When the AOL Running Man received a popular-vote induction into the Madison Avenue Walk of Fame during Advertising Week's opening ceremony yesterday, the surprise victory raised a few eyebrows and two major questions. One, how did a 13-year-old advertising icon beat out the likes of Ronald McDonald, Smokey the Bear, the Pillsbury Doughboy and the Jolly Green Giant? And two, didn't AOL sponsor the opening gala where the awards were announced? Paging Katherine Harris -- we demand a recount!
Not so fast, said Matt Scheckner, executive director of Advertising Week, who clarified the methodology when Adages called about the potential vote rigging. "It's just a coincidence that AOL won," he said. "The voting was done by potluck and consistent with how we've done it in past years. ... The ones who win every year win because they had the best campaign."
An AOL spokeswoman added that the company had determined its sponsorship of the event months in advance, well before the four-week voting campaign kicked off in August. To swing the vote its way, AOL pulled out every weapon in its arsenal, from a dedicated Twitter account (twitter.com/AOLRunningMan) to voting alerts to its 98,000-plus fans on Facebook to prime real estate on the AOL home page Sept. 15, the Running Man's birthday and one of the last voting days.
"This is a real testament to our effort to really push the engagement and using everything from an asset standpoint," the spokeswoman said.
Mr. Scheckner added that the competition only allowed one vote per computer, "so you can't stuff the ballot box," he joked.
AOL wasn't the only Hall of Fame nominee who called in favors for its campaign. The state department of Virginia encouraged all of its employees to vote for its winning "Virginia is for Lovers" slogan, which shared its victory with State Farm's "Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there."
AOL's win is also not the only instance where contextual advertising collided with Advertising Week awards show. Microsoft Advertising sponsored a Stars of Madison Avenue luncheon on Monday where Microsoft also happened to be one of the honorees, in addition to Sears, Johnson & Johnson and General Electric, whose NBC Universal personality Natalie Morales, of the "Today Show," served as host.