Vulkan's iPhone—For the Kids!

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Anomaly's Johnny Vulkan, right, with members of Keep a Child Alive
Anomaly's Johnny Vulkan, right, with members of Keep a Child Alive
Anomaly co-founder Johnny Vulkan was the first in line at the Apple store in SoHo for the new iPhone. He arrived Tuesday morning and is set to wait until the phone goes on sale. But he's not doing it alone. He's working together with Anomaly client Keep A Child Alive to raise awareness about the charity, auctioning off the phones along with Jawbone headsets and two round-trip tickets in on Virgin America—two more Anomaly clients in on the stunt.

We caught up with Vulkan—who once waited on a line at the same store for OSX Tiger—in the sticky heat with more than a day to go. If the line isn't too long, he says, after they get the first phone he'll jump on the end and wait through it again for one to call his own.

This seems like a great marriage—turning a tech fest into a value reminder.

If you know where the media's going to turn up you might as well use that opportunity for a good cause. I think for us there's a lot of relevance there, because the iPhone's all about connectivity. It's a good time to actually remember we're connected to a wider group of people. We're all lining up for a great product, but it's nice to remember there are lots other people who are less fortunate than us. Literally, these guys, for a dollar a day, you can save a kid's life. With a small amount of money you can make quite a big difference. So we're hoping to raise a bit of awareness for the charity and when we put the phone on Ebay we hope to make a bit of money as well.

Yeah, what are you expecting from the auction?

We don't know. We're pretty certain [it will raise] a minimum of $5,000, but I'm hoping to go for something pretty big, and we might try and ring around and see if we can get somebody to do it as a media opportunity for them, as a media buy. We're on the phones now trying to get people to do it. But we have Virgin America and Jawbone as sponsors, we have Netflix and Six Flags as sponsors, we're hoping Ebay is going to match, we're hoping by the end of the day we'll also have Nike and Converse as sponsors. We're raising money, raising awareness. We have 80 people, pretty much, volunteering to rotate through the slots, the whole company and the whole team at Keep A Child Alive in Brooklyn are coming down, doing three or four hour stints, through the night, getting soaked last night in the rain. But it's been good fun. Everyone's having a really good laugh. Great team spirit.

Do you have four places or three?

The next people in line don't even care. They're selling their spots. We've actually got five spaces but we're probably going to end up taking three of the spaces and getting three phones. It's really dependent on how we do the last couple of hours. We'd love to have a celeb down here to buy the first phone, the charity has a couple of cool ambassadors we'd love to get down, but a couple of them are in Africa at the moment. It's all about how we manage the last steps. Hopefully it's not me going through the door—it'd be fine, but we could do with someone a bit more prominent.

You never know—you might turn into Gollum from Lord of the Rings and run off.

Yes, it could get a little strange. I think the next bit is going to be really fun, they just set the barriers up there, and we expect the Apple fanboys to arrive pretty much from now onwards. I know a lot of people are arriving at five tomorrow morning, a lot of people come by and ask for hints and tips as to where we get the chairs from, or where we get the drinks from—for us it's easy, we're just ferrying stuff from the office. We've got extra clean T-shirts so we all come up looking fresh-faced and healthy. It's easier when you're doing it as an organization, not as an individual.

How did you decide to get here early enough?

We weren't first in total, a guy in Midtown beat us to it, a guy lined up at the Fifth Avenue store Monday. Monday evening we had a discussion about it, whether we should still do it or not, and we saw that they hadn't actually done anything for a cause or a charity. So because we had a good story to tell, which could generate the media coverage, we decided to do it. Monday night I walked past and there was no line, so we rolled the dice, took a gamble. I literally woke up on Tuesday panicking; going Oh my goodness, I bet there's somebody in line now. And I was thinking we'd have to bribe them to move along a couple of places. So then I got here at 6:30, 7ish and I just stood here with my backpack. The first few people going into the Apple store didn't know if I was just somebody waiting for someone or this was actually the beginning of the line, and then by half-seven I had a crate and my backpack. Then the Apple guys were poking their heads out and beginning to get suspicious, but excited as well. I think they were jealous they didn't have a line at their store. So then we rang a couple of people and got some chairs down, then you know you're in line. The Apple guys came out; we had photographs with them a lot of fun. We then had phone calls coming from Apple to our office, saying Are you guys on line? We just got a thing internally. It's amazing how fast those things happen. And then it spread around. We even had a text message to a friend of ours from Bono, saying how cool he thought it was, and it was really great—he's involved as well—it was a nice gesture. We've had press coverage in Sweden, Brazil, Denmark, the Netherlands, France—it's pinging around the Internet. It's gotten a lot of blog coverage, on Boing Boing and Gizmodo.

