Whassup was reverse-engineered advertising and one of the first social & viral success stories of the internet.
It was 1998, and even though the DOTCOM crash hadn’t happened, it was coming, we were in the bubble. Understandably, clients were super skittish. They were running from anything to do with the internet and the work was just terrible.
I saw things differently. There was opportunity to communicate in ways we’d never seen before.
To prove it I created an in-house exercise that would tap into pure truths and belief systems – all to attract this burgeoning consumer. Everyone in our shops – the STEVE Agency and C&C Films Production could participate. The rules were… 1) come up with your personal truth through a series of exercises. 2) I would create a strategy based on the truths and 3) we would then come up with creative that could be served up as a gift to millions of people. My only caveat was that it had to be conspicuous. Something that could be shared with many, many people – meaning film or some sort of guerrilla public display.
One of our directors, Charles Stone’s truth had to do with people having shared knowledge – group code. He came up with a ton of ideas to capture this truth. One of ideas had us changing all the signs in lower Manhattan just to see if people would be able to get around. The one that stuck however revolved around the refined strategy that guys don’t have to say anything to say everything. We did several rounds of the story and finally got down to a group of guys saying Whassup. Charles named the piece TRUE. Once the 3 minute film was complete we shared it all over the internet and it got millions of views.
The DNA of TRUE matched the DNA of a few of our current clients on the production side of our business. Namely Budweiser and Miller. We wound up licensing the idea to Budweiser. We even licensed the name TRUE to be used as the tagline. We negotiated a sweet deal for Charles to work with the creative team at DDB and C&C FILMS produced the first batch of ads.
The irony is I really couldn’t market the success. I was running an agency called STEVE and a production company C&C films at the same time – a big no-no in the industry. (Only Bob Giraldi could do that in the daylight – certainly not a black-owned company located in SOHO and Brooklyn)
So, I couldn’t go to Cannes. But Charles and the guys and our amazing film rep Steve Weinshel did. I got the licensing check.
In the end we cracked the code. A licensed, viral idea, reverse-engineered advertising. It was so effective that even those who participated in the experiment were not quite aware of their role in the chain of events.
A lot of clients want this type of work. It takes real guts to lead with your meaning and truth, rather than your USP. Not a lot of folks understand the difference. It’s not a media strategy, it’s about meaning and an energized idea executed via transmedia.
Note to clients: If you’re brave, give me a call:)