Why one brand labeled The Handmaid's Tale star Alexis Bledel 'dangerous'

McAfee was able to execute a celebrity-driven campaign without having to pay for a celebrity.

Caption: Screenshot from McAfee's website.
Caption: Screenshot from McAfee's website.

Company: McAfee
Campaign: Most Dangerous Celebrities
Agency partners: Hotwire (PR, media relations), The Hoffman Agency (PR in Singapore/Malaysia), Vianews (Latin America), Archetype (India)
Duration: October 21, 2019

Whatever you do, don’t Google Alexis Bledel. The Handmaid’s Tale star was the most likely celebrity in 2019 to lead users who searched for her online to sites infected with malware or a virus, according to cybersecurity firm McAfee.

2019 was the 13th year McAfee released its "most dangerous celebrities" list. The concept is powerful because it’s "celebrity-driven without having to pay for a celebrity," said Laura Macdonald, head of consumer at Hotwire PR in North America. "We try to make it fresh every year." 

McAfee ranks celebrities by determining how many infected sites their names generate as a search term and how dangerous those links are.

A good recipe for danger? Someone who isn’t necessarily A-list but has recently become topical, such as Gilmore Girls star Bledel, who was back in the headlines thanks to her performance in The Handmaid’s Tale.

In 2018, Ruby Rose topped the list, likely because of the announcement that she had been cast as Batwoman.

"She wasn’t super well-known, so you had a ton of people searching for her," Macdonald said. Occasionally a Kardashian will crack the top 10, but "now most people just follow them on social media." 

The annual list was released in October. To keep the ranking newsworthy, the team evaluated searches from the spring until early fall. In addition to generating buzzy headlines, the goal of the campaign was to educate users on how to stay safe online.

"We try to make people understand that [the web] can be really dangerous," Macdonald said. "We aren’t being sanctimonious, but there are some simple things you can do to better protect yourself, and making smarter choices is one of them."

The campaign’s rollout was a complicated production, as McAfee created country-specific lists. In addition to the U.S., it released celebrity rankings for Canada, the U.K., France, Germany, Spain, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Australia, Singapore, India and Malaysia. 

The lists were all released on October 21. While the overarching message was the same — urging people to stay safe online — Hotwire worked with international press teams to personalize campaign assets and pitches based on the region.

In the U.S., McAfee gave the exclusive to the Associated Press, ensuring the reporter had all the necessary assets in addition to facilitating interviews. Once the exclusive broke, Hotwire kicked into gear, pitching media outlets on regional lists across the globe.

"We made sure we had great assets ready, including images of the celebrities," Macdonald said.

The campaign generated 4,686 print and digital articles, a figure that included high-profile American outlets such as CBS, Fox News, Business Insider and the Washington Post, in addition to international publications.

"It’s one of those great stories where it has clickbait appeal but has substance to it as well," Macdonald said. "It’s a PSA in a way that is fun and engaging."

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