'Ad Guy' Greeting Goes Viral

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An agency's e-mail holiday greeting sent to 400 clients lampooning the ad industry unexpectedly went viral and drew 10,000 viewers in the first two weeks, along with some possible new business.

Dubbed "Ad Guy," the greeting uses a spoof on Saturday morning action-figure commercials to poke fun at well-known ad agency stereotypes.

"The ad industry is so self-congratulatory. We have more awards, ceremonies and competitions than any other industry," said Tom Townsend, co-founder and creative director of the agency that created the spot, Rodgers Townsend, St. Louis. "There are a lot of things about it that are just ridiculous, and one of them is the agency culture of prima donnas who take themselves too seriously."

With that thought in mind, Ad Guy action figures come in four types: Andy, the art director; Marc with a "C," the copywriter; Raoul, the creative director; and Kimmy Wong, the account girl.

"That's right, it's Ad Guy! He's glamorous! He's cool!" says the voice-over as Raoul is shown traveling down a zip line in stereotypical action-figure fashion.

"We were ripping off a genre that is so familiar to people that corny and outrageous is the cost of entry," Townsend said. "At first, we were going to show the figures only in advertising situations. But as soon as someone suggested showing one on a zip line, we knew we had to do it to remain true to the action-figure genre."

A rider on a zip line is attached to a pulley and travels from a high point to a lower station.

But in not-so-stereotypical fashion, the opening voice-over continues, "He's trendy!" just as the camera cuts to Marc with a "C" making photocopies of his naked, plastic rear end.

The Ad Guy spot was shot in one evening in Townsend's home using his children for actors. He estimated the spot cost $300 to $400 to produce.

"We spent a lot less on it than we would have spent on a regular holiday card," he said. "And we had a blast making it."

The Ad Guy spot takes lighthearted aim at typical ad agency creative disputes by showing two of the children playacting with Marc with a "C" and Raoul the creative director, shouting "Your idea sucks!" "No, your idea sucks!" Later, the spot shows the dolls dancing around the office naked as the voice-over says, "And you don't want to miss the office Christmas party! Ho, ho, ho!"

Not to let clients remain unscathed, the Ad Guy spot depicts a bug-eyed monster going through the office smashing everyone's work as the children scream, "Oh, no! The client!"

"We've found we work best with -- both clients and people we hire -- who are talented at what they do, but who can also step back and see the industry for what it is," Townsend said.

Rodgers Townsend is a 50-person shop with billings of $70 million. Among its more recognizable clients are the St. Louis Rams.

As a result of Ad Guy's travels over the Internet, the agency has received several requests for more information from companies that aren't clients and one request for a presentation from "a very recognizable national client," Townsend said.

At deadline, traffic was still hitting the Ad Guy spot and was becoming increasingly international.

Ad Guy's success also has helped the agency demonstrate that so-called viral marketing is more than just a buzz phrase, Townsend said.

"What we've been able to do is say, 'See, it really does work, and it works that quickly if you have the right idea,'" he said.

The Ad Guy spot can be viewed at www.rodgerstownsend.com/holidaycard/.

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