Elephant wanted to put Blockbuster back on the map. And then COVID-19 happened

How the creative agency quickly pivoted its plans with the world’s last Blockbuster.

Campaign: The Last Blockbuster
Company: Blockbuster
Agency partner: Elephant
Duration: May 2020

The world’s last Blockbuster went fittingly old school in May, using a billboard and a landline to get consumers to call the store for movie recommendations.

Elephant, the creative agency behind the campaign, became interested in working with the once iconic chain last year after reading about its last location, a store in Bend, Oregon. This prompted a discussion within the agency about whether it could help promote the store, which spiraled into a series of conversations about what Blockbuster had meant to members of the team growing up. 

“Everyone had a memory, whether that’s walking between the lanes in the store, the smell or the very personal recommendation that the clerk would give you based on what you watched before,” said Greg Assemat Tessandier, Elephant’s president. “It was this human touch, which I think is sometimes forgotten.”

Elephant reached out to the store, which is run by a franchisee as a local brick-and-mortar business, about working on a campaign in the spring of 2019. 

“The goal was to make sure they can continue to deliver the service and serve their customers, which they would refer to more as a community,” Tessandier said. The secondary aim “was to try to make some noise above and beyond Bend, Oregon, and get some excitement around the store. Why not make it a destination?” 

In late 2019, Tessandier and a couple other Elephant executives flew from New York to Bend to visit the Blockbuster and meet with its general manager, Sandi Harding.

“We spent a full afternoon in the store, we looked at the DVDs,” Tessandier said, in addition to taking photos, including shots of employees. 

Back in New York, the team started working on campaign ideas. And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, rendering many of the plans insensitive or not aligned with the moment. Elephant reached out to Blockbuster, which had shut down the store but was keeping employees on staff. 

“That inspired us,” Tessandier said. “It meant they had all these great people with awesome knowledge of movies and films and shows. We were like, ‘We could leverage this.’”

And with that, the idea for the Callgorithm, or a dedicated number customers could call for movie recommendations, was born.

“People spend a lot of time searching for what they are going to watch on the streaming platforms,” Tessandier said. “We used that insight as a challenge we could solve with the great knowledge of the clerks at Blockbuster.”

On May 4, the team put up a solo billboard on a busy highway leading into Bend, and Blockbuster ran campaign assets on its social media channels. 

While Harding pitched local outlets, that was as far as media relations went.

“On our end, we actually didn’t reach out to anyone,” Tessandier said. 

Shortly after the billboard was installed, a passerby posted it on Reddit, where the post generated organic traction. Users on the platform shared their encounters with the clerks, frustrations about getting constant busy signals and thoughts about the billboard’s ‘90s aesthetic.

On Reddit, the post about the billboard has 51,000 upvotes and nearly 2,000 comments.

On Instagram, Blockbuster’s three posts about the campaign generated 4,654 likes and more than 100 comments. 

“We made a bit of a splash, we raised awareness of the store,” Tessandier said.

The call line is no longer, but for a happy reason - the store has reopened, with social distancing policies in place. 

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