(This review is from 2009 but remains the best one we’ve ever gotten. Thanks Bob!)
by Bob Garfield AdAge
Is it PR? Is it digital marketing? Is it guerilla marketing? Is it aiding and abetting in fraud?
Dunno for sure. But we are certain of this: The Expense-a-Steak Headquarters stunt from Walrus, New York, for midtown restaurant Maloney & Porcelli’s is one of the cleverest ideas we have seen in 24 years of AdReview-ing.
Let us just restate that, in case we weren’t entirely clear: We LOVE this thing. It is brilliant. It is charming. It is hilarious. In short, it is brothermucking genius.
Here’s the context: The economy has been a bit on the soft side, putting a great deal of pressure on certain industries: the banking industry, the media industry, the brokerage industry, the advertising industry and, in a poignant example of collateral damage, the $108 steak ‘n’ fries-for-two industry.
Even if the president of the United States had not upbraided corporate America for its piggish, profligate culture, every finance department (except probably Cond? Nast’s) has made this abundantly clear: Until further notice, the gravy train is parked on a siding. First class is now coach. Coach is now teleconference. Town cars are now the 4,5,6 trains. And lunch is from the hotdog cart.
Want to upgrade to the half-smoke? Go crazy, because the company’s not paying.
So imagine the impact on the poor restaurateurs who for so long have heroically provided the lavish expense-account meals for fat cats — those $700 table-for-four tabs with wine, cocktails and tip — knowing that only about $200 of the bill was picked up by federal taxpayers. They’ve been devastated — Maloney & Porcelli’s no less than any.
If a $29 caramelized-sea-scallop appetizer falls on a white tablecloth and there is no one there to pay for it, does it make a profit?
Enter the boutique agency Walrus on a two-fold mission: 1) to increase traffic for its client 2) to generate awareness for the tragedy of corporate retrenchment.
The obvious thing on the second half of the brief, of course, would be an ink-red ribbon, but that has so been done by lesser causes, such as abducted children and cancer. No, this problem called for more than a mere gesture. It called for a solution. Namely: the Expense-a-Steak fake-receipt generator.
Go to expenseasteak.com and fill in the obscenely large amount of your Maloney & Porcelli meal. Out will come a PDF of receipts for exactly that amount — innocuous (and extremely realistic) proof of purchases for taxis, panini lunches, office supplies, business books and so on. Accounting doesn’t ask why you’ve bought $700 worth of anti-static floor mats and toner? That’s their problem.
Walrus also printed up camouflage doggie bags, so when you carry home a $180 leftover, you can do it in a Sbarro sack. (Until a couple of days ago, you could also choose Olive Garden or Chipotle sacks, but those chains sent along a cease-and-desist order on the grounds of unbelievably brazen trademark infringement. Sheesh, has nobody a sense of humor anymore?)
All right, granted, the 61,000 phony receipts downloaded over the first four days might suggest the stunt is actually being slightly “abused” for a touch of “fraud” by a few tens of thousands of bad-apple “thieves.” But, c’mon. Expense-a-Steak apps don’t defraud corporations. People defraud corporations. In the meantime, Maloney & Porcelli is suddenly on the lips of those who hitherto could remember only Smith & Wollensky, preempting its major competitor into a corner. Because how to top expenseasteak.com?
Alas, callgirl.com is already spoken for.
Read it on AdAge here.
And you can see the original case study here.