Gary Vaynerchuk at a 99U conference in February 2014 spoke of his lack of excitement about outdoor media as an effective way of getting attention. “Look at 5 people the next time you are driving”, he said, “I promise you, three of them are texting. Customers are not looking at billboards. They are not even looking at the road any more”.
Michael Baumert, the head of design at Dice, an established online platform for it’s users to find and hire the best tech talent wasn’t listening that day and it’s a good thing he wasn’t. His idea was set the shift, at least temporarily, the accuracy of Gary Vaynerchucks’s texting sample. San Francisco Bay Area commuters would not be texting while driving over the coming months… at least when they passed Dice’s new billboard campaign.
Michael wanted to make an impact amid an array of boring, numbers driven, buzzword laden advertisements in his industry. Finding the best talent was difficult in a space with a 1.5% unemployment rate. Michael’s idea was set to leave his wife temporarily questioning her marital decision. Inspired by one too many half naked David Beckham posters he wanted to showcase the hottest tech talent… in their underpants. Hot in this context being very much tongue in cheek. Michael is a big comedy fan.
Management initially thought he was crazy but the resulting shoot (after teaming up with advertising firm Barkley), although not easy for Michael to explain to his wife, had some eyebrow raising results. Born was the slogan “the hottest tech talent” and accompanying those words across Bay Area billboards were coders laid bare in their finest underpants. The president of rival firm tweeted a picture in amazement. That was the signal Dice needed to focus their efforts on this new breed of supermodel.
The campaign was so successful it still runs with an updated version and made it all the way to Times Square. The unusual approach triggered an emotional response in many and a powerful one at that: Laughter. Some questioned its potential sexist nature, only displaying male developers. Some asked what if you are not blessed with the David Beckham physique that these fine coding specimens display in obvious abundance. Some suggested that these radiant beauties might have been only hired for the lavish looks. Some lobbied for males to be protected from this sort of objectification. Others wondered if they had stuffed their underpants for the occasion.
Not everyone always gets a joke nor agrees humor is the best approach. But one thing is certain with Dices’ campaign. They made an impact with a medium of advertising seen by many as dead. For a short time at least, drivers took a break from their smart phones to look at something real that grabbed their attention. When they returned to their devices many had something out of the ordinary to share.
Michael’s 3 main lessons from the experience (aside from having a tolerant spouse):
1. Take a Risk
“When you’ve got a limited ad budget, take a risk and do something provocative and potentially unsafe. When you’ve got a war chest of Coca-Cola ad dollars, you can afford to play it safe.”
2. Trust the Creatives
“Trust the creative people to be creative and don’t involve yourself unless it’s absolutely necessary. The best part of our campaign was the fish-out-of-water aspect of putting engineers in a totally uncomfortable place and this wouldn’t have been possible without a great photographer and his staff–they got the best out of our “models”.”
3. Keep What Works
“Don’t deviate from a good idea that’s working. We just wrapped up a second shoot and it was tempting to try and evolve the campaign. Tweak a little here and there, but really keep what