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Are Missing Versus Ads Clever Viral Marketing or Thievery?

Oct 15, 2010 – 9:00 AM
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Kevin Schultz

Kevin Schultz %BloggerTitle%

October is the biggest month of the year for hockey interest -- aside from June. The sport is back and so are all the fans, at least until their team gets knocked out or the monotony of an 82-game schedule loses some of the shorter attention spans. Understandably, this is when a lot of the marketing campaigns kick in.

Versus, the cable rights holders for nationally televised hockey, is certainly going to get in on the action. As they have in the past, they've been contacting bloggers trying to get them to promote Versus programming. In years past, they've offered Versus apparel or merchandise in return. There are no freebies this year but they may have come up with an interesting angle.

In the past, Versus has used an outside marketing firm to contact bloggers and it seems as if they're back again asking bloggers to mention their newest ad campaign. However, there's an interesting twist on the ads this year. A twist that would make the story that much more palatable to the internet.

You see, this year Versus is hyping the eye-catching advertisements they've placed on buses and in bus stops around the east coast. But it's not the advertisements that really pick up steam, it's the mention that the ads are so eye catching that they may be so cool that kids in Boston are snatching them up for decorations in their dorms.

Justin from Days of Y'Orr, a Boston Bruins blog, re-posted an email he received from a Jon Fucile doing Versus' PR (a quick Google search returns a Jon Fucile, founder of SmackDeb Media an advertising and media consulting company although not one that obviously appears to specialize in this type of advertising). The email mentions the ads, their theft in Boston, attaches images and kindly asks Justin to re-post it if he likes. It's nothing out of the ordinary for anyone who has ever attached their email address to a blog. Here's the paragraph on the alleged theft:
We actually just got word that [the ads have] been such a big hit in Boston that the bus shelters are actually being vandalized throughout the city. Fans are taking apart the bus shelters (and vinyl players) and have been taking them home.
Doesn't this look a little suspicious? A PR rep sending out emails basically saying, 'here's an awesome story for your blog. We've been running these neat ads and they're so hip with the kids that they're taking them home.' If I'm a hockey blogger -- oh wait, I am -- I eat this story up and write a post about it. Hey, wait a second...

The blogosphere -- especially in sports -- has a sense of humor and quirky or funny stories can pick up as much and sometimes more traction than actual news (Carl Monday, anyone?). Show us a picture of a cool ad and it may get a few people to pay attention, or it may not. When the story takes a wacky turn, we'll all eat it up. I guess it was only a matter of time until the folks who get paid to do this sort of thing for a living figured out a way to sell us a story without making it too obvious they were selling us a story.

Now, I'll remove my tin foil hat for a moment and admit there's likely to be some truth to this. These ads are very eye catching and honestly, if you were in college and a Bruins fan, wouldn't you want to stick one of these on your wall? Heck, when it comes to rabid hockey fans, this is pretty tame. So legitimate theft isn't nearly out of the question. In fact, the ads aren't flimsy sticker like a lot of posters. They're made of vinyl so they're pretty durable (and I imagine make good residential siding).

Or maybe the answer to all of this is simply that stealing bus station ads are a growing epidemic in America. It was only a couple weeks ago that reports were surfacing people were stealing ESPN Monday Night Football ads out of bus stations. Those ads were made with AstroTurf plastered onto the station wall and 72 of 90 ads were reportedly stolen (maybe someone was building a turf field?). If all this keeps up, we'll be due to have a congressional hearing on the subject and a War on Bus Station Ad Theft declared fairly soon.

So what's going on here? Are crazy fans taking home vinyl representations of their favorite Bruins or is this a genius viral marketing move on the part of Versus? We all know that the passion of hockey fans runs deep enough and then some. We also know that there have been some really clever gimmicks going around lately. Just last week, the Chicago Blackhawks put ice sculpture Stanley Cups around Chicago to advertise their opening night. Personally, I'm calling shenanigans on this one.
Filed under: Sports