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Getting tanked on ersatz eggnog

Water: 350 gallons. Evaporated milk: 22 cans. Yellow food coloring: a whole bunch— but naughty or nice, it didn’t much matter. This holiday season, employees at Ohio-based agency Marcus Thomas found out who their real friends were before taking a dive in the yellow goo.

“You should’ve smelled our clothes after we did it,” said copywriter TJ Prochaska. “There was a lot of anticipation before the first dunk, sitting up there, with your feet dangling.”

To raise money for the United Way of Cleveland and top its 2011 holiday effort, Marcus Thomas eschewed the notion of a regular Christmas card for an engaging effort designed to be amusing, interactive, and charitable. To that end, the creative—and devious—minds at Marcus Thomas dreamed up “Get Tanked for Charity,” a digitized and somewhat more democratic yuletide spin on dunk the boss.

Thirty agency staffers—everyone from managing director Jim Nash to the lowly noobs—put themselves at the mercy of online voters with the power to decide whose fate it would be to get dunked in the “eggnog” and who was to be spared. Each nominee created a so-called plead video in which the potential dunkee appealed to the public with piteous outcry ranging from the desperate—one addresses the camera with “I talked to all kinds of people…consensus is, nobody wants to see me get dunked;” a group of coworkers stand behind him with placards declaring quite the opposite state of affairs; to the betraying: “For the love of all things good in this world…please. Don’t put me in the tank. Put Phong in the tank.”

Others were all about getting dunked. Adam Recktenwald, a digital account executive at the agency, embraced the ‘nog with a bring-it-on video in which he does a shirtless Isaiah Mustafa impression while dumping a quart of the gooey yellow stuff over his head and chest.

There were more than 255,000 votes cast over the course of the campaign.

Between December 10 and 14 those selected spent 40 minutes each perched over the eggnog-like concoction—many dressed in red onesies and elf caps—while anyone with an Internet connection was welcome to use his or her mouse to launch real softballs at a target connected to the hot seat. For each successful dunking, Marcus Thomas donated $50 to the United Way.

The actual mechanics behind it were quite ingenious. The top of the device was a softball cannon, the kind generally used for batting practice. The agency stripped the light off it and attached a pan and tilt head camera to the top, which was then screwed to a large freestanding unit and wired to a piece of hardware with Web controls already built in. After the Web development guys tinkered with it a bit to make it more user-friendly, the whole thing was bolted to a big table in front of the dunk tank.

The action was available streaming live each day at holiday.marcusthomas.llc.com, and each potential dunkee was provided with a “noggin cam” to capture the in-tank shenanigans.

Copywriter Tony Pichotta, for example, brought a copy of Dickens classic A Christmas Carol with him into the tank, which he read while he was waiting to get dunked—and continued to read post-dunk, blithely flipping through the wet, sticky pages. Account executive Chris Sledzick wrapped his cell phone in clear plastic so he could live-tweet, and one client even came down to throw his tennis ball at the target in person.

Creative director Jim Sollisch brought a sheaf of papers with him into the tank upon which he’d written the names of things he hates, like overcooked pasta and woven baskets. Before each dunking he would declaim in loud tones the causes of his enmity. (“I hate Jimmy John’s! Worst sandwich in America.”)

“He said if he had to go down, he was taking these things down with him,” says copywriter Brandi Hensler. “He’d hold up the piece of paper and rant about it until he got dunked. He said it was very therapeutic.”

The social buzz around “Tanked” was impressive. More than 50% of Web referrals to the holiday site, which brought in 3,000 unique visitors, were socially driven. There were nearly 900 tweets about the holiday card, generating more than 725,000 impressions. #GetTanked even trended locally on December 11. Marcus Thomas ended up raising $6,000 for the United Way.

“There is a little pressure to make it even more incredible and engaging next year,” says executive creative directr Joanne Kim. “We’ll have to start thinking about it in June or July!”

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