Jonny Gladwell was paid to queue for the iPhone

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NBR Staff

Jonny Gladwell, the hearty blonde media-friendly bloke who was first in line to buy the new 3G iPhone, was paid to do so. He was set up as a “plant” as part of an advertising campaign – just as we suspected yesterday.

Industry insiders have confirmed Jonny was paid $50 an hour and given $1,000 spending money to tide him over during his wait. Jonny’s effort – which has had worldwide media exposure – was part of an Aim Proximity/Yellow Pages campaign to see how long you could survive on the streets of Auckland using nothing but Yellow Pages online.

Jonny – who is not a big Apple fan, rendering him a socio-economic aberration – is in fact a friend of an Aim Proximity staffer.

Something seemed a little fishy when a full-page print ad appeared in Friday’s New Zealand Herald lauding Yellow Pages’ assistance. Jonny Gladrags turned up for the line-up 4pm Tuesday – so it seemed impossible for Aim Proximity to come up with the idea, pitch it to the client, get all 16 Yellow Pages participants on board with freebies, get a photo of Jonny and have it clear-cut/prepressed and have the print ad submitted to the NZ Herald before their 10am Wednesday deadline. Aim Proximity is a savvy agency – but they do advertising, not miracles.

So how did they manage it? Well, it was all in the works before Jonny-Dog rocked up for his three-night stint in front of the Auckland Vodafone store.

Aim Proximity set up Jonny’s blog, which has had an impressive 760 diggs, not to mention massive media attention, including spots on prime-time TV news.

Aim’s creative head Dave King said it’s been an exciting week at the agency, as they were sure someone would catch on that it was a set-up. “We kept thinking, something’s going to go wrong, someone’s going to find out – but we pulled it off. It was like a runaway train but it was on the tracks and we just had to sit tight and see what would happen next.”

Agency staff working on the campaign (who haven’t slept all week) had to be ultra-careful that they didn’t say anything that would tip anyone off. Even Jonny himself kept quiet – apart from telling his mum, of course, as he was apprehensive that she might’ve gotten a bit worried.

So, Aim Proximity has possibly just pulled off a world first for marketing. The recently promoted Tony Clewett (now deputy creative director) was instrumental in the creative process.

Mr King said the agency is going for great ideas, no matter what the medium. “This one had some online, a bit of subterfuge and a print ad – but ultimately it was all about coming up with a great idea.”

Mr King was amazed that no-one caught on, especially at one point where (in the ultimate in surreal insanity) an exercycle was delivered to Jonny so he could keep fit for weekend rugby. “Here he was being filmed on an exercycle on the street,” Mr King said. “We were sure someone was going to catch on.”

Although Aim’s sister agency Colenso BBDO holds both Yellow Pages and Vodafone (the iPhone retailer) as clients, that agency was not involved in the campaign, and only six people at Aim Proximity were privy to this information.

This stunt – following hot on the heels of DraftFCB’s pathetic and ineffective Mitchell & Dyer gimmick – will no doubt have some wondering where advertisers should draw the line. Media don’t usually view this sort of thing with affection, and this stunt hasn’t just had local coverage – it’s gone to the other side of the earth.

In Denmark, legislation has been passed to prevent obtrusiveness and disguise in advertising campaigns. Will the rest of the world follow? That’s a practical solution to the problem of marketing traditional “evils” such as fast food to children, but it would be a sad day for the advertising industry if methods were limited in such a manner.

Still, such subversive actions can either be condemned or applauded, depending on your perspective. In a crowded media landscape, finding new ways to push your brand is a challenge that agencies such as Aim Proximity are obviously meeting head-on.

The only thorn in the side of Yellow Pages is that their stunt, while effective, has given more publicity to Vodafone and the Apple iPhone than themselves. Shame neither Vodafone nor Apple thought of this first. There’s always next time – but by then, consumers and media might be just a fraction more cynical. 


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Weird but effective, cheap advertising for them, very clever.


Interesting. But I don't see a problem, nor with the Telecom Drinkies ad, nor with the Aussie Side-Airbags ad. There's an awful lot of hand-wringing about all of this, as if to say that unless they use real people (not actors) that they're misleading us. However, when we go back through History, we can see just how nonsensical such complaints actually are:

In Classical Greece, Festivals to the God Dionysos involved large groups of singers called Choruses singing songs in his praise. They sung on many other topics too. Then one of the singers stood apart from the rest, and performed solos against the rest of the Chorus. Eventually one of them, a man called Thespis, began to pretend to be certain figures from Ancient myth, such as various gods and heroes. He was the very first actor (actors are therefore sometimes called Thespians, after him). The trouble was, when he said he was the great god So'n'So, or the mighty hero Whatsisname, he was actually saying and pretending he was someone he wasn't. We know this today as "Acting." But to many Ancient Greek hand-wringers, in "acting" or "pretending", he was "lying."

Fast-forward a few centuries to an era when the Ancient Greeks began writing adventure books. They were once considered part of a wider genre of "Romances" (not the Mills'n'Boon type), later known as "Novels." The problem was, these were about people and events that weren't real: just like the actors pretending to be something they're not.

