Orkin "Fakes Out" America
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Orkin "Fakes Out" America

Fooled by Orkin Pest Control’s new “Fake-Out” ad campaign, hundreds of viewers crawled out of the woodwork calling Orkin with feedback.

Paul Holmes


In March 2000, Orkin launched the “Fake-Out” advertising campaign with a limited budget for media buys. The company feared this creative wouldn’t have high impact due to low levels of viewership.  With the release of the ad, unassuming roaches meandered over millions of TV screens across the United States. Many viewers, thinking the roach was a real pest, hurled such objects as motorcycle helmets and bottles of Merlot at their TVs to “kill” what turned out to be a very realistic computer-generated roach image. Fooled by Orkin Pest Control’s new “Fake-Out” ad campaign, hundreds of viewers crawled out of the woodwork calling Orkin with feedback. 

This highly charged response gave the company a tool to stretch those dollars significantly.  Following Ketchum’s advice, Orkin turned these stories into an integrated marketing campaign.  The effort created a long-lasting frenzy that increased business leads and sales, multiplied media impressions, sparked conversations – and drew customers to Orkin’s Web site and business messages.


Utilized benchmarking research on past internal publicity programs to evaluate best practices

Worked with fulfillment agency and company to determine success of publicity-driven information requests

Conducted media audit to determine which media contacts/outlets would be interested in this type of story



  • Increase sales leads
  • Extend/compliment ad campaign reach with public relations
  • Draw consumers to sales tools: Orkin.com and 800 number


  • Extend consumer response by creating online mechanism to gather more outrageous stories; use them as media draw
  • Develop media materials that would create an immediate connection to the ad and grab media attention
  • Share consumer feedback with media to garner coverage
  • Act quickly, to ensure media coverage reinforced paid spots

Target Audiences

  • Ad/Marketing consumer business reporters; national and top 10 cities
  • “Banner” outlets (Rosie, Regis, Letterman)


  • Initial budget: $13,500 - for agency execution and outreach
  • $20,000 more added to respond to onslaught of media requests
  • Total: $33,500


Created the “Orkin Got Me” Contest:

  • Entrants sent emails to Orkin.com telling their stories
  • Winner drawn at random to receive new TV
  • Entrants exposed to Orkin’s sales messages

Developed media kit that mirrored emotional effects of ads:

  • Giant rubber roaches elicited the “yuck-effect” of the ads
  • Included copies of ad
  • Created extremely cost-effective package

Sent outlandish stories to media: 

  • Generated real-life responses
  • Facilitated local and “exclusive” angles

Responded quickly to flood of media requests; met tight deadlines to yield high-impact coverage


Objective 1

Orkin’s May sales analysis reveals the following:

  • 25.1% increase in pest control leads
  • 8.3% increase in termite leads
  • 15% increase in extermination services over 1999

(The pest control lead increase was the largest in 25 months. Also, it reversed nine straight months of pest control lead decline. Every month since then has been down, so this PR effort drove the only successful month in PC leads in 14 months.)

Note: The campaign was so successful that plans are underway for a sequel to “Fake Out” in 2001

Objective 2

Generated approximately 193.5 million impressions in a three-week period:

  • National coverage included Associated Press, CBS Evening News, Good Morning America, Later Today, MSNBC, Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee, Wall Street Journal and Extra!
  • PR Week and other marketing trades featured the story as an example of effective use of media relations to extend ad dollars
  • 7 cover stories appeared in local market dailies
  • More than 450 TV spots aired the commercial –majority aired entire spot (many aired it multiple times)
  • More than 35 radio stations featured coverage, totaling approximately 25.5 million media impressions

Objective 3

3,000 entered the contest on Orkin.com within one month 

Visitors to Orkin.com reached an all-time high of 350,000 in one day

Company executives lauded the campaign’s ability to generate business interest; Orkin plans to include Fake Out in its annual report as proof of the company’s successful marketing in 2000
Increased pest control by 25.1% and termite leads by 8.3%, reversing nine straight months of pest control lead decline

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