Clint Eastwood ain’t the only dirty harry


It’s been widely reported that the career tenure of the typical chief marketing officer is about as long as the lifespan of a feral cat.

To become more valuable and durable, marketing executives need to take risks like the marketing execs at L’Oreal, who have launched a viral campaign to support a new line of hair products, Garnier Fructis Style Bold It.

Bold It targets men aged 18-34, an audience that L’Oreal is counting on to appreciate a risque approach to digital marketing. Working with employer Avenue A | Razorfish and agency Kirt Gunn & Associates, L’Oreal has launched a make-believe comedy, “The Harry Situation,” which features the romantic adventures of a guy who uses Bold It.

Here’s the twist, as reported in the December 19 The New York Times: as part of the campaign, a make-believe executive “hijacks” the website created to promote the show and decides to post his own renegade “Harry Situation” clips. The clips are intended to entertain the male demographic while slyly promoting Bold It all along.

As Cheryl Vitali, senior vice president for marketing for L’Oreal brands Garnier and Maybelline, tells The New York Times, “It’s a little bit of a wink to the industry . . . The challenge was not doing what’s expected.”

One blogger pointed out to me that L’Oreal could experience some blowback because does not specify that it’s a parody site. But according to Avenue A | Razorfish client partner Pete Stein, the team that worked on the assignment felt that having a “sponsored by” note would have detracted from the conceit of the story. Instead, the site uses humor so over-the-top and silly that the spoof should be obvious. Moreover, sharing the idea with The New York Times brings everyone in on the joke.

But, more importantly, L’Oreal is to be commended for taking a risk and building a brand through the viral and social power of the web. Marketing executives are not in a position to play it safe. Thanks to consumer-generated content, we’re being shut out of the conversation between the brand and the customer. L’Oreal shows us how the marketer can play the viral game, too, and in a smart, funny way.

We need to think like L’Oreal’s marketing team to outlive the feral cats.

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