Over the past couple of years, Craftsman has been experimenting with much more than new tools. The venerable brand has also been stretching the boundaries of its social media outreach in some radical ways to attract today’s cyber-savvy tool user. You might recall the “Craftsman Across America” campaign from a year ago, in which a man drove a Craftsman lawn tractor from coast to coast, tweeting and posting to Facebook updates about his experiences along the way. Or maybe you’ve seen some of the creative ways the Craftsman Lab has been using and abusing its tools in a popular YouTube video series. Several of these videos have gone viral. The brand continues to stream weekly video and radio broadcasts from its hands-on Craftsman Experience venue in downtown Chicago.
But this past August, Craftsman kicked things up a notch again by launching its newest form of interactive entertainment, called Screw*d. Here’s the premise: take a guy with virtually no DIY acumen and give him some expert training on tool use and safety. Have him try those skills out in various ways in a controlled environment to build his confidence. Then, kidnap him, “drop” him in an undisclosed location and pit his new DIY skills against a project he must build successfully in order to escape his predicament, all within a limited amount of allowable time and live-streamed for two 12-hour days to anyone who wants to tune in. What’s more, viewer participation and engagement is essential, because without that help, this poor guy is, well, potentially “screw*d.”
That was the pitch made for the new Internet series this past January, says Ryan Ostrom, divisional vice president of digital marketing for the Kenmore, Craftsman and DieHard brands. “We love tools, so the idea of training a person who has no tool experience was a natural fit for a new social outreach opportunity. Bits and pieces of this sort of experiment have already been coming out of Craftsman Labs and Craftsman Experience, but the idea for this approach took about six months to develop,” Ostrom says.
The contest to cast a “hero” for Screw*d began in June, and Craftsman received more than 300 video submissions from those willing to accept the challenge. A committee at Craftsman narrowed the entry pool to five candidates (four men and one woman), but contest winner Alan Weischedel, a 29-year-old Starbucks barista and self-made film director from Lebanon, Oregon, was chosen by a cyber vote on YouTube. Ostom comments that “we wanted to see who America would pick to be Screw*d. We loved all five candidates, but thousands of people voted online and Alan was the clear winner.”
Weischedel took a leave of absence from his Starbucks job to join Craftsman as a temporary employee of the brand team.
“What won us over about Alan, and probably explains his popularity to our audience, is that his is really a heartwarming story. Alan’s father, who was an active tool user and DIYer, died suddenly of a heart attack and left his mom with a lot of unfinished projects she can’t complete. Neither could Alan, but if he can help her finish them, she can sell the family house and downsize, which is what she wants to do. There’s real emotion behind Alan’s desire to learn how to use tools so he can help the family out.”
But little did Alan know what he was getting himself into when he accepted the three-and-a-half month immersion challenge in early August. Almost as soon as he said yes, he was flown to Chicago to begin his first two weeks of “Boot Camp.” During that time, he learned about the tools that would be necessary to build a bed, and then a boat oar, as well as building both of those projects. The reason for the bed: he needed one to sleep in; Weischedel is living in an apartment above Craftsman Experience for the show’s duration. Ostrom says Alan did pretty well building his bed, despite the fact that it’s a bit wobbly. Alan needed the oar, as it turned out, because his next challenge was to swim out to a canoe, climb in unassisted and paddle his way back to shore.
The second week of Boot Camp taught Alan how to use a chainsaw and other lawn and garden tools in tasks such as cutting tree branches and clearing paths. Each day, Alan received 12 to 14 hours of expert tool training and project-building techniques from Robert North, a Craftsman Experience staffer.
Weischedel shared his experiences about that first Boot Camp in two live-streamed shows that aired August 14 and 28. New live-stream shows are continuing on Sunday afternoons at 2:30 p.m. CST by logging onto craftsmanscrewd.com. He also tunes in each evening at 9 p.m. to give daily updates of his goings-on. Other social media outlets such as Facebook page updates and tweeting on Twitter using the handle @screwd_alan also keep the growing view fan base up to date.
