Halifax AOR shocks client with Heroic Landlord campaign

At first, it was because the concept was so. . . out there. But boardroom frowns turned upside down when boffo ROI - and online glee - were sparked on a shoestring budget.

Way too many renters have nightmare stories about landlords who never get around to fixing what desperately needs to be fixed. Carman Pirie, principal at Halifax’s Colour agency, tells MiC that fact of apartment life spelled opportunity when his team ‘did ‘close-to-the-customer work” for a recently won account.

The client was Killam Properties, one of Canada’s largest building management chains. The Halifax-HQ’d company has about 8,500 units, mostly in Atlantic Canada. Just before the 2007-08 academic year got underway, Killam asked Colour to come up with a campaign to attract students to its apartments.

The result was a doozy microsite-OOH campaign that quickly soared to Internet glory but, says Pirie, ‘was just racy enough’ that the client got cold feet. ‘What we did with the Heroic Landlord (concept) isn’t particularly racy by advertising standards, but it wasn’t exactly tame for a property management company.

‘So we got the dreaded call to come on in and meet with the CEO and CFO and VP of ops and everybody on their senior team,’ Pirie recalls. ‘Initially, they wanted to kill the campaign, particularly what came to be called ‘the sex video.’ But after an hour-long session, we managed to convince them to run with it.’

The ‘it’ in question was a one-two punch. Online, the microsite www.LandLordlou.ca/hero was created to showcase three hilariously over-the-top vignettes about a fictitious landlord named Lou, who achieves hero status with Killam tenants by solving their problems pronto. The video tales were posted on YouTube and a profile of Lou was created on Facebook.

Simultaneously, one of the goofiest OOH efforts ever was launched. Pirie’s team hid thousands of 13′ sink plungers in random places throughout Nova Scotia and New Brunswick where students congregate. Meanwhile, newspaper and online banner ads were placed with an offer that was hard for cash-strapped youth to refuse. Anyone who found and turned in 50 plungers would get a free month’s rent in a Killam apartment; anyone who scored 500 would get a free year.

The offer was offbeat enough to quickly create online buzz. ‘In a reasonably small market, we were getting 400-500 hits a day on our site. And on average, 20-30 people were clicking through to seek apartments with Killam,’ says Pirie, who adds that the majority of the traffic was generated by user groups spontaneously created soon after Lou became a Facebook personality. News media attention soon followed, including a three-minute segment on regional CTV newscasts and mentions in local newspapers.

ROI-wise, Colour’s deeply engaging strategy had a boffo outcome. Pirie says zero vacancy rates were reached in all but one of Killam’s student-focused properties by the beginning of the academic year – with average yearly rentals of $9,000. Was it cost-effective? ‘No question,’ he says. ‘We created these three videos for under $20,000. Doing a comparable TV spot would cost at least $100,000.’

Small wonder, then, that the client greenlighted a new adventure for Landlord Lou, which kicked off on Monday. Called ‘Heroic Gathering,’ it’s partnering Killam with Boston Pizza and Swiss Chalet in free meal giveaways for Killam tenants. DM pieces were slipped under their doors in Halifax, Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton, while posters went up in their lobbies.

‘So if you live in a Killam apartment,’ Pirie explains, ‘Lou is suggesting that you throw a get-together and he’ll provide the food.’ Interested tenants click on the microsite to select from five different types of meals, which will be delivered by their resident managers on the designated date.

‘What we’re trying to do with Heroic Gatherings is spark conversations among friends about Killam apartments, he says. ‘And we’re not just targeting students this time, but all (the client’s tenants). We know the parties and the free food will probably have a good effect on retention of current tenants, but that’s not the primary focus.

‘What we’re really trying to do is get (non-Killam tenants who attend the parties) thinking’ about why their landlords aren’t so generous, and whether they should change addresses.

Details on the new Heroic Gathering initiative are at: www.LandLordlou.ca