One morning, I arrived at work to find an unexpected visitor waiting for me at my desk. Short and bald, he was shirtless and wearing the most extraordinary pair of pants. He goes by the name Agent 011, but his real name is Chester Chickenpants, and he may be your next social media role model.
After Chester journeyed to Manhattan, he revealed that he’s part of an elite group, the Chickenpants Adventure Society. It describes itself as “an elite breed of plush toy, sent out into the world to spread the joy of random serendipity.” In other words, it’s an entire organization dedicated to surprising and delighting, just like everytrendybrand these days.
The rules of the Society are simple: “1. Get the Chickenpants dropped in the most interesting spots possible. 2. See who picks them up.” People who discover an agent are instructed to email headquarters. A blog tracks the adventures of the agents who are found.
There’s something wonderfully purist about the whole enterprise. There’s this warmth that comes from those moments of weird, creative joy inspired by the Internet’s manifold ways to bring people together. Could the world unite around the Chickenpants Adventure Society? Imagine the Sabra Dipping Company commercials where people of every nationality gather around a potluck meal, but in this case there would be less hummus and more toy chickens in colorful pants.
Then again, digging deeper, there’s a commercial underpinning to it. Chickenpants does have a shop on Etsy. Still, it’s not the kind of enterprise where it’s all a ruse to get people to buy tiny $10 gifts. Then again, if the Adventure Society turns Chickenpants into the next LEGO, so much the better.
At the risk of totally bastardizing the purity of Chickenpants for the purposes of a marketing publication, people managing much larger brands can learn a few things from this toy poultry phenomenon. Here’s what you should learn from Chickenpants:
1) Consumer behavior is centered on mobility, not mobile devices. While Chester Chickenpants may be a “dumb” device technologically (sorry, Chester!) given his lack of digital connectivity, it’s a prescient indicator of where mobile social media is heading. Anything can be a mobile device, and a trigger for mobile experiences. Chester is portable, a conversation-starter, and can even stay in your pocket when you head through airport security. Maybe this is what the iPhone 5 will look like.
2) The physical and digital worlds are inseparable. Chester Chickenpants can live entirely in the physical world, but the poor doll would be like the fallen tree in the woods, barely making a peep. It’s thus fair to assume that the raison d’être for Chester is to live digitally -- to be shared online, and then in person, and then online again. A Chester that’s only digital is flat, missing the substance of a corporeal self that could be held (and even pecked), even if relatively few will ever encounter his physical form.
3) “Just because marketing” is the new cause marketing. Why would creator Claire Chambers let Chester Chickenpants and friends escape the coop on this global adventure? What’s the ultimate point? What, pray tell, is the return on investment? It’s an experiment, with the likely hypothesis that it’s more fun to do this than not to do this. The key metric, then, is not sales of Chickenpants postcards, but in the responses received indicating some level of fun, or the lack thereof in the event that the hypothesis is disproved. Claire found a way for the Chickenpants brand to grow as it travels the world literally and virtually.
There are two things Claire has going for her: the undying popularity of both chickens and pants, with pants being 6.8 times as popular than chickens globally, and 2.4 times as popular in South Africa (source: Google Trends). She also has an uncanny grasp of some of the bigger trends and changes marketers must grapple with. If a short, bald, shirtless visitor with the head of a chicken shows up at your desk, check to see if he’s wearing remarkably fashionable pants. If so, pay attention. If he’s not wearing pants, you might want to call security.
A big win for Claire. Good for her- this experiment probably exceeded all of her expectations. But I don't see the "fun" factor. If you discovered said chicken on the street in the middle of Times Square or on the top of Mt. Rushmore, I'd say, yeah, that is kind of cool and fun that it randomly wound up in your hands. But dropped on your desk? A guy with a social media column? That feels like influencer marketing/blogger outreach to me. Nothing wrong with that, but nothing "wonderfully purist" either.