What’s the sign of a good campaign? A big fight.

That’s what The Economist magazine discovered when the creatives were challenged to develop an advertising campaign in India that would make people “interpret the world.” They didn’t realize that they’d then be charged with refereeing the ensuing national arguments.

billboard campaign, the economist whale

Can you interpret this billboard?

The billboard campaign, which lasted only from Nov. 8 to Dec. 1, depicted three seemingly unrelated images nested inside of each other. Together they tell a set of inter-related and globally relevant stories. But the answer wasn’t that obvious. The brand challenged people to find the connection and “interpret their world.” People could text the code corresponding to each billboard to a given number for the answer to their story. Notice the appealing and interactive data capture in this text message aspect of the campaign.

Not only did the billboards get people’s attention, but people really took their interpretations personally. They psychoanalyzed the meanings of the billboards and just generally got into arguments with friends, family and strangers. There were quite a few angrily sent text codes as people impatiently awaited responses to prove their point.

Consumers might have taken the defensive, but the campaign brought nothing but smiles to the faces of The Economist staff. More than 11,000 text codes were sent in less than a month in response to the billboards. If that sounds impressive, imagine this: subscription registrations increased 44% during the campaign. Has your campaign ever brought in 66,851 visitors in two weeks?

Changing the way people think is not an easy task. OK, so it’s nearly impossible. But The Economist wanted to push their readers, and potential readers, out of complacency and into a deeper contemplation. It’s the answer to the question of WHY they exist.

So the WHY was their campaign so successful? Because they engaged the audience. They created curiosity and made their message relevant. They lead with their core beliefs and mission, and made the audience want to participate. The made you want to share – and argue about – what they were saying. In short, yes, their campaign had social significance, but boy did it deliver on brand interaction.

So… what do you think the whale means, anyway??

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