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Wireless advertising goes viral ahead of hands-free cellphone law

June 30, 2008 |  5:00 am

Paris for State Bird campaign The claim: California’s state bird, the quail, is brown and ugly and should be replaced by a parrot.

No, that's not another bizarre California ballot measure. It’s part of an advertising campaign by Parrot, one of the many companies trying to get consumers to buy their hands-free device in advance of Tuesday's ban on driving while talking on a cellphone without using a headset.

Rather than showcase their devices in TV and print ads, many companies have decided instead to go the non-traditional route. They have created viral videos, dreamed up a scheme in which a ticket for driving with a cellphone could be used as a coupon for a hands-free device and created a whole campaign to replace the state bird with a parrot, complete with a petition and a letter to the governor.

Nontraditional advertising "can bring effectiveness and reach that traditional advertising cannot," said Scott Leonard, president of A.D.D. Marketing, a Los Angeles-based ad agency. “It can get people to stop in their tracks and focus on something in a real deep and meaningful way.”

It’s also cheap, Leonard said. That could be important because many companies won’t allocate much money to advertise in only California and Washington, the two states that have bans on driving while talking on a cellphone going into effect July 1.

Aside from the parrotnotquail website extolling ...

... the virtues of both parrot the bird and Parrot the Paris-based company, there also are billboards and a radio campaign in which a radio host named Positive Parrot talks about road rage. The company has also created two viral videos — you can find one here — in which a bratty teen drives his instructors mad by talking on his cellphone during a driving lesson.

Jawbone hands-free billboardIf you've found some fake bird poop on your car recently, along with a reminder about the cellphone ban, that's Parrot too.

“We didn’t really have the money to run TV ads, so we tried to find interesting ways to get people to engage with the brand,” said Laura Eastman, director of client services at Ground Zero, the Los Angeles ad agency behind the state bird campaign.

The viral videos have increased traffic on by 25%, said Bryan Westbrook, a spokesman for Feed Co., which created the videos.

Another video, created by Cardo Systems, a maker of hands-free devices, has been viewed more than 4 million times since it was posted last month, and versions in French and Japanese have received a lot of hits. In the videos, a few friends put kernels of popcorn on a table with cellphones. They call the cellphones, which makes the popcorn pop. A link to Cardo’s website appears during the video (no, you can't really pop popcorn with phones, Cardo says -- the videos are "fictitious and optical illusions").

“We wanted to get in front of millions of global consumers,” spokeswoman Kathryn Rhodes said. “We needed more brand awareness.”

Plantronics, another maker of hands-free devices, has created an educational website about the law and  a radio campaign on KGO-AM (810) in the Bay Area. It also has partnered with Best Buy so that consumers who purchase a certain type of headset get the Geek Squad to set it up for free, spokesman Dan Race said.

Of course, if you’re trying to advertise to people who gab on the phone while driving, you could argue that a billboard is the best way to go. That’s where Aliph, which makes a hands-free device called Jawbone, will begin to advertise Tuesday. But its campaign isn’t traditional either.

Aliph’s billboards will feature pictures of people in prison mug shots, with the slogan “Crime Pays: Bring Your Hands Free Ticket to” Those who get fined for driving with a cellphone can submit their ticket information for $20 off the price of Jawbone.

The strategy? Perhaps Aliph is going after a different demographic than the civic-minded person who might vote for a parrot as California's state bird — criminals who can’t vote.

-- Alana Semuels

Semuels, a Times staff writer, covers marketing and the L.A. tech scene.

Photo credits: (top) courtesy of Parrot; (bottom) courtesy of Aliph