In an age where Web marketing is all the rage, marketers may sometimes neglect promising nondigital advertising opportunities. But, as a recent campaign by #madREskillz winner Condopedia.com demonstrated, branding that targets people who are out and about, not glued to their computers, can still pay off big time.
The wiki-style site that crowdsources data on residential condo buildings in major cities across North America recently arranged for an airplane to drag a banner ad bearing its name over the heads of hundreds of thousands of people who turned out for Vancouver’s Celebration of Light, which took place in late July and early August. The stunt grabbed so much attention that it crashed Condopedia.com, snagged the site social media fans and reeled in a few advertisers.
Laurence Putnam, founder and president of Condopedia.com, said he thought of the idea one weekend when he saw a plane flying overhead dragging the message “Susan Will You Marry Me?”
“My first thought was I’m glad my girlfriend’s name isn’t Susan and that we aren’t looking at this together right now or this could get awkward,” Putman said. “My second thought was: If an ordinary guy can use this as a method to propose marriage, it can’t be that expensive so maybe I should look into this.”
His instincts were right. For two nights of hour-and-a-half flyovers, Putnam paid $2,100, what some might consider chump change for the opportunity to gain exposure to a large swath of the estimated 300,000 people who turn out for the Celebration of Light, a popular summer fireworks show that takes place in Vancouver.
Zeroing in on an aerial advertising provider was the hardest part of executing the campaign, Putnam said. In fact, he struggled most to identify the actual term that refers to it: “banner towing.”
But ultimately, Putnam connected with a pilot who he said handled all the setup with aplomb, including creating the banner, whose letters were 5 feet high and whose length probably ran somewhere from 50 to 60 feet, according to Putnam.
The actual plane the pilot used is called a “Cessna 172,” which Putnam said is “smaller than a ’96 Honda Civic inside and sounds like an extremely loud lawnmower running the entire time.”
On the first evening of the campaign, Putnam and his employees waited with their fingers crossed, hoping that Condopedia.com’s traffic would increase once the plane came within range of people who turned out for the Celebration of Light.
Putnam described what happened next over the course of the flyover:
“I was downtown at the show and on the phone with our tech guy, James Clendenan. I couldn’t see the plane yet, but I knew it was on its way when James says, ‘Oh wait, here we go … we’ve got 46 new mobile users in Vancouver on the server.’ And a minute later he says ‘172 mobile users in Vancouver …’; then finally he just says, ‘I’m going to call you back.’ ”
“A few minutes later it flew by where we were on the ground and you could hear people looking up and pointing and then the woman next to me says to her husband, ‘It says Condopedia.com’ and you could see people taking out their iPhones, so we knew it was working.”
Ultimately, the swell of traffic overwhelmed Condopedia.com, actually crashing it for 10 minutes. Learning from the experience, Putnam made sure the site stood up to the surge the following night.
In addition to boosting traffic, Putnam said the banner towing convinced some potential advertisers who had been considering buying ad space on Condopedia.com to go through with it, and reeled in a considerable amount of Facebook fans and Twitter followers, Putnam said.
Besides the explosion in site traffic that the flyover ignited, the second most exciting part of the whole affair may have occurred during a period shortly after the plane’s takeoff.
“Setting up the banner is actually really hairy — for those who don’t know, the plane actually takes off without it,” Putnam said. “The pilot’s helpers lay it out on the runway after he takes off, and then he circles back and swoops down to pick it up with a hook on the back of the plane.”