All across Iowa last month there was a media campaign to “Free Ned.”

But Ned wasn’t a political prisoner, he was prisoner to an onerous cellphone contract that came with his “½G Dazzlephone” which, among other features, allowed Ned to “download a whole song in less than a day.”

The advertising campaign, on behalf of T-Mobile provider iWireless, is the work of the Minneapolis advertising agency Hunt Adkins, a 37-employee shop that’s been in the business for more than 20 years and has annual billings approaching $50 million.

The campaign ran in January and included Web advertising videos, downloadable “Free Ned” posters, “Free Ned” rallies, Facebook postings from Ned’s mom and girlfriend wondering why they had lost track of him.

According to the “Free Ned” website, “Every revolution begins with one person raising a fist to the sky, often while clutching a crappy cellphone in that fist.”

Patrick Hunt, president and CEO of Hunt Adkins, sat down with the Star Tribune last week to discuss new and traditional forms of advertising.


Q: What do you call the “Free Ned” style of advertising?

A: It’s an integrated campaign. It takes traditional media and blends it with social media vehicles that are popular and you make them work together. This one is working fantastically well.


Q: How do you measure results?

A: You measure by visits, page views, time spent on the site. We received approximately 10,000 visits in the first week on, a site that had never existed before. Additionally, we have gained over 4 million impressions on Facebook.

As important are the comments being posted that are aligned with our strategy of “Freedom.” We monitored social chatter from consumers and they were saying, ‘‘Oh my God, this is me!’’ We’re leveraging a truth and when you do that you [as an advertiser] are trusted, which creates a strong foundation for any brand.


Q: Was this a tough sell to iWireless?

A: The client went for it right away. It was a new CEO and the old brand was broken. He saw this as a transition vehicle to a new brand. Free Ned said, “We get it and we want to free you from your provider.’’ We were building up our celebrity with Ned so we developed him to free others through great deals. He became our promo man.


Q: When did this campaign begin?

A: We got the contract in November, developed some transitional spots for Christmas and then launched Free Ned on Jan. 7. We had a lot of street rallies, which were completely staged and over the top.

You have to draw the line between real and fiction. If people feel they’re being conned, that’s not good. We let people know this was a branding campaign. We’ve been doing integrated marketing for quite awhile. We did an anti-smoking campaign on college campuses for Blue Cross and Blue Shield about 10 years ago.


Q: What have you learned from these integrated campaigns?

A: You have to be living it every moment. If somebody posts on the campaign’s website, we respond. We also engage customer service so they can follow up. This is like what Oreo did when the lights went out at the Super Bowl. They tweeted ‘‘You can dunk in the dark.’’


Q: Speaking of the Super Bowl, what was your take on this year’s crop of ads?

A: Somebody said they weren’t as good as past years but I think our expectations have just been ramped up so steep.

Does everyone hit a home run? No. But I’d like to see companies be more aggressive. GoDaddy had two ads, “The Kiss” and “Big Idea,” where they were actually selling a domain name. Budweiser’s Clydesdales have mass appeal. The Clydesdale campaign has always been very disciplined. It’s about Americana and family values. I knew what Volkswagen was going to do before their ad ran but it was still very engaging. It was so Volkswagen.


Q: What values do you live by when directing an advertising campaign?

A: You have to respect the intelligence of the audience at the highest level. It’s almost like a contract. We’re taking their time and we owe it to them to make it worth their time. And if they like it and trust the brand they will ultimately purchase the product.


David Phelps • 612-673-7269