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November 6: Verizon's Makeover for Homes and Marketing

To promote the benefits of FiOS, Verizon and Campfire created unique offline events, facilitated by online social media.

A New York City company is helping Verizon drive sales of its FiOS Internet Service in Pennsylvania and Delaware via an innovative, integrated campaign.

Campfire is a full-service marketing agency that develops content-comprising games, debates, short films, blogs, forums, even mysteries. The company's partners have participated in creating a number of innovative campaigns, some of which included "The Blair Witch Project," Sega's Beta-7 and Audi's The Art of the Heist.

Verizon wanted to roll out a different kind of targeted local marketing campaign, one which would combine a TV program and events with digital tools like video sharing, blogs and wikis (utilized to create a destination for people to get questions answered; the wikis enabled the community to help itself).

"We tapped into a lot of the same social media principles that are driving audiences online and implemented them offline to create similar kinds of connections," said Steve Wax, a Campfire partner. "It sounds a bit like reverse engineering but we used the identical social media tools that are driving audiences online."

According to Wax, a big consideration was FiOS availability in Pennsylvania and Delaware.

"The decision to implement the program was based on how we could reach scattered customers based in a way that captures their attention, demonstrates first-hand FiOS's powerful but difficult-to-explain attributes, and spread word of mouth locally," he said.

The solution: a reality makeover TV show, facilitated by social media.

To execute the massive endeavor, Campfire first conducted extensive research in Pennsylvania, meeting with Verizon tech/sales executives and customers, and even listening in on customer calls. Key Verizon players included Beth Mulhern, director of consumer marketing for the Pennsylvania/Delaware region, and Karl Gneiting, group manager of consumer marketing.

The campaign implementation process will take six months, from initial concept development last June until "My Home 2.0," the TV reality show featuring the Kaczors, a Yardley, PA family, airs in early November (Fox 29 in Philadelphia; ABC 4 in Pittsburgh). The Kaczor family initially participated in an interview during a casting event in the Philadelphia area. The family submitted a video, and then went through a screening process before being selected.

Wax said the longest development phase has been in establishing and promoting casting events to potential TV makeover families for auditions to become reality TV stars. 

The campaign then got in gear with a website. It provides a destination for families to submit their own casting videos. As shooting began for the show, Verizon launched a "family blog" to chronicle and engage a web audience in the experiences of the families and "tech gurus" -- the show's makeover hosts -- as their homes and lives are transformed through various technologies, all enabled by Verizon's FiOS service.

Verizon identified five target markets and special events have been held in Yardley and Delaware County with the next family to come from Doylestown and two more in the Pittsburgh area. Multiple festivals (the events are being produced by Portland, ME-based Pierce Promotions, a live activation/retail integration marketing agency,) were also held in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas such as the Restaurant Festival in West Chester and South Park Community Day in South Park.

So far, 183 casting videos have been submitted. The website was only launched about a month ago but Wax said early campaign activity "is promising" (no statistics were provided).

"Unique visitors have increased weekly as casting events and shooting on the TV show involve more families and their communities in the campaign," Wax said. "The shooting of each episode also culminates in the makeover reveal at a giant block party. Attendance at these events has been phenomenal and FiOS sign-ups have been strong."

Currently, access to FiOS services is both limited and random, due in part on establishing agreements with individual townships. Wax said the campaign is narrowly focused at the community level, building upon the natural interest of friends and families in the process and outcome of a neighbor's participation in a reality TV show.

"The social media tools create the opportunity to watch and share in the experience," Wax said.

Neal Leavitt is president of Fallbrook, CA-based Leavitt Communications, an international marketing communications company with affiliates in Brazil, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, and the United Kingdom.

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