NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- How far would you go for a job? Would you eat a bug or wash an elephant?
Both those challenges were presented to two contenders for the title of social-media catalyst at golf juggernaut TaylorMade-Adidas. To test the social-media mettle of its two finalists, the company dispensed with round-robin interviews and luncheons and dispatched them on the ultimate job tryout: a 50-day, nine-country golfing trip chronicled on Facebook, Twitter and other sites. Along the way, the contenders must respond to interactive challenges that include everything from creating a viral commercial to participating in user-generated contests -- such as eating a bug or washing an elephant on their most recent stop in Thailand.
May the best blogger win.
"We're not unlike any other company that has really tried to work through this new world of social media. It's a vehicle that we can use to tell our story," said Harry Arnett, VP-brand marketing for Adidas Golf. "But every time we've tried to tell our story online or virally, it just felt way too commercial. We've struggled with being authentic in the social-media space. The more we tried to tell that story, the more unauthentic it seemed."
Adidas actually took the idea from itself. Last year, it sent two employees to Latin and South America to play golf and promote its ClimaProof and ClimaCool apparel and fabric line. This time, the company turned it into a contest, teaming with Yahoo HotJobs to open up a search for two candidates who would participate in a head-to-head showdown wearing the apparel under extreme golfing conditions in exchange for a chance to work at the company. The promotion drew 1.1 million searches and 30,000 resumes.
Ironically, the two contestants -- Steve Olsen and Chris Dukeminier -- are from the agency world. Prior to the adventure, Mr. Olsen worked at Hiebing, a small marketing agency in Madison, Wisc., while Mr. Dukeminier worked at Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., on the digital media team for the Electronic Arts account. Both resigned their posts before taking on what is perhaps the world's longest job interview.
"There is no question that working for an agency, specifically in digital, helped me land this gig," Mr. Dukeminier said via e-mail from Chanthaburi, Thailand, as he and Mr. Olsen got ready to go to South Korea for the next portion of the contest. A decision is expected Aug. 14, after the contenders return to the U.S., finishing up at Brandon Dunes Golf Course in Oregon.
Both men said they have been pleased with the amount of interaction taking place between advertising and social media.
"That said, I don't see epic TV spots ever going away or losing their effectiveness, but virtually no major brand can get away with doing just that anymore," Mr. Dukeminier said. "Many consumers like to interact with a brand via social media and learn about the brand through that channel as opposed to traditional advertising or marketing. That makes it crucial for brands like Adidas Golf to have a prominent social-media footprint."
Said Mr. Olsen: "Social media is another touch point to reach consumers like print or TV. The difference is that social media is 24/7, changes daily and involves talking 'with' consumers and not 'to' consumers. This is a great space for Adidas Golf. Through my adventures so far, I have learned one amazing thing: the word 'Adidas' is universal. No matter what language, what country, this brand is global, and people are passionate about it."
Mr. Arnett said he didn't think it made the "Wear in the World?" challenge (there is a customized website with this name that both contenders post to) disingenuous considering that with all the applicants, it was two agency creatives undertaking this challenge.
"Because we're actually hiring one of these guys to be our social-media guru, their résumés stuck out as guys who were media savvy," Mr. Arnett said. "That was really one of the biggest challenges -- the way we wanted to use social media and authenticity, we didn't try to necessarily find somebody who worked at an agency, we just wanted guys who were media savvy and could think on their feet and think quickly."
And play good golf.
So far the two men, both with handicaps below 10, have played at the home of golf in Scotland, at the world's northernmost golf course in Norway where the days are currently bathed in 24-hour sunlight, and in 118-degree heat in Dubai, where the challenge was to see which player could play the longest without having to use a golf cart -- which meant walking more than three-and-a-half miles in searing heat over 18 holes.
"Through this social-media realm, I've put myself out there for the world to view and critique through this," Mr. Olsen said. "It's very intimidating, but I am able to see firsthand from the feedback what's working and what isn't. Every tactic or idea I have used to build my social-media presence will translate into other brands I may work on. Hopefully, it's Adidas Golf."
If not, he might still have a shot at "The Amazing Race."