Commentary

The ROI Of Revenge

Okay, it wasn't digital out-of-home, but the spectacular revenge wreaked by a jilted lover earlier this month with posters in New York, Atlanta and San Francisco encapsulates some of the key qualities that make for a successful (and highly nontraditional) outdoor campaign.

The basic story is pretty straightforward: Charles E. Phillips, a high-ranking executive at Oracle, carried on an extramarital affair with an actress and author, YaVaughnie Wilkins, for a number of years before breaking it off to return to his wife a few months ago. The vengeful Ms. Wilkins responded with an outdoor campaign consisting of three billboard-sized posters showing a photo of the lovers together with the words "Charles & YaVaughnie" and a phrase from one of Phillips' love notes to Wilkins: "You are my soulmate forever. cep." The posters also pointed curious passersby to a Web site (since taken down) with a number of photos of the couple and scanned images of various love notes from Phillips to Wilkins over the years. After a few weeks, Phillips was forced to publicly admit to his affair with Wilkins -- apparently the goal of the campaign.

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This dramatic retribution, worthy of any soap opera, contains a number of valuable lessons not confined to media strategies (for men: don't cheat on your wives. Just... don't. For women: if you feel like what you're doing might be crazy, it probably is). Setting aside the more tawdry elements, however, the campaign generated a remarkable amount of publicity, with tactics that can be applied to DO and outdoor advertising in general.

First of all, the billboards were highly targeted, positioned in public areas where Phillips, his friends and colleagues were sure to see them (along with countless others) at a total cost of about $150,000. This precision placement allowed Wilkins to achieve a high profile for her message and guaranteed she would reach her highly specific audience without spending a huge amount of money.

Second, the message delivered by the posters was deliberately enigmatic -- appearing at first glance to be an extravagantly romantic expression of devotion, perhaps commemorating an anniversary -- but compelling enough to spark curiosity among passersby. And of course it was coordinated with an online presence, inviting the curious to visit a Web site to see just what prompted this effusive celebration. But the Web site just raised more questions, prompting visitors to Google Phillips (who as an Oracle exec is all over the Web), whereupon they discovered that Phillips is indeed married -- but not to YaVaughnie.

Last but not least, once buzz started building, the Web site allowed plenty of people who never saw the signs to see what the ruckus was all about -- showing how an outdoor campaign can transcend the constraints of its medium with a strategic digital presence. By the time the Web site was taken down by the embarrassed developer (who wasn't in on the plot), the content had been copied and reposted by countless other Web sites, so this sordid little story will live forever online.

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