So is this advertising?

It's the future. You know, it's about understanding how media works today. I think it's about finding or discovering a point of origin to spread a message from. And if you've got a good story to tell and a good product, in this case a good charity, a really good cause; and then I think there are smart ways to disseminate a message without really spending much money. It's the cost of some polyboard and volunteer time from our guys, who are thrilled to be doing it. It's very cost-effective for a charity. And it's been a lot of fun. I think regular brands can use that kind of thinking as well. In this scenario you wouldn't want a brand lining up, but I think there are many interesting new ways to unlock and mobilize new media, and I think we're very keen fans of that. Much of the work we do now is around understanding that, and how you can connect and celebrate those things. This is a good practice for us as well, if anything; and we're doing it for a great cause. It's great learning. You see how things disseminate and how things move, and we also learn how to keep things going. So we're very heavily, we've got a full-time PR person on this as well, to keep refreshing the story, sending it out, and everyone internally is sending out emails and spreading the word. I've had very nice emails from WPP and Naked, the guys from Cunning came by, a lot of calls from other marketing business coming by to say Hi. It's been good fun.

Small steps for Spike and Johnny, a giant leap for what you can do by waiting around
Small steps for Spike and Johnny, a giant leap for what you can do by waiting around
UPDATE: Johnny got his phone, picking it up along with director Spike Lee, and the whole shebang went to a woman in Phoenix who bid $100,000 to win the auction. Here's a little more from Vulkan:

From the outset we had a pretty clear idea as to how we would promote the story and how we would use what we know about networks in getting to spread. We started out by creating assets such as the photographs and video that other people could link to e.g. the shot of my sneakers and the line on the sidewalk from day one, and then the position of being number 1 in line was in itself a piece of content. It was a place guaranteed to get interviewed and photographed. We essentially leaned into frame of a story that we knew was going to be written - the iPhone launch.

We took those first assets and sent them to the top tier blogs, giving them initial exclusivity and original content. We know that mainstream media are now frequently using the blogs for leads and we know which ones would be big wins. We supplement this with regular press releases and in each case provided links to assets that people could use.

The first mainstream media turned up 24 hours later in the form of the weather news on Fox. They came and shot next to the line as we were, as planned, a good visual sound-bite. We briefed the weather guy and had press releases and literature on the line so that every casual mention always included a reference to the charity.

From then on there was a continuous cycle. We had people sending updates to blogs - big and small and posting pictures constantly that could be linked to. We also made phone calls to media outlets and pitched them angles, resulting in news crews from CNBC, ABC and MTV coming by to interview. We also sent at least one if not two press releases a day.

Being available to be interviewed was critical and we probably did over 100 interviews and were covered in Australia, Germany, Spain, Brazil, Taiwan, UK etc et as well as most major news outlets in the US.

We set up Spike on the last day. We had a target list of celebrities we wanted to get involved and Spike was a perfect fit. We decided on involving a celebrity as we knew it would turn up the volume on the final piece of media coverage as the doors opened. We knew it would add a few more publications and outlets in entertainment in particular and provide more outlets to cover the charity and our story.

The atmosphere in the store was electric - the staff were really pleased that their first customer was a charity and as it turned out including Spike Lee. We had built a great relationship with the Apple guys during the week and at the end this allowed us to have the store to ourselves for the first two minutes before they let the rest of the crowd in. You can get a great sense of the atmosphere here.

On statistics we are still collating everything as the story is still growing due to Friday's $100,000 auction purchase. There are well over 200,000 links to the story online, we've estimated somewhere in the region of an equivalent to 100 million media impressions, and the charity has broken all records for site traffic surpassing previous bests generated by advertising campaigns. Suffice to say they are thrilled.
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