Last Christmas, Belgian telecom operator Scarlet turned convention on its head and asked people not to use its products and services.
A campaign by 6-year-old local agency Mortierbrigade challenged the country to survive the entire holiday weekend without telephones, TVs or computers.
The idea created by the 25-person shop, which also works for clients such as Levi's and Wilkinson Sword, was a reaction against competitors, all of whom were predictably urging people to call their loved ones at Christmas. Instead, it suggested Belgians should enjoy an old-fashioned festive season in the company of friends and family, without distractions from electronic media.
"Phones, computers and televisions are so much part of the culture right now," said Tim Arts, one of the creatives behind the work. "We wanted to break the cycle and celebrate Christmas like we used to."
The prize for the winning family? A brand-new mobile phone, TV and computer.
Contestants signed up for the competition by announcing their participation on Facebook or by downloading a voicemail message to their phone that said, "The person you are trying to reach is participating in Scarlet's one weekend off, and you nearly blew it for him!"
Scarlet checked up on participants by making automated phone calls. If the call was answered, the message was, "Sorry to inform you that you've lost. I'm disappointed in you. Why did you pick up the phone? I thought you wanted to enjoy Christmas with your family." If the call was not answered, the message was, "I'm proud of you -- you're still in the running."
To weed out the online cheats, Scarlet sent emails and bought banner ads. If users opened emails or clicked on banners, they were rumbled. Policing the TV element of the challenge was more difficult, as Scarlet was only able to check up on its own digital TV subscribers. But it did broadcast 10-second TV ads that directly addressed viewers: "Everybody turning off their TV, computer and telephone this weekend might win a new TV, computer and telephone. You're no longer in the race."
Altogether, 3,000 families tried to stay offline for the weekend. Of those, 900 were disqualified when they answered Scarlet's telephone calls, and 1,500 fell by the wayside when they opened Scarlet's trick email.
The competition drove a 68% increase in unique visitors to Scarlet's website, 73% of whom were new visitors.
Mr. Arts' creative partner on "One Weekend Off" was Stefan Vandenboogaard. Beyond creating the campaign, they also recruited a couple of friends to film an online documentary following the trials of three families who signed up for the challenge.
The film shows what it's like to live without a TV, phone or computer, as each household quietly participates in very ordinary activities: playing a board game, watching a fire burn or aimlessly toying with an inflatable microphone. A line flashes up on the screen: "We never said it would be easy."