Social media stunt creates buzz around the alternative papal visit

By The Drum Team, Editorial



PayPal article

November 24, 2011 | 8 min read

This case study outlines the thinking behind and the implementation of a social media stunt which took inspiration from the Pope’s visit to Glasgow. NSDesign set itself the task of creating an alternative version of the event, complete with a spin-off take on the PayPal branding – but without the ‘Y’. was born.

Executive SummaryWith the Scottish Media in a frenzy over the visit of Pope Benedict to Glasgow, we decided to jump on the bandwagon, and hype our PayPal Visit – a spoof site promoting a visit to Glasgow by the leader of the Ecommerce Faith! A Social Media stunt – simple in concept, big on creativity – a full team effort to drive more people to our new campaign site, than perhaps visit the real event! Two days later and the results were clear - Twitter trending and Facebook awash with humorous comments on the alternative Papal visit, over 4000 uniques to the website, and an official legal complaint from PayPal themselves – job done!BackgroundWhat started out as a normal Wednesday morning resulted in being anything but. Over our usual 10am morning cup of tea and banter, the subject inevitably came around to the pending papal visit to Glasgow the following day. Not surprising as the media were already in a frenzy over it, with “papal visit this” and “papal visit that”. Being web evangelists (aka geeks) here at NSDesign, we jokingly imagined creating an “alternative” version of the much hyped event, playing on the similarities to the PayPal name and branding but without the distinguishing “Y”. To be honest, that part wasn’t a terribly unique idea, people were already making similar jokes about it on Twitter, but on a whim, we took it that bit further. We decided it might be fun to do a little social media experiment, and see how far we could push it.ObjectivesThe objective of our experiment was simple - start with nothing and see how much awareness, general interest and buzz we could build, for a site which was literally minutes old. Plus the team would get to have a bit of “team-building” fun, with each of us involved in some way with the stunt! If it worked, then perhaps some of the lessons learned could be applied to any online marketing strategy of a guerilla nature!ObjectivesBy 11am we’d registered the domain - close enough to fool many people actually looking for the real thing! After noon, we’d thrown a quick site together and started to promote it via a few pointed “tweets” just after 1pm. Below is how the site looked not long after launching: pretty basic but still funny enough to get people talking…
Within minutes the traffic started to arrive and the re-tweets began…
The next day (The day of the Pope’s actual visit), we turned up the pressure, and posted various topical updates throughout the day, many closely aligned to the official news coming from the real event organisers, resulting in accidental re-tweets from people who didn’t take the time to scrutinize! The page grew and grew with more graphics and tongue-in-cheek news reports. Those, too, were tweeted, re-tweeted and shared on other platforms throughout the day.ResultsAfter just 48 hours since the domain went live, the unique visitors were just short of 2000, and Page views came in around the 3500 mark.Our whole objective wasn’t just to drive traffic in a call-to-action format, it was to reach as wide of an audience as possible thus building brand/site awareness. Through tools such as TweetReach – we were able to ascertain how far our reach was.
On Twitter, according to our full TweetReach report, we had a potential reach of around 75,000 people – which rather ironically is more than actually showed up to see the Pope.Our greatest result (and compliment!) was actually an official response from PayPal at the end of the week (we knew they’d been watching since the start, from our web stats revealing their IP address of their head office!).It might have had over 4000 unique visitors in a few days, and generated a serious bit of buzz on Twitter, but our Social media experiment based on a spoof website for the Papal Visit, hadn’t gone down well with PayPal, as proven by an official email from “EBay Enforcement” – a summary of which is below:PayPal, Inc. (“PayPal”) does not permit use of its trademarked name PAYPAL in a domain name.Such use is in violation of international intellectual property regulations and the trademark laws of many countries worldwide. Additionally, arbitrary use of the word PAL in a domain is problematic if the connected website is used in association with a business making use of PayPal or operating in the same sphere of business as PayPal. While PayPal respects your right of expression and your desire to conduct business on the Internet, PayPal must enforce its own rights in order to protect its valuable and famous trademark. For these reasons, and to avoid consumer confusion, PayPal must insist that you not use the domain name for any purpose, do not sell, offer to sell or transfer the domain name to a third party, and instead simply let the domain registration expire.eBay Inc.Legal DepartmentRather than just “do as we were told”, we actively tried to engage with PayPal/EBay and tried to clarify that the site was not a phishing site, nor a spam site, not trying to rip off PayPal (or the Pope!) in any way.Unfortunately, they didn’t change their opinion, and came back with:While we have no desire to interfere with your legitimate business purposes, we cannot allow the use of a domain which contains the registered PayPal trademark, which could lead to confusion or dilution of the PayPal trademark itself.The content of the site should not contain any unauthorized use of any of PayPal’s Intellectual Property such as trademarks or copyrights.The site currently contains the PayPal Logo, which is not allowed. As of today – nearly 1 year on, we’ve managed to avoid any further demands fromEBay (PayPal) on the promise that we’d no longer develop it, and take it down in due course… thankfully it remains up at, and we still get great feedback from it regularly.A few things we learnedOur stunt was all done in good fun but yet there were things we could take away from this humorous experiment, and actually apply to future client campaigns.
  1. Anything topical you can tie in with and contribute something valuable (or alternative!) to the buzz, you’re on to a winner.
  2. Anything that is unique with humour (bearing in mind everyone’s humour is different) is also an added bonus in experiments like this.
  3. As soon as we added the “Like” button and the “Tweet This” button to the site, nearly a hundred people “liked it” in just a few hours and thus spreading the message directly to their own wider networks. Early “pro-active” marketing push is easily compounded by letting the visitors of the website spread the message directly.
  4. Understanding who your champions are is vital. For instance, you can see who’s mentioning it – using Google Real Time – and quite quickly see who the main influencers are. Nothing goes viral by itself – find these people with influence, wind them up, and let them go!
Other than the official response from EBay, Twitter and Facebook were full of excellent comments and feedback, some congratulating us for a “fun distraction” to the day, others joining in the fun, and helping further promote and pass off the stunt as the real thing… There’s a few of these in the “screenshots” above, one of our favourites being this one:“The alternative papal visit in Glasgow – - oh I miss that Glasgow humour when in London!”This case study has been nominated in the category of Best Stunt in the Social Buzz Awards


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