Who knew a well-placed Woody could get you nearly a million friends on Facebook? In early September, TV spots, viral videos and digital ads directed Facebook users to "Woody," a 30-something slacker who dubbed himself "Friday's biggest fan." On behalf of Friday's fans everywhere, Woody issued a simple challenge: If his Facebook page collected 500,000 fans by September 30, Friday's would send each member a printable coupon for a free burger or sandwich; when the page reached its target with a whopping 17 days remaining, Friday's upped the deal, promising free burgers to the first one million fans. By the end of the promotion, more than 970,000 Facebookers joined the call to action.
The integrated campaign was a collaboration between Publicis and Spark Communications, and according to Robert Feakins, chief creative officer of Publicis New York, Woody's Facebook page was created not as a brand extension, but as a way to use social media to physically gather friends to go to Friday's. "I think the decision was, The only way we can exist on Facebook is not as a brand, but as a character working for you and being a friend with you [in order to] respond to a brand," Feakins said. "It wasn't really TGIF on Facebook, it was Woody."
Like the average Face-book user, the Woody character writes on his wall, responds to messages, and posts photos of himself hanging out with friends (the actor playing Woody has appeared in-character at several TGI Friday's locations). "One of the tenets of social media is authenticity, and Woody is a created entity," said Jason Steinberg, Spark Communications' media director. "So that was a big concern ... Will consumers be prepared to embrace him in a way that's fooling the face of conventional wisdom? And the answer is yes." According to Publicis' data, Woody's Facebook engages users extensively, with four million page views, more than 100,000 wall posts, and 180,000 photo views in just two weeks; even though the free burger promotion is over, the page continues to collect new members.
For a social networking site that diligently deletes fake user profiles, Woody's interactive page (essentially a corporate fan page that functions as a personal "friend" profile) marks a first. According to Feakins and Steinberg, the campaign came as a result of "continuous" conversations with Facebook, which has a long-standing relationship with Spark. "I've never seen anyone create a character that's going to be online, interact, constantly respond, posting videos," Feakins said. "It was fairly unusual for Facebook, and they've been terrific." (Facebook reps did not return requests for comment.)
But the success of Woody could lead to an increased corporate presence on the grassroots social network. Since Woody's launch, Spark has received calls from clients and potential clients about the possibility of similar campaigns, and Steinberg believes that users may be ready. "Social media has now developed into a place where consumers are comfortable with it," Steinberg said. "The capacity for people to come along for the ride, to suspend their disbelief - it's there now. We were able to take advantage of that before I think a lot of other advertisers realized that the rules have changed."
But Feakins maintained that separating the character from the brand is tantamount to the success of a Facebook campaign. "I think sometimes we use the excuse of using different media and new media to think that we're creative: 'Because I've done this Facebook thing, that's creative enough.' We wanted to make sure the character we created truly was inventive."