Meet Jamie Anderson. He’s an Internet marketer in Edinburgh, Scotland, who claims his ingenious “reverse graffiti” campaign helped him earn press coverage and new clients for his SEO company. But in reality, his campaign was completely unremarkable — he only got the media attention by lying to the press.
Back in November 2013, Mr. Anderson used reverse graffiti to advertise his SEO company, RNR SEO. In case you’re not familiar with the “old media” advertising technique, “reverse graffiti” is the act of creating words and images on grimy surfaces by strategically washing away sections of dirt — like if you used your finger to write “BETABEAT WUZ HERE” on a dusty car window.
Five months later, he wrote a blog post explaining how he executed the campaign, how the campaign earned him media coverage and new clients, and how it proved that “old media isn’t completely dead yet.”
“This recent guerrilla marketing campaign was a test to see if I could generate some interest and clients for my internet marketing company by manipulating ‘old media’ sources and doing something totally different that had nothing to do with online marketing,” Mr. Anderson writes on his blog. “The results were better than I expected and quite surprising, I ended up almost getting arrested, got a half page article in the largest newspaper in the city and gained a number of really good clients!”
What follows is an extremely lengthy description of the steps Mr. Anderson took to execute the plan. Here’s a video to summarize things:
It all sounds like a really cool, grass-roots advertising initiative — until Mr. Anderson’s blog post reaches a section called “How we got local media attention.” Here, he describes how he created a bunch of new email accounts, and found the email addresses of the editors and chief reporters at the Edinburgh Evening News. Using the new accounts he’d created, he proceeded to contact the newspaper staff using a variety of fake personas:
“With these email addresses, I then sent a series of emails from the newly created webmail accounts. Each email varied in angle, some were complimentary and saying how they had ‘spotted this cool graffiti on the ground’ in certain parts of the city, others were from a more negative point of along the lines of ‘have you seen this blatant vandalism advertising all over Edinburgh, this surely must be illegal!’ etc.
“My reasoning behind this was to get these people’s attention and at the same time manufacture a fake debate by showing what different people’s potential point of view may be on reverse graffiti.”
Mr. Anderson then explains how a couple of hours later, he was contacted by a reporter who was hoping to speak with “Tommy” — one of the fake identities Mr. Anderson had created. She also said they’d already sent a photographer to start taking photos of the ads. Because Mr. Anderson figured the reporter would also want to interview him — the real him — he gave the reporter his friend Matt’s number, and told her to give “Tommy” a call.
“So putting on my best ‘aggrieved’ voice with a little bit of an exaggerated accent, I went in to character and took the call as ‘Tommy’!
“… After the phone call, I assumed it would take a couple of days for them to get the photos, write the story and do their research etc. However, around an hour later I received a phone call on my business mobile phone and instantly noticed that the number was the same as the one that had phoned Matt’s phone earlier, it was the reporter!
“The first thing I thought is ‘Oh no, she’s going to recognise my voice and know that I was actually ‘Tommy’ all along!’ It was too late to do anything about it so I calmly answered the phone and started chatting to the reporter… [B]y the time I got off the phone… I was having visions of a front page spread!”
In the next part of the blog post, Mr. Anderson shows off about how his campaign was profiled in an article in the Edinburgh Evening News. He notes that the story even featured a direct quote from the totally fake “Tommy,” which “made me laugh,” he writes.
“A half page advertisement in that newspaper would’ve cost me a at least a couple of thousand pounds, so to get a half page editorial piece which the readers actually engaged with would mean it was worth more than any advertisement I could’ve placed,” he writes. “So based on that I was pretty happy with the thousands of pounds worth of local press coverage absolutely free of charge!”
Mr. Anderson acts like his brilliant reverse graffiti idea was the catalyst to his success, but it wasn’t at all. He’s just a callous businessman who tricked a reporter.
Sure, the idea was cool, but there’s no proof that Mr. Anderson’s reverse graffiti campaign, on its own, would have been profiled in the paper — it all depended on his manipulation and lies aimed at the unwitting reporter. His success mainly happened because he told a bunch of lies, and tricked a reporter into thinking his campaign was something people actually cared about.
And worse, either Mr. Anderson is just being careless, or his marketing tactics are commonplace enough that a master manipulator like him feels comfortable coming clean about his actions in a public blog post, and isn’t worried that his shady behavior will deter potential clients.
Is this really how advertisers expect to get clients nowadays — by bragging about all the false identities they’ve created and lies they’ve told to attract media attention? It’s one thing to lie to reporters to get press coverage — brands do it all the time, and it’s practically why the public relations industry was invented. But bragging about it on your blog doesn’t seem like the best business decision.