Paper dolls may have been a staple in the '50s and '60s, but had long since fallen out of favor among fashion-conscious girls.
When Swedish startup Stardoll.com wanted to launch an online social networking community for US girls, featuring "virtual paper dolls" as avatars, it realized an emphasis on nostalgia or even traditional advertising wouldn't be enough.
"It knew it needed to take advantage of the power of the Internet to get any kind of serious traction," notes Stardoll.com EVP Matthew Palmer. "So the approach was to use PR to begin the groundswell because... if kids aren't talking about it, you're not going to get the type of firestorm you want."
Stardoll turned to Morris & King Co. to craft an online campaign.
MKC SAE Justin Kazmark says the agency quickly decided that getting the celebrity and fashion blogs behind Stardoll would be the best way to generate early awareness of the brand.
"We knew that if we got a lot of play in the blogosphere, we could then leverage that to get other coverage in newspapers and entertainment Web sites," he says.
Instead of a traditional media kit or an event, Kazmark and MKC VP Lane Buschel worked with Stardoll's illustrators to create a Web site designed to appeal to reporters by enabling them to drop the heads of key players in fashion and celebrity journalism, such as Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, and Time Style & Design editor Kate Betts, onto virtual dolls and dress them up.
"We called them Media Dollings," says Kazmark. "We knew it would be difficult to explain what Stardoll.com is about in a few seconds, but giving reporters this site where they could go and play was a way we could show them why the site was so much fun."
The agency and Stardoll rolled out the Media Dollings promotion to coincide with Fashion Week in New York.
"We initially reached out to tech writers because they normally don't have an angle for Fashion Week," explains Kazmark. "But we also worked closely with blogs like Gawker, which ended up doing four postings on Stardoll and hosting a contest tied to the site."
After Fashion Week ended, MKC again turned to the Stardoll illustrators, this time to create a "virtual red carpet" to coincide with the Oscars, which gave reporters and film fans a chance to play virtual dress-up with people like TV host Joan Rivers.
"The virtual red carpet really took advantage of the entire buzz around the event," adds Palmer.
The site was also mentioned in print outlets, such as The Arizona Republic, Newsday, The Florida Times-Union, The Oregonian, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Star, Billboard, and Variety.
More important, the successful US launch helped push Stardoll's total global membership to close to 7 million.
MKC continues to work with Stardoll as it continues to build out its brand. The site recently announced a partnership with pop star Avril Lavigne and plans to bring other celebrities on board in the coming months. The firm is also working to promote several planned ties between Stardoll and major fashion brands.
This campaign shows that a clever idea, especially one that leverages the close relationships many reporters have with one another, can get a lot more results attention than a conventional campaign accompanied by a media kit and press releases. Giving the reporters the ability to experience the site themselves and adjusting the content to make it relevant to them was instrumental to the effort.
This campaign also shows that the traditional press does pay attention to the blogosphere, and seeding the right blogs can build momentum that yields results among traditional outlets.
PR team: Stardoll.com (Stockholm, Sweden) and Morris & King Co. (New York)
Campaign: Stardoll.com US launch
Duration: December 2006 to April 2007
Budget: Less than $100,000