ZiGsters conjure up ghost, invade blogosphere

The haunted house may be a stunt. But there's nothing phony about the mushrooming media value.

The agency was Toronto’s ZiG. The client was Scream TV. And the budget was miniscule. But with Halloween on the horizon, associate-CD duo Stephen Leps and Aaron Starkman came up with the concept of ‘getting scared more often,’ plus a way to generate mega WOM and beaucoup cyber buzz.

The idea was to give the impression that a certain Victorian-era house near Toronto’s Jarvis and Wellesley intersection was haunted by the ghost of a young girl. The team created a 3D projector show that, at first, showed the child in a top-floor window. Then, says Leps, ‘we started leaking it online that the house really was haunted.’ As more and more people showed up outside every night, the partners beefed up the impression, having the ghost skip from window to window.

The crowds increased over a three-week period just before Halloween, and so did the camera-phone images that wound up online, in blogs and on YouTube. Then, last Saturday, the National Post gave the stunt major coverage – just in time for the big reveal. The ghostly little girl showed with up a sign reading ‘Get scared more often on Scream TV.’ Meanwhile, commercials appeared on Scream with the same tagline.

The moral of the story, says Starkman, is that ‘In today’s weird marketing environment, you’ve got to out-smart, not out-spend. And you’ve got to stay fluid, reacting to whatever reaction there is out there. Our client was a partner in making this happen. They believed the power of the Internet could be huge in creating buzz, and that this kind of marketing approach would generate the numbers they needed. And sure enough, it worked.’

The ZiGsters say they can’t yet quantify the media equivalency their caper, um …, scared up on a budget of just $50K. ‘We can’t translate it into dollars,’ says Leps. ‘We just know people have been talking about it. In fact, we keep being told about it by friends of friends. So it’s been working.’ The dream, he adds, was to have their stunt turn up on CNN, which hasn’t yet happened. ‘But it’s popping up everywhere,’ Starkman muses. ‘So who knows?’

What he and his partner are sure of is that they’ll be setting up similar stunts in future. ‘We liked the doubt we put into people’s heads about whether this was real or not.’