Then the show took an unexpected twist. Alan was informed that he would be flown to New Orleans Aug. 29, which he thought was to be a brief respite from his Boot Camp experience. Instead, his first morning in the Big Easy, Alan was kidnapped, blindfolded and air-boated into the heart of the Louisiana bayou for what would be his first two-day “Wild Drop” immersion challenge. A film crew, a few crates of Craftsman tools and a project plan to build a raft awaited him in the swamp — along with high humidity, alligators and an earpiece to receive moderator comments during two 12-hour live-streamed broadcasts. Viewers literally had to help Alan find his way to the tool crates by feeding him directions from a map, plus locating an old fence and barrels in order to scrounge the necessary materials to build the vessel. Clues and other advice were provided to viewers via an on-screen scroller from Craftsman. His online audience offered Alan everything from advice on how to get the project done to the sorts of ordinary questions you’d ask a buddy in the shop. Given the context of the Wild Drop setting and challenge, the first Boot Camp’s bed frame exercise provided helpful background for constructing the raft framework. Oarsmanship skills came into play once the raft was finished and seaworthy.
Alan had a limited timeframe in order to get the raft built and floated successfully down river to a dock where a boat was waiting to help him escape this “Born on the Bayou” drop zone. The experience had many humorous moments as Alan wrestled bugs, a fitful night of sleep in a hammock and an unexpected visit from Wayne the “Cajun Expert” alligator wrangler (who suggested and delivered the hammock, as well as a live alligator). Ostrom admits to being afraid “that Alan wouldn’t know enough not to sleep on the ground and risk being eaten by alligators … that’s why we needed the visit from Wayne, just to be sure.”
If you happened to tune in during the Wild Drop, you know that Alan didn’t, in fact, get “screw*d.” Actually, the results were better than expected.
“We were really pleased with how Alan did on that raft, thanks to online viewers and his own growing confidence in his tool skills. It floated amazingly well, and he got out of the bayou about five hours sooner than we thought he would,” Ostrom reports. By the end of the second day, Ryan says more than 30,000 viewers were following Alan’s progress, many of them throughout the full-day live-stream.
Since returning from the bayou, Alan has been completing his second Boot Camp training period (which ran Sept. 4 through 18), with continuing live-stream shows on Sundays and daily social media outreach at 9 p.m. This time, his training has been focused on two primary topics: automotive skills and functioning in a hot environment. He recently spent time with NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne in Charlotte, North Carolina, learning how to use automotive tools to mount tires and shocks as well as perform other sorts vehicle maintenance on a sprint car. He also learned some competitive driving skills on a go-kart track. And then, there was a two-day boxing training session in a heated gym… Of course, Ostrom will provide no clues as to what will culminate from these latest Boot Camp activities, but Alan’s next “Wild Drop” begins Sept. 21. You’ll need to tune in to find out what predicament will be foisted upon him then, and what Boot Camp skills will prove essential to his escape. And, if you’re so inclined, you can help the guy out with tips or votes of confidence for that two-day event.
Boot Camp #3 is slated to run from Sept. 25 through October 9, and the final Wild Drop will be Oct. 11 and 12.
Ultimately, Alan must successfully complete three Wild Drop situations within an allotted timeframe. He has no knowledge of what they will be from here forward, nor do we as viewers. If he is successful, Craftsman will award him $50,000 at the show’s conclusion, plus a substantial tool collection. Ostrom believes the prognosis for Alan’s success is very good, “and we want Alan to succeed. We know that we’re putting him in some really difficult situations, so we’re providing him all the information and training he needs to accomplish these challenges …We’re already seeing his confidence growing. As it turns out, he’s very good at reading project plans, and his comfort zone with tools and skills is expanding. All of this is leading him down a good path, and when Screw*d wraps up in October, we think he’ll have the skills and tools he needs to go home and help his mom get those projects done.”
Looking forward, Ostrom says Craftsman is pleased with Screw*d’s success so far, and the brand is considering other novel social media concepts for 2012, although a second season of Screw*d has not been determined. “What makes Screw*d so one-of-a-kind is that you can help Alan in real time and you are part of his success. We’ve all seen reality shows, but they aren’t live. And even live-broadcast shows don’t offer this much opportunity for viewer engagement. Nothing like this has ever been done before. You’re experiencing it first with Craftsman.”