With no new product on the shelves and an unfavorable media climate, Sega of America needed a creative way to gain media attention and keep Sega’s name top of mind during the crucial holiday shopping season.   Access proposed a re-birth of the  “The Sega Spud Dive” as an event that would make a great visual for the media and put consumers in a situation where they could show that they would do anything to get their hands on a Dreamcast. With efficient execution and creative last-minute improvisation, the event exceeded its measurable objectives and secured it place in the annals of wacky publicity stunts.
Challenges for this event were many.  The first was that the event had been done before, albeit successfully. The fact that Sega’s Dreamcast system was not new also added to the challenges. Sega’s biggest rival, Sony, had just launched its PlayStation 2, a hot new system which was monopolizing media coverage. The presidential election was till up in the air, and most media outlets were devoting large amounts of coverage to this breaking story. In Los Angeles, there is always a risk of some sort of local crisis, such as an incident on the area’s many freeways. Finally, the fourth quarter of the year is traditionally a very competitive time for news coverage.  The client, Sega of America, had expressed some hesitation in doing this event, given these challenges, but Access’s research showed that, if done properly, the event could be a success. 
Two years ago, when the event was conducted in Los Angeles, Spud Dive was well received on site and drew strong media coverage. Therefore we intended to capitalize on the equity that had been built with this event, but to keep it new and timely. In preparation of the event, we:
Conducted a media audit with all major broadcast outlets in the Los Angeles metropolitan area in fall 2000 to determine their awareness of the event and the interest in covering it again
Confirmed with media that the timing of the event was appropriate (the Monday before Thanksgiving), as a kick off to the holiday shopping season, as a tie in to Thanksgiving event coverage, and to help fill an otherwise slow news period. 
Continued to monitor top news stories on a national and regional level to be aware of any possible event tie-ins with top stories.
Access executed “The Sega Spud Dive” at Mann’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles.  Contestants were to dive into 2,000 gallons of mashed potatoes and dig out plastic letters that spelled “SEGA.” The letters were selected to ensure that media would have to mention either Sega or Dreamcast when covering the event to explain why these “fanatical” consumers would participate in such a stunt.  The first prize was a Sega Dreamcast system plus $1,000; other contestants also won Dreamcast systems and cash.
Knowing that significant media attendance was vital to the success of the event, Access employed an aggressive pitch effort to ensure media attendance.  An extensive media list was created to include all Los Angeles print, broadcast and radio media outlets, and we also placed calls to planning editors at all of the LA stations two weeks prior to the event, to ensure the news rooms had the event marked on their calendars.
To attract an audience and contestants consistent with Sega’s targeted demographic, Access again chose to work with LA’s top rated KROQ-FM radio station because its target audience, men 12-34, was closely related to that of Sega’s.  KROQ also provided Sega with 31 pre-produced promotional mentions.
The objectives of the Sega Spud Dive 2K were
  • Increase brand awareness and reinforce Sega as a fun, wacky company/brand
  • Generate awareness of Sega/Dreamcast during the critical Q4
  • Showcase how excited consumers are for Dreamcast (so much so that they’d dive into 2,000 gallons of mashed potatoes for one!)
  • The goal for this event, in terms of media coverage, was 70 broadcast hits. In addition, we hoped to have either Sega or Dreamcast mentioned in at least 80% of all coverage.
As the holiday season approached, both the gaming and consumer media were focused on Sony PS2.  Sega’s objectives were to generate coverage for Sega Dreamcast to reinforce the Sega brand and send the message that consumers would do anything to get their hands on Sega Dreamcast, the wise alternative to the expensive, hard-to-find PS2. This coverage would increase consumers’ intent to purchase during the fourth quarter.
To ensure that this event received the coverage we desired, we:
  • Developed the attention-getting tactic of delivering a box of instant mashed potatoes and the Sega Spud Dive media alert directly to journalists two days before the event
  • Hired a videographer to shoot the event live and created B-roll
  • Hired an AP photographer to take pictures at the event and offer them to the wire services
  • Created an extensive local media list of over 70 outlets, contacted “News of the Weird” (a wire service for offbeat news stories, used by MSNBC, among others)
  • Conducted two series of call-downs to everyone on our media list: the first at the end of the week prior, to make sure the event was on their calendar, and the second at 7 a.m. on the day of the event to find out if they would ultimately be there.  During this second call-down, it was leaked to media that there might be some presidents jumping into the spuds
The Contest: A stage, 2,000-gallon above-ground pool, and a fully-equipped PA system were secured for the event. Sega Dreamcast signage was prominently placed in various locations to ensure coverage.  In the hours leading up to the actual event, a lottery was held to select five participants for the contest.  Access also hired two actors to portray George W. Bush and Al Gore, who were still officially tied in their presidential race to ensure that media had an additional newsy angle with a great visual. Changing rooms and clean-up areas were also secured for messy contestants.
After the event, B-roll was hand-delivered to stations that did not send a camera crew and submitted the photo to the Associated Press, Reuters, Entertainment Wire and LA News Wire, which was distributed via satellite and hand-delivered to local network affiliates to increase national exposure.
All coverage of “The Sega Spud Dive” aired the week of Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping time of the year.  More than 82 broadcast results appeared, including the Craig Kilborn Show and the ABC, CBS and Fox affiliates in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Miami, Atlanta, San Diego, Phoenix, Chicago, Dallas, Boston, Indianapolis, Denver, Cincinnati, Oklahoma City, Milwaukee and many others. Los Angeles Daily News sent a photographer and ran a photo with a large caption featuring Sega Spud Dive.  95% of the results mentioned both Sega and Dreamcast.  Dreamcast sales went up 82% during Thanksgiving weekend, from previous weeks.