So let's think about it: if someone gets up on stage and says they're Zeus, obviously they're not. But is it a lie? We today would say no. If someone writes a book called "A True Story" about a trip to the Moon (as Lucian did in the second century AD), obviously it's not true. But is it a lie? Again, we today would say no.

So why the problem? Is there one at all? Again, we today would say that as long as the intention to "make it all up" was known by the audience (ie audiences of an acting performance, or readers of novels), then there's no problem. The same could then be said to apply to the ads mentioned above. But is it really that misleading? So what if we suspend (dis)belief for a moment when we watch an ad, movie, TV show, or read a book or poem. Does the "knowing it's all pretend" actually make a difference? If so, why? And how can we really tell? When an actor says he likes this brand of chocolate bar, or that brand of washing powder, do we get all hot under the collar because we know he's getting paid to say those things? Do we get bothersome about a company that says its products are the best, when actually they're crap? Is that a lie? Or if the company provides a proviso to say they "believe" that their product is the best, even though others might think not - does that make it alright?

Ultimately, does any of it matter? If so, then let's ban all works of fiction, all actors acting, all poetry readings in the First Person by someone other than the author.

Or.we can shrug our shoulders and say "Ha, you got us! Good on ya! Next please."


It's insidious and dishonest, no matter what way you look at it. Jonny's actions got a lot of media coverage that otherwise wouldn't have happened. Consumers are getting sick of this kind of thing - with all the recent stuff like the Telecom ad and the sidebags woman, it's getting to be advertising overload.

I like to know when I'm watching advertising and when I'm watching news. Advertising is NOT news, and I wish agencies would get that into their heads. They're causing media companies to cheat viewers out of truthful content. This is one of the reasons why people hate advertising so much.


I think the PR industry learnt a long time ago that lying doesn't work, and that audiences are tired of spin, can see through it and it causes damage when they feel betrayed (an event with a high degree of emotional involvement).

The ad industry doesn't seem to understand this yet.

The key thing about many of these recent examples is that they haven't clearly declared that they are paid ads. They've broken the social contract. To say that they're outside-the-square ignores the reason the square was there in the first place (social responsbility and longterm trust).


I think Damian Christie sums it up quite nicely in his post here ( For ever marketers have been fooling us with schemes and strategies in an attempt to create brand awareness and loyalty etc.

I think it is a bit of a generalisation to say that all consumers are getting sick of this kind of thing. I for one am not. Advertisements are meant to entertain us. For one, why would we have so many television shows dedicated to funny and entertaining commercials if advertisers weren’t in someway out to amuse us. People ‘hate’ advertising because it is invasive, not because they feel they have been ‘cheated’. When I do take time out to listen to marketers, it is usually when something is catchy, clever or funny and generally that’s it, otherwise I tune out.

I think this is a good example of a great idea well executed. Consumers should not feel like they have been had, nor should they feel like they have been reported disingenuous news. Jonny would have made it to the front page of The NZ Herald regardless of whether or not he was at the front of the queue as part of an agency campaign or not.


The most disturbing aspect of this Johny Gladwell con job is the naivety of the media itself in falling for it. It shows how much of our so-called newsgathering is done by dumb people. Journalists are meant to ask questions. How come the hot shot, tv journos can front up with the cameras and microphones and just accept what "appears" to be happening as the truth? The blandness of our news coverage and the lack of even basic questioning of subjects has been highlighted in the recent events when stunts have been reported as news. It's a reporter's duty to sort out the truth, not just film, write and file copy. And their lack of experience to twig to these stunts also shows how dopey this generation of news editors has become back in their comfortable offices. Journos were infamous for being cynics. What's happened? The media pack has become a friendly, well-manicured and fashionably dressed throng - wbere's the mongrel? Who's there to tell the Emperor he's naked and a laughing stock?


TV3 reporters apparently asked him if it was a marketing stunt, and he said no. So once you've been given a categorical 'no', are you still meant to go about proving him wrong?


Apparently, he actually said "No. It's not a marketing stunt for Vodafone." or something to this effect.

TV3 commented on their Sunday night 6PM News that he 'cleverly' avoided answering the first question with a true statement. They seemed happy enough even though it was their reporter who asked the question. Hair splitting perhaps, but an answer that appears to have stopped further questions.


Sideshows like Yellow go unnoticed when everyone's so drunk on iPhone. It was only ever going to be about iPhone. But why anyone would pay such a premium to squint at the internet is beyond me.


I agree that the only truly disturbing thing about this stunt is the gullibility of the media. Advertising is not news. It used to be a journalists job to ask questions and discover the truth of what is happening so facts can be reported. Our "news" has been reduced to irrelevant, entertaining sound bytes presented by well groomed seemingly vacant people selected for appearance and not their ability to investigate. The news industry loses credibility with stunts like this. So maybe this stunt is doing us a favour and showing up the shallowness of the news industry.
Anyway, I'm mildly entertained by the stunt, and not surprised at all at the media taking it at face value.


OK Lara, so the media are gullible. But when advertisers set out to deliberately fool them, all the rules change.

Since when is hiding the truth ok?

The news media need an overhaul, but I don't think that excuses advertisers from employing subversive and underhand methods.


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