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Orkin Spot Propels Company From Roaches to Riches

Orkin Exterminating Co., Atlanta, has turned an early April Fool's Joke into a DRTV gold mine.

The company nationally launched its “Fake Out” direct response spots through cable and over the air in early March and has seen the number of calls to its national call center skyrocket from 68 in February to 4,309 in March. The overwhelming response spurred the company and its advertising and public relations agencies to develop an online contest that began March 30 and will end April 30.

The “Fake Out” ad starts off as a spoof of a laundry detergent commercial with bright sunlight and puffy clouds surrounding a woman as she folds her fresh, clean laundry. Within seconds a small cockroach, enhanced by computer graphics to look surprisingly real, starts scurrying across the screen, followed by an Orkin man who kills the bug and then delivers the call to action. Once viewers call the 800-800-ORKIN number, they are forwarded — according to ZIP code — to local Orkin offices across the country and offered a bimonthly exterminating plan generally available for $60 a visit.

“The first day it ran, we started getting a response,” said Andy Abend, Orkin account supervisor for advertising agency J. Walter Thompson, Atlanta, which is handling the media buy for the spots. “The whole thought behind the campaign was creating the best possible way to capture the feeling when people see a roach in their home, which is an emotional response, not a rational response. That is exactly what we got.”

Abend said those who complained that the ad was “too real” were sent a letter explaining the marketing philosophy behind the commercial and were not pushed the service on the phone.

“A lot of people call and vent,” said Abend. “But most people call and say it was really creative and compliment it.”

The agency held a meeting to discuss the campaign's success when it realized the ad elicited a great response from viewers, some of whom smashed their television sets upon seeing the roach.

J. Walter Thompson, which has had experience in this area with its Detroit office recently heading up the successful live Ford Focus Interactive television spots; Orkin; and Ketchum Public Relations, all discussed ways to take advantage of this success. They settled on a contest in which people could submit their experiences of being fooled by the ad for a chance to win a new television set. And they decided this would be a better way to exploit the Orkin Web site, Orkin.com.

Within a day of announcing the contest and adding a prominent click-through on the splash page, more than 100 people submitted their experiences. Within a week that number had reached nearly 600. To keep people at the site after they entered the contest, the companies made the contest form a pop-up box that easily downsizes.

Throughout February, 417 people requested information; in March that number jumped to 4,752, and within the first five days in April, 3,708 people went to the site and input their name, e-mail, telephone number and address to receive information from the pest control company.

“The contest is really driving people to the Web,” said Debbie Hairston, account executive at Ketchum. “The response overall has been tremendous, and it has certainly helped that all three companies have worked so hard and so closely to bring this together.”

In May, Orkin will begin its first-ever national direct mail campaign banking on the success of the “Fake Out” ads. Local offices will also canvas neighborhoods with door hangers in an effort to get back canceled customers.

“To get back previous customers, you have to reach them at their homes directly. This is one of the few services that people cancel because it works,” Abend said.

The “Fake Out” campaign has replaced the two-year-old animated “Orkin Man” direct response spots in most markets and, according to Abend, if “Fake Out” continues the success it has had so far, it will be the premier television campaign for Orkin.

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