September 03, 2008
Case Study

Leave ‘Em Laughing: How to Use TV Parody to Educate, Entertain, and Get Plenty of Leads

SUMMARY: Providing educational content is a tried-and-true way to generate leads. But white papers and webinars can be a bit dull.

Check out how a training vendor for the mortgage industry responded to the credit crisis with educational content that became blockbuster entertainment -- and a must-have tool for customers and prospects. The campaign established the brand as 'the' expert in mortgage-fraud detection while generating 1,200 prospects.
The credit crisis was wreaking havoc on the mortgage industry and Kristi Kennelly, Director, Marketing, Interthinx, wanted to offer high-value educational content to help their customers and prospects deal with this challenge. Kennelly viewed such content as generating
leads for the firm’s mortgage-fraud detection software and training services while positioning her company as a thought leader.

Most mortgage industry educational content, however, was extremely technical and, frankly, somewhat boring. Kennelly and her team wanted a campaign that would grab the industry’s attention and get the firm in the door of major lenders around the country.

Kennelly, a former Broadway performer, saw entertainment as the key to a compelling campaign. “What do people talk about around the water cooler?” says Kennelly. “PowerPoint is very easy to forget, but everyone talks about what was on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ the night before.”

Her team also had already developed product promotion and training programs that parodied TV shows and movies. A similar “branded entertainment” approach seemed like the best way to tackle the problem.


Kennelly and her team created a high-quality DVD training program that parodied the TV and film series, “Charlie’s Angels.” They recruited customers as expert advisors and hired a professional crew to create a movie-quality product titled “Fraud Angelssm.”

The team’s previous campaigns included a 2006 mortgage-fraud detection training DVD called “FSIsm: Fraud Scheme Investigation,” which parodied the TV show “CSI.” When they saw that the credit crisis had created new fraud risks, the team took a similar approach with a new fraud-training DVD set. The content built on the training offered in “FSI,” but included more advanced techniques while addressing the changing needs of the mortgage industry.

Here are the seven steps they took to create the program, promote the DVDs, and gather leads through their distribution.

Step #1. Recruit clients as advisors and cameo players

Before developing a script, Kennelly recruited customers to help create the content and appear as performers in the film. Using executives from some of the largest companies in the mortgage industry added credibility and authority to the training program, says Kennelly.

“It’s critical to have their expertise, even though we’re also experts in the field. Their involvement acts as an unofficial endorsement.”

The marketing team worked with the sales team to identify the company’s top customers – and to get a sense of clients’ personalities. The goal was to find customers who would welcome the chance to participate in a film project in Los Angeles.

More than 30 customers agreed to participate in script writing and filming. The company paid for those customers to travel to L.A. for the four-day shoot.

Customers were included in every step of the process. Kennelly’s team asked them to provide real-life experiences with mortgage-fraud schemes and detection and prevention techniques. Those suggestions were incorporated into several outlines and drafts of the script. Kennelly’s team showed customers exactly how their opinions were being incorporated in the project.

Step #2. Create short film and training program

The team approached the subject of mortgage fraud in two parts: A 35-minute short film describing a fictional mortgage-fraud scheme; a training DVD with 26 chapters describing fraud red flags.

Part 1: Film parody

The team used the Charlie’s Angels theme because it allowed them to write a more complicated fictional fraud scenario that could cross state lines. The three main characters tracked down clues in three different locations.

Basing a film parody on three female investigators also allowed the team to reflect the fact that women make up a large number of mortgage banking executives in the fraud, risk and credit departments.
They based the fictional scheme on real fraud events reported in major newspapers and industry publications.

They hired an Emmy-award winning television writer, Mary E. Harris, to work the industry details into an entertaining story.

The “Fraud Angels” script used humor to parody the popular TV and movie franchise but it had a more serious tone than the previous training film to reflect the industry’s ongoing credit crisis.

“It’s crucial to find that funny bone, but to do it in a way that’s not offensive and poking fun at an entire industry.”

The team avoided any direct references to Interthinx products in the film. Instead, they made only general references to software or technology that help in fraud detection.

“People are smart enough to know that if you’re a software company sending out film that contains a reference to software, it’s probably similar to the products we offer,” says Kennelly. “I didn’t want to insult people’s intelligence.”

Part 2. DVD training program:

Kennelly and her team created 26 training modules that reflected the “clues” found in the short film, but also addressed emerging fraud trends. Unlike the film, they included descriptions of how company products could address those challenges.

