Waste It On Me and #TheGreatBTSBillboardHunt: An experiential campaign that mobilized locally and engaged globally

In 2018, one mysterious billboard in Hollywood sparked a hashtag that trended on Worldwide Twitter. How did a campaign that focused on hyper-local “offline” activity in American cities manage to engage thousands of fans from around the globe, who couldn’t directly participate?

I was a presenter at the Korean Marketing Association’s 2020 ICAMA-KAS International Conference. I shared “Waste It On Me and #TheGreatBTSBillboardHunt: A case study of social media-powered promotions that mobilized locally and engaged globally” at the online event on October 31, 2020 (Korea Standard Time).

In late 2018, Ultra Records orchestrated some unusual and surprising promotional activities for Steve Aoki’s song, “Waste it On Me” featuring BTS. The campaign consisted of two phases: first, the search for a digital billboard “somewhere” in Hollywood and solving the mystery of the billboard’s meaning over a few days; and second, a scavenger hunt for Snapchat filters that could only be accessed at specific addresses in San Francisco, New York, and Houston.

I discussed the different ways the campaign merged the offline/local with the online/global, and argued that this was done most successfully through storytelling. In phase one, this included a compelling “call to adventure” that demonstrated an understanding of the fandom; rising tension that allowed fans to make meaning from the campaign amongst themselves over time; and a lack of involvement from official channels that created space for the fandom to fully own the story of #TheGreatBTSBillboardHunt. Although phase two experimented with hyper-local AR technology (Snapchat Geo-filters) that directly illustrates the merging of the online and offline, its failure to build a meaningful story likely contributed to its overall lesser fan engagement.

My presentation was part of the program track “BTS: A Paradigm Changer in Martech and/or Innovation.” This program track was offered through a collaboration between two academic journals: the Asia Marketing Journal and The Rhizomatic Revolution Review. See the full track schedule here. My presentation was in Session 2, Bring the Stories: Narrative Building and Participatory Culture.

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