This spring, a rookie news anchor in Bismarck, N.D., was fired on his first day on the job for inadvertently swearing on air. When they heard the news, Will Ferrell's team leaped into action.
Matt Labov, the Hollywood actor's publicist, called the NBC affiliate station in Bismarck asking if Ron Burgundy could take the disgraced former anchor's place. They declined. So he called the competition.
"They said yes in about 12 seconds," Labov said. For the comedian behind the most notoriously incompetent anchorman in pop culture, it was a perfect brand fit.
That's the speed at which the marketing activity for the Anchorman sequel has moved. Co-anchoring a local North Dakota TV newscast was just one stop for Ferrell in an unprecedented promotional campaign around Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, which hits theatres Wednesday. It is a calculated effort to remind people of the Scotch-swilling bombast of Burgundy – and more importantly, to put out content that fans could share with friends on social media, which was barely a factor for the 2004 release of the first movie, when Facebook was still in its infancy.
It has worked: For almost anyone watching television or browsing the Web for the past few weeks, it has been next to impossible to avoid Will Ferrell's seventies newsman. When Ron Burgundy became the spokesperson for the Dodge Durango, Ferrell did not film one or two commercials; he made 70. And earlier this month Burgundy visited Winnipeg to call part of the Canadian Olympic curling trials in a much-hyped partnership with TSN that Labov arranged.
Everything, including the visit to Canada, is grounded in an understanding of how media consumption habits are changing – and how advertising has to change with it.
"In the older days, maybe you go on The Tonight Show or on Letterman and you show a clip," Labov said. "People aren't watching TV as much. I zip through the commercials when I'm watching something. … We're trying to do something different."
In the process, Anchorman 2 could be building a new model for how advertisers think about co-promotion. The Dodge partnership gave new relevance to a sleepy SUV brand thanks to the pop-culture cachet of Ron Burgundy, and Dodge putting its advertising weight behind the videos Ferrell made gave a boost to the movie marketing. That goes much further than the old model of throwing some movie merchandise into a fast-food combo.
It was a win-win for TSN too; no money changed hands. Ferrell got attention from a Canadian audience and TSN got access to Ferrell. The network saw a bump in its ratings. (The Canadian Curling Association sold more tickets as well, and to a younger demographic than they're used to seeing.) And, of course, Paramount Canada responded by buying commercial time during the broadcast.
The campaign is designed to appeal to the younger demographic that is Anchorman's target, said David Chiavegato, partner at Toronto ad agency Grip Limited, who calls the promotion his favourite campaign of 2013.
"They basically live online, so it's just a way to reach the target where they're at," he said. "Hollywood movie studios spend tens of millions of dollars in paid media. The amount of 'earned' media in the case of Anchorman is probably comparable to a very significant spend."
It is a particular challenge during the blockbuster-saturated Christmas season, when it is even harder to stand out.
"It's a game-changer, no question," said Barry Avrich, a Canadian filmmaker and partner at advertising firm BT/A. "This is a wake-up call to everybody, not just in entertainment advertising but in marketing, period."
The danger, of course, is that all this content has given fans so much exposure to Ron Burgundy that they don't miss him any more. Last week, pop star par excellence Beyoncé did an anti-Burgundy, dropping a new album out of nowhere, stunning fans and dominating a day's entertainment media coverage with no advanced promotion.
"We hope that people aren't burnt out before the film actually comes out," Labov said. "There's so much we didn't say yes to because of the fear of overload."
Ron Burgundy and Anchorman 2: By the Numbers
3: Number of real news anchors who starred in a fake documentary biography of Ron Burgundy.
21: Months before the actual release of the Anchorman sequel that Will Ferrell appeared on Conan O'Brien's show in character as Ron Burgundy to announce the sequel.
632,000: Average audience that watched the opening of the Canadian Olympic Curling Trials on TSN on Dec. 1.
900,000-plus: Audience that tuned in at the ratings peak, during the appearance by Ron Burgundy.
38 per cent: Increase in ratings compared to the viewership of the same event in 2009 leading up to the Vancouver Olympics.
70: Number of videos advertising the Dodge Durango starring Ron Burgundy, who became the brand's new spokesperson in October.
36 per cent: Rise in sales of the Durango in November, compared to last year.
5: Pictures of great NFL quarterbacks with mustaches that Burgundy employed during an ESPN interview with Peyton Manning in order to mock the Denver Broncos quarterback for his piteous lack of facial hair.
20: Number of minutes it takes for Ron Burgundy to grow a full mustache, according to information he gave during a real newscast he anchored in Bismarck, N.D.