Agent Gets Whacked After Ad Goes Viral

WanketGrowing up with the name Rich Will Wanket, this fairly green Minneapolis real estate agent has heard all kinds of jokes related to, well, self-pleasure. Keeping the old adage, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," (almost literally) in mind, Wanket did just that. Not in a Pee Wee Herman fashion, but as a befitting newspaper display ad in The Onion. It took two months to manifest, though, and the print ad went viral when someone scanned and posted it to a blog.

An assessment of Rich Wanket's online reputation score by the first week of October had shot up tremendously, according to ReputationDefender, a Redwood City, Calif. online reputation management company. "According to our systems, Wanket is highly visible, scoring 473 out of 500, [ranking him] in the top 87 percentile in visibility online," said CEO Michael Fertik, who prepared a report for OMMA. "That's pretty high for a real estate agent from Minneapolis."

In the ad, Wanket pokes fun at his name in a way that some will find crude, and tasteless, but for others is sure to arouse interest. It definitely did around his office water cooler, to his chagrin.

The ad boldly states: "Beat it, Flick it, Choke it, Rub it .... if your agent isn't doing the work necessary to help you buy or sell your home.... Wanket."

Real estate ad dollars will have a 3 percent gain in 2010 after a 20 percent drop in 2009, from $24.4 billion to $19.6 billion. Online real estate ad spending will be about $7.8 billion, triple that of direct mail's $2.1 billion, and about half of the $3.8 billion projected for the vertical in newspapers this year.

But small- to mid-size companies can gain more exposure by focusing on low-cost to free viral ad campaigns rather than money spent on local ads, as Wanket learned the hard way.

"The Web made it so that people who are not in PR can use some tools provided by Google to monitor and make their own PR," said Jason Hennessey, director, SEO specialists at EverSpark Interactive. "You don't have to spend $5,000 a month to have a PR agency do it."

"If you are a small or mid-size business, you should be leveraging social data," says Dan Neely, CEO of Networked Insights, a social media analytics company based in Madison, WI. "It could be bearded-lady-type content or highly valuable content, or Groupon if you're local." But a business owner has to keep the ripple going himself.

As Wanket's ad spread in blogs such as those at CityPages, and over in the UK at Bitter Wallet, the 44-year-old went from blog-to-blog making comments as people shared the ad with others and asked questions, like wondering if he really existed even though his ad said, "Birth certificate available upon request."

"It's a pretty unfortunate name to go through life with and when you're an agent all you want to do is get your name out there," Wanket told this reporter. (Now, one might think if he wanted to stand out even more, he'd just use the nickname "Dick.")

With so many puns to choose from, taking matters, er, into his own hands is definitely one way to draw some attention to himself in an economy where agents are struggling to sell homes.

Wanket, who in February resigned after 13 years of working at Trader Joe's (also known for its wacky ad copy) to become a real estate agent for Edina Realty, said during our interview that The Onion was a good choice for his offbeat humor. "It is a reasonable outlet for an ad like that. People [there] would be receptive to it."

However, his supervising broker at Edina Realty was not so receptive. "Agents are independent contractors and do their own advertising, but it should adhere to the standards of Edina Realty," said Lynn Clare, vice president of marketing in the Edina, Minn. corporate office of Edina Realty in a phone interview. "The ad that was run was not an ad that we endorsed. It does not reflect our brand. The language was very inappropriate and he is no longer with Edina Realty."

"He may have generated awareness and people are aware of his name, but would you really want to work with this guy if you're going to sell your house?" asked Andrew Rohm, associate professor of marketing at Northeastern University. "It's one thing to create awareness versus brand strength."

For Wanket, just maybe his, um, handiwork, was something he should've kept to himself.

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