Originally published in MediaPost’s Social Media Insider
Where were you the morning of Thursday, October 21, 2010?
I happened to be in a series of meetings. Yet if you were walking down a certain street in Singapore, you would have seen my face projected on to the side of a building, clearly visible in the night given the 12-hour time difference. Much to my relief, this caused no major panic in the region; the Singapore Exchange Limited opened 10 points higher Friday morning (yes, I checked). I sadly missed the moment, choosing the wrong time to pay attention to my colleagues and thus missing the video feed.
The event was made possible by Aviva, the world’s sixth largest insurance group. That one fact is more than I knew about them when I submitted my face for global projection. All I knew at the time was that there was a press pitch involving something about a Facebook application, a marketer, and a chance to have my face momentarily flashed to people passing by a designated façade in Singapore, Warsaw, London, Paris, Mumbai, or Delhi. I’ve been to the last four cities, and now my face has been to the first, so I’m getting around. While it was great to visit somewhere new virtually, it would have been fun for a Frenchman to see my face and say to a friend, “Pourquoi ont-ils laisser M. Berkowitz revenir à notre pays? Je déménage en Suisse.” (“Why did they let Mr. Berkowitz return to our country? I’m moving to Switzerland.”)
The program combined a lot of smart elements to make it successful, or at least memorable, as I don’t know how they’re measuring success. There’s a cause marketing element, where you’re asked to “donate your picture” with funds going to Save the Children. There are several points of engagement along the way: various calls to action to join, such as on a custom-branded Facebook tab; a personalized video preview that shows my face getting assembled on a skyscraper billboard; a customized Facebook event so I could share when my projection would happen; an email alert that my face would be projected; and then a final update with a link to my face on the building.
There were a few things that, as a participant, I wish they did better. My biggest gripe is the overreliance on Flash. That’s the main reason why I couldn’t save the personalized video or the time-lapse projection to my PC. How much more effective would this be if, in a click or two, I could set my billboard-exposed face my Facebook profile, or if I could upload my video to YouTube? This was something out of the ordinary, and I wanted to save the moment. When else could this happen again?
Well, it could happen next month. Corona Light has a new promotion where, if you like its Facebook page and upload a photo, it will put your face on a Times Square billboard. It will then send you proof of your appearance. The app updated my Facebook status without me realizing it, but overall it’s got a good hook. If you’ve got assets like prime New York City real estate, social media is a great way to flaunt and share them.
Corona’s hardly the first marketer to pull a stunt like this. Last year, Kodak launched its Times Square Smile Gallery. Over the summer, Forever 21 put up a billboard that took real-time photos of pedestrians and streamed fans’ Twitter messages. Coca-Cola showed fans’ photos on its own Times Square billboard as part of its Expedition 206 program.
It would be fascinating to study the demographics of who participates in these stunts. There’s a scene in the movie “Up in the Air” where the ambitious wunderkind Natalie Keener (played by Anna Kendrick) remarks to the suave veteran Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) how men love putting their name on everything. “You guys don’t grow up,” she said. “It’s like you need to pee on everything.”
Based on the number of marketers doing this, there’s a lot of peeing going on, and if Forever 21 is any indication, it’s not just about guys either. Aviva proved to be especially ambitious with its global approach. Some others will undoubtedly try to top that, whether it’s showcasing fans in the Louvre, on the Great Wall of China, or even on the moon. If you’ve missed your chance to participate, don’t worry — because marketers won’t rest until every man, woman, and child alive has the chance to fleetingly flicker their face on a famous façade.