bind to [if] it is to go anywhere. The thing that?s interesting is that we don?t have a ?dead-eyeballs? situation that a TV campaign does. They say, ?This is going to be viewed by X, Y, Z, etc. by buying [into] the points system.? We know [for certain] if 500,000 people see it because it?s tracked. Q. What are some of the ads you?ve done? A. There?s the Sega account [see below]. Viral marketing can?t be explicit in its commerciality. I don?t know if that?s something [just] occurring now or whether that?s going to continue. The thing for Sega did not immediately come out and say, ?This is about a football game.? It entertained the audience, said, ?Thank you very much; here?s the product.? And yet the product was intrinsically implied in the creative. We just did a non-commercial, house campaign for one of our sister production companies called Mr. and Mrs. Wheatley Cunning Stunts. On the tracking, we have 17 million views. I know it sounds astronomical, but that?s what it?s tracking. Q. Do you believe that as long as people are being entertained and they don?t feel like they?re being duped, that you can sell them something? A. People, especially the youth market, expect that nowadays. As long as you?re delivering value. Q. How did the situation occur? A. Part of our approach is that we say we want to be custodians of our clients? brands online as much as any other advertising agency. We came across the fact that a lot of these big ad agencies have these highly convoluted practices and theories. We found a gaping hole [in] that we felt was ironic. [By acquiring the domain name], it raised the debate. It was a stunt to raise the fact it?s a bit hypocritical that you claim to have 360-degree marketing, when you?ve let your name lapse. Q. But the Ogilvy & Mather site runs off of the main site. A. Well I have a letter from their lawyers here, and they?ve trademarked Ogilvy & Mather. By using those words, we?re in wrangles now with their lawyers to sort that out. Ogilvy does trade as Ogilvy & Mather, and there is [owned by them]. The brand is in an all-over-the-place situation, which could easily be solved by going around and buying up the domains. I?m not saying you have to say you have to back yourself up against any potential calamity, but there are obvious eventualities. [You need to] cover your key search terms and your key domain names ? as micro pads pointing people back to your domain name. Q. How did you push that message out? A. As far as we know, we [track] the largest network of viral blogs and websites. It?s very easy for us to spread anything. The network currently has 22.4 million unique users. This is only through our knowledge of the system. How did we get the Ogilvy & Mather out? We got someone independent to do it for us. [First it was picked up by a user on, then] Ad Rants. It?s how the blogs work. They create their own feeding frenzy. A blogger visits a blog, reads the article, and then puts it on [his or her] own blog. For the Sega advertisement, click here.

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