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In 2005, a Brilliant Red A3 disappeared from Audi’s Park Avenue showroom, an event that drew considerable public response, brought two million visitors to, and contributed to the sale of 1,025 Audis in the 90 days that followed. Even more remarkable was the fact that an actual crime never occurred.

A campaign developed by New York City marketing firm Campfire, The Art of the Heist “embraced the target audience's need of control over their environment and invited them into an immersive 24-hour-a-day alternate reality.” Elements such as films, televised content, a fictional video game company, and physical items that were linked to these fictional elements, made the unreal seem real.

Recent recipients of four IAB Mixx Awards for their work on HBO's True Blood, the company has continued to develop engaging ideas. This week I caught up with Campfire Co-Founder Steve Wax about clichéd social media practices, The Art of the Heist, and creatives who inspire him.


JASON BUNYAN: What are 3 social media marketing practices or buzzwords that should be retired at the end of 2009?

STEVE WAX: Number 1: “I’m making a viral video for _____ and I’m going to put it up on YouTube.” This sort of certainty ranks up there with Michael from The Office on the occasion of his upcoming roast telling someone, “Let’s get YouTube down here to film it!”  Or “I’m writing a New York Times Best Seller!” Number 2: The “30,000 Foot View” referred to at many conferences is weird – what can you see from 30,000 feet after all? Number 3: “Social Media Expert”  gimme a break, most of the people who are “Social Media Experts” haven’t worked on a client social media campaign in years. We’re in a period where the brains – or mouths  don’t know what the hands are doing.

BUNYAN: The idea of narrative seems to hold particular importance to Campfire. Were there particular films, books, games, or works of art that inspired the Art of the Heist? How did the team develop the project? Was there a particular moment in development phase when the group started to feel like, okay, we’ve entered new territory?

WAX: There was definitely a bit of a ‘70’s action film vibe to the project, highlighted by the short videos directed by Ben Rock. And at that point [The Blair Witch Project] was only 4 years old, and since my partners produced and marketed TBWP, we followed the same principles in building a fan base for Audi and the A3. We developed the project by the main creatives, Mike Monello, Gregg Hale, Brian Cain and Brian Clark, brainstorming down in Orlando, where they all lived at the time. We consulted with McKinney at regularly as well. As to a particular moment where ok, we’re in new territory, yes and no, if you know what I mean. Mike and Gregg had [The Blair Witch Project] under their belts, Beta-7 for Sega and ESPN had been a huge hit, so to some extent it was known territory. At the same time live events, like the the mission at the Coachella and finale at the Viceroy Hotel in LA that wrapped up the story were largely new.


BUNYAN: What are the pros and cons of the gradual rise in web fluency? If you pitched Art of the Heist in 2010, how would it differ from the approach you took in 2005?

WAX: We’d probably do a lot more influencer/blogger outreach. We might do more live events connected to the program as well — although the original theft, the wild ass events.

BUNYAN: Who are some creatives, in any field, whose work you enjoy right now? Are any of them doing things that you forsee informing or making their way into advertising in the years to come?

WAX: Besides Campfire’s eclectic and world class group of Creative Directors, Brian Cain, Sean Ganann, Steve Coulson, CC Chapman and our ECD, Mike Monello, I’d say Jane McGonigle and Lance Weiler.

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