What creative person doesn’t dream of using his success to get revenge on the bastards who did him wrong during high school?
With last year’s "Frank" spot for Kayak, Gerry Graf, founder and creative head of the brand’s agency, Barton F. Graf 9000, had the opportunity to exact a very insider bit of payback.
The popular spot revolves around a mulleted man-beast who has been forever banned from the travel site after bullying its inventor (by means of atomic wedgie) when the two were schoolmates. The spot is part of the ongoing "Search One And Done" Kayak campaign that revolves around the premise that there are no good reasons to not use the travel service, only bizarre and dumb ones. That fictional jerk needed a name, though, and Graf reached back to his teenage memories of a real bully from his high school years—Frank Reardon—and gave the commercial cretin his name. Graf even styled the character in the ads based on Reardon’s 1985 prom photo—check out Reardon’s Facebook page here. ( Kayak CEO Paul English discussed the story at Fast Company’s Innovation Uncensored in April.)
And now, in a weird, meta twist, the real Frank Reardon is appearing in an online extension of the campaign.
Starting today, Reardon—the real Reardon—will star in a series of videos pleading to be let onto Kayak so he can book a trip to Reno, NV or Branson, MO, and urging viewers to share the video via "Facespace." The videos will be uploaded to Kayak’s Facebook page one by one, each followed by video responses from company CMO Robert Birge (who answers with variations of "no").
Graf says the new campaign was born from the social media activity that each airing of the "Frank" spot inspired. So popular was the phony Reardon that viewers left posts on Kayak’s Facebook page debating whether the ban should be lifted and that inspired the idea to include the real Reardon in a new campaign.
Kayak is reintroducing the original spot on TV to remind people about the character, but this time with a special URL, LetFrankOn.com, directing them to the videos. Kayak will also use its Twitter feed to let people know that Frank wants back on the site.
"I wanted to put the ad back on the air purely based on the fact that the thing looked great from a measurement standpoint, and we’re a very measurement driven company," says Birge. When the CMO directed BFG 9000 to put the spot back into rotation, Graf requested that they take advantage of the social media debate and proposed the call-and-response video idea.
"It’s a weird mix of real and not real," says Graf. "You can suspend your disbelief and go along with the story, or just believe it’s true, as there is a little amount of reality involved."
To get the authentically amateurish look they were going for, Graf and the creative and producer on the campaign traveled to Woburn, MA to shoot Reardon at home. "He’s not an actor," says Graf, so getting the right performance took some trial and error. "We tried in the beginning having him memorize lines for each video, and we tried using a teleprompter but it seemed fake. We did a couple of rounds with him reading the teleprompter and then shut it off and say it in his own words. That worked best."
Of course Graf wasn’t really looking for retribution with the original nod to Reardon, just a good laugh—"I like to put stuff in commercials that just makes me laugh," says Graf, who has included more than one Easter egg in the Kayak TV spots (the first ad in the campaign, "Bright Man" featured a self-proclaimed dim bulb of a company founder named Mr. Carroll, named for Graf’s former boss at TBWA, Tom Carroll).
And it’s a good thing, as Reardon has become something of a celebrity in his Massachusetts hometown, where he now works as a bartender (doubly so because ex-SNL cast member Rachel Dratch also went to high school with Graf and Reardon, and the drunken, loutish Frank character in her "Sully and Denise" sketches with Jimmy Fallon are based on…you guessed it. The very same).
The video back-and-forth between Reardon and Birge will continue through Tuesday. Graf’s satisfaction, one imagines, will linger.