JWT PR knew that young Puerto Ricans would pay no attention to a jingle unless it was sung by someone famous. But the client, Cadbury Adams' Halls throat lozenges, didn't have the kind of budget that gets celebrities like Ricky Martin.
So the agency invented Fabian, a cool, much-gossiped-about pop star. The effort won JWT PR, San Juan, and Cadbury Adams the only Gold award in the nontraditional/guerrilla marketing category at Advertising Age's Hispanic Creative Advertising Awards, open to work from the U.S. Hispanic market and Puerto Rico (see Hispanic Awards Special Report, P. S-1-6).
After making up a one-word name that sounded like it would befit a sultry singer, JWT auditioned actors to play Fabian and picked a guy who already dressed like Ricky Martin and had a lot of attitude. The agency relentlessly promoted him using radio, street posters and chat rooms, just as a record label would publicize a real aspiring artist. A website, lavozdefabian.com (the voice of Fabian), includes music, pictures, a history of his career and a detailed biography from his early life as a volleyball star, choir singer and biology major. In one particularly hair-raising episode, Fabian is nearly killed when fanatical fans attack his tour bus in El Salvador.
"We made it all up," said Rafael Sepulveda, associate creative director at JWT PR. "We grew up in Puerto Rico hearing stories about Menudo and their hysterical fans."
Fabian's first song, with no mention of Halls, was put on a popular internet site for free music downloads, he said. The agency seeded talk about Fabian and where to find his music in a chat room, and young Puerto Ricans started chatting about him. DJs on the morning gossip show of La Mega, the leading radio station among Halls' 18-25 target audience, talked about the rise of Fabian.
A month of hype led up to Fabian's much-publicized live debut on La Mega's afternoon music show "El Jukeo."
But Fabian was a disaster. He turned up at the radio station with laryngitis and sang badly in a scratchy voice, then stormed out of an interview. The show's DJs trashed him. A few days later, Fabian returned in good health and was given a second chance. He sang well, and explained chattily that he had gotten his voice back thanks to Halls lozenges.
The next day the DJs reported that Halls had helped Fabian after hearing of his plight, and had decided to sponsor the singer's official debut in Puerto Rico. The song sung by Fabian was launched, and street posters and web pages were updated with pictures of a singing Fabian holding the Halls package like a microphone. By now, a chorus singing the Halls tagline "Libera tu garganta" ("Free your throat") had been slipped in.
According to JWT, more than 35,000 people listened to Fabian's failure and triumphant return on the radio. In the first two weeks, his website got more than 3,000 hits.
Most important, when the jingle started playing on radio stations, Puerto Ricans thought of it as Fabian's song, not just the Halls advertising jingle. They also continued to believe he was real. In fact, when Fabian stormed out of the radio studio after his first attempt, a VJ from MTV Puerto Rico was so intrigued he called the station to find out more.
The radio DJs were in on it, and the station was paid a "radio-integration" fee, common in Puerto Rico but usually used for blatant commercials by DJs.
One of JWT's clients, from Kleenex, told Mr. Sepulveda during a meeting that he'd followed-and believed-the whole Fabian saga. He asked JWT to do something "like Fabian" for him.
And what of faux Fabian? Formerly named Daniel, he likes his new persona so much he continues to call himself Fabian as he pursues a real recording contract.
"We told him to go ahead and wished him good luck," Mr. Sepulveda said.