A viral campaign winding its way slowly through the Internet and the Blogsphere and which recently garnered a straight-faced writeup from Tim Nudd at AdFreak (the blog of respected industry publication Adweek). The website looks like slick product/feature/benefit work of any consumer product company except that the product is a genetically engineered pet, a Genpet. The Genpet can be peg-mounted in its plastic, tamper-proof packaging and comes with a heart monitor:
Imagine walking into a department store or any big box store, and while browsing an aisle you find a display where packages hang; which, at first glance, seem to contain large action figures. Upon closer inspection, you realize they are actually bizarre, altered, bipedal mammals sealed in a plastic bubble where they uneasily rest in some kind of induced hibernation.
A series of glowing and beeping heart monitors on the packages gives a hint that they are alive. The rising and falling of their chests as well as their occasional twitching, shaking and clawing, albeit limited by the tie-wraps, which keep them in place, confirms the life of these creatures. They are there, ready to take home and add to your life as the next entertainment gadget; bioengineered creatures, mass-produced, and pre-packaged for your convenience.
The Genpet line (which is made of steel, plastic and microchips but looks eerily real) has actually been placed in a store in Toronto, where it generated the expected reaction:
While in the store window of Iodine Toronto, the shop owner began sleeping in the store as many nights, people would bang at the windows furiously. Some in protest of the small Bio-genetically engineered creatures trapped in plastic, some wanting to wake them up or buy them. Hordes of teens wanting a bioengineered pet met confused, baffled, or even shocked looks from parents.
The purpose for the project appears to be a mixture of commercial art, social commentary and job-seeking by Mr. Brandejs.
We chose to review this unorthodox campaign because it is an excellent example of a viral campaign with enough intrigue and drama to create a real groundswell on the blogosphere and we are early enough in this process for our readers to watch this unfold in real time. Even though Genpets was not created to sell a conventional product, the execution by Mr. Brandejs provides a great example for brands seeking to create a big splash on the web. Before we found the backstory behind this campaign, this advertising blog first imagined that this was a viral campaign for an upcoming movie. In fact the Genpets remind us of some of the creatures created for the film The Fifh Element and clearly borrow from the pet-cloning premise of the Arnold Scharzenegger film The 6th Day.
Here’s what works about Genpets as a viral campaign:
- Attention to detail: Brandejs got all the elements right when crafting this campaign. He created very realistic looking bioengineered pets and sweated the details on the packaging to make it look real and ordinary – a significant feat for an individual.
- Patience: Without a promotional budget, Mr. Brandejs was forced to do what all good marketers ought to when working on a viral campaign – go slow. By putting up a convincing website and getting placement in a single store in Toronto, Brandejs planted a seed which grew slowly but surely and has reached a variety of blogs and forums. A Google search for Genpets currently returns 59,000 results.
- Controversy: Genpets works because the premise is controversial and the execution makes it moreso. Putting the Genpets in ordinary plastic packaging like a G.I. Joe intentionally trivializes the issue of creating new life. The implication is that life is disposable. The execution shows us a clear and compelling version of a future we need to think about before it arrives. The tension created by this idea makes it shocking and fascinating.
- Relevance: This campaign attracts attention and draws controversy because it is highly relevant. One suspects that Mr. Brandejs is no bible-belt Christian conservative (and we confess that we do not know if Canada even has a bible belt) – so the political and social commentary here is even more acute. Timing is everything and this campaign benefits from excellent timing.
Because Mr. Brandejs had seemingly vague PR goals for this campaign, he may be unprepared for the eventual result. We predict CNN coverage within a month and some significant controversy. But on his website, Mr. Brandejs seems to be looking for some exposure as an artist and possibly freelance web progamming gigs. He ought to think carefully about what he really wants because the offers he gets are likely to be in an entirely different league. The lesson for brands here is that it is critical to establish goals for a viral campaign, know what the follow-on will be and have a crisis management team in place in case the virus spreads in unwanted directions.
Executionally, the only misstep we noted in the campaign was the lack of a phone number and corporate headquarters address for Genpets.
Branding Bottom Line:
Creating Genpets to attract freelance jobs is a little like sculpting the Pieta to get into art school. Crispin Porter should hire this guy.