This was Diesel's unconventional approach to marketing its Intimate Collection, but it may well have put the company in the frame for a Cyber Grand Prix at this year's Cannes International Advertising Festival. The Swedish clothing brand caused a stir by staging the stunt and then streaming the whole five-day event at Diesel.com.
Devised as a parody of TV and online trends, from "Big Brother" voyeurism to the rush to get as many "friends" as possible on MySpace, or the exhibitionism of YouTube, the "15 Megabytes of Fame" campaign mocks the prevailing desire to get noticed and become famous.
Collaborating with the Heidies
Visitors to the site were invited to participate in the action. One simple idea was "your name with the Heidies." Heidie 1 and Heidie 2 (as the girls were known) stood on each side of a big screen. People sent their names in and Juan (the hostage) took a picture of the name on screen between the Heidies.
"It may sound like a simple thing but the servers almost went down," said Nicke Bergstrom, creative director and co-founder of Diesel's digital agency, Farfar, Stockholm.
Other interactive opportunities were often devised by viewers, who thought up their own messages to the Heidies. Requests came in such as: "Write my name on the hostage's flesh," "Sing a song for my friend" or "Have a pillow fight." When the Heidies tried to get some rest, disgruntled surfers demanded they stay awake.
Exact figures have not been given out, but the rate of site visitors, usually around a million a month, increased fivefold for the duration of the campaign, without any on-or off-line support except word-of-mouth.
"Just look around you," Mr. Bergstrom said. "It's almost scary to see what people are willing to do to get famous. ... We live in a world where everything is retouched and almost nothing is truly for real. Especially when it comes to marketing."
While the campaign provided good exposure for the underwear collection, it didn't show any Diesel branding. All you saw was the Heidies logo and very ordinary hotel room.
Because there was no opportunity to say "cut" or give direction, the producers used a bedside telephone if they needed to speak to the Heidies. The girls picked up the phone and told viewers it was room service calling.
The Heidies campaign was the first work for Diesel from Farfar. "The plan from the beginning was to do something groundbreaking," Mr. Bergstrom said. "Totally live consumer interaction and participation was a very strong concept. We created some kind of a monster. See how positive people can be if it's done right?"
The five-day ordeal came to an end when the real son of Diesel founder Renzo Rosso came into the room to negotiate a deal with the Heidies for the release of the hostage. He agreed to send a professional photographer and to use the Heidies in a Diesel campaign. Concerned viewers responded by writing in that they had witnessed the handshake and Diesel must stick to its promise.
Delivering on the promise
Mr. Bergstrom, whose agency is part of Aegis Group's global Isobar network, said: "It's quite ironic. A lot of marketing people spend hours ranting about buzzwords such as branded content, consumer-generated content, digital media, viral distribution and consumer engagement. But still most digital campaigns don't even deliver on any single one of these premises.
"To be honest, most digital campaigns are not even creative. Here we had one strong idea and created a piece that not only delivers on all these buzzwords but also got the audience more involved than I ever could have imagined. Normal interactive campaigns have interaction with a premade digital content. We had true interaction with real people and we had a story that was so engaging that many people spent full days on the site."