They assembled a training course in three sections:

o Major fraud “red flags”
o Emerging fraud schemes
o Company products that can specifically address those red flags and emerging challenges

Step #3. Hire professional production team and actors

To make the training program a sought-after resource, Kennelly used high-quality production values. “This can’t be like some homemade YouTube video,” she says.

They hired experienced film professionals, including:

o Screen Actors Guild actors to play the primary characters in the short film
o Production team that had high-end cameras and lighting equipment.
o Post-production team with professional editing capabilities to assemble a movie-quality film.

Kennelly’s team worked closely with the professional actors, production team and customer volunteers during
the four-day film shoot.

Kennelly also worked closely with a professional editor during post-production to assemble a film that struck
the right tone for the industry.

Step #4. Promote DVDs online and in print

Even before the DVDs were finished, Kennelly’s team began promoting the training program to customers and prospects. Her goal was to generate excitement and orders which, in turn, would become leads for their sales team.

Targeted marketing tactics included:

- Press releases announcing plans for the DVD set, as well as its launch.

The team issued its first press release three months before the DVDs were finished. The release highlighted their plans to follow up on the “FSI” training program with a more advanced tutorial.

They issued a second press release when the DVDs were available.

- Banner advertising in strategic locations – such as the company website and popular industry blogs.

- Notices in email newsletters.

- Email promotions to customers and prospects who had previously ordered “FSI,” the first training film.

- Print advertisements in mortgage industry publications that echoed the style of movie posters.

Step #5. Host film premiere at major industry event

To build buzz for the official release of the DVDs, Kennelly’s team held a “premiere” at The Mortgage Bankers Association’s National Fraud Issues Conference in Chicago.

- Although the company was a sponsor of the event, organizers allowed them to premiere the film during a conference luncheon because it did not contain direct product promotions.

- The team gave copies of the DVD to all 350 conference attendees.

Step #6. Set up microsite to host online order form

Although the DVDs were free, the team required requesters to register to receive their copies. To collect those registrations, they set up a “Fraud Angels” microsite,

The site contained:

o Production stills from the film
o Description of the film’s contents and training chapters
o Downloadable infographic describing the fictional scam portrayed in the film
o PDF download of notes and tips to supplement the video training chapters

The microsite also hosted the DVD order and registration form, which asked prospects to provide:

o Name
o Title
o Company name
o Shipping address
o Phone number
o Email address

A checkbox at the bottom of the form allowed prospects to opt-in for information on other training services from the company.

Step #7. Follow-up calls from sales team

The data captured in the DVD order form was funneled into the company’s CRM system. Then the sales team used that contact information to make follow-up calls and send email messages.

Most sales people chose to follow up by telephone. They made calls shortly after receiving a DVD order, telling the prospect that their order would ship soon and starting a conversation to qualify the prospects.

They also followed up after prospects received the DVDs to gauge its entertainment value and to ask further qualifying questions.

The sales team also received the list of attendees at the industry trade show where the film premiered. Although the list didn’t contain email addresses or phone numbers, the names were typically well-known figures at major mortgage companies.

Many of the names were already in the company’s database. This allowed the sales team to place a follow-up calls to those recipients. They asked prospects about the film and their own fraud issues.

Prospects who checked the box requesting more information about fraud training received calls offering them additional services – such as online fraud training classes.


“Fraud Angels” became a blockbuster within the mortgage industry:

o More than 700 orders were placed before the DVDs were released.
o Another 500 orders have come in since the launch.

“It’s been phenomenal,” says Kennelly. “I’ve got sales people asking me, ‘When are we making the next film?’”

The sales team was especially happy with the campaign, says Kennelly, because the film gives them an easy topic of conversation for follow-up calls.

“They love working off these lists because they’re the most pleasant conversation to have,” she says. “Sales people don’t want to shove product in peoples’ faces immediately. There needs to be an icebreaker, a way to establish a connection.”

The company’s sales cycle can be up to a year or longer, so Kennelly is monitoring leads to determine how many sales they generate. The team also is still receiving orders from the 2006 DVD, “FSI,” indicating that the films have at least a two-year shelf-life for lead generation.

Kennelly won’t disclose how much the film production cost. But she considers it a branding as well as a lead-generation campaign. The ROI, therefore, will include direct sales and impact on corporate branding.

“The fact that some of our top customers have seen this as an enormous ‘value- add’ service and have embedded the film and chapters into their own online training platforms demonstrates that we not only filled a void, but that we will be branded to every customer employee for the next year,” says Kennelly.

Useful links related to this article:

RADAR Creative produced the film:

Nifty Productions provided post-production work:


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