The Wanamaker Ghost
by Michael Andersen
The Wanamaker Building is a historic Philadelphia landmark: the building’s pipe organ (still played to this day) was used at the St. Louis World’s Fair, and its annual Christmas Light Show features over 100K lights and an audio track narrated by Julie Andrews herself. Such a storied building would have to hide a ghost story or two…especially after I manufactured one.
The Wanamaker Building elevator banks allow people to take out ads through the Captivate Network for the perfectly reasonable sum of $65 a day. I spent over 7 years riding those elevators up and down, and always wondered whether people paid any attention to those ads. So I constructed an experiment to see if I could get people to pay attention to those elevator ads, as an in-office April Fool’s Day prank.
All day on April Fool’s Day, the Wanamaker Building elevators asked people to join the (Unofficial) Wanamaker Ghost Hunting Society by going to WanamakerGhost.com.
Once building residents made it to the site, they were treated with fake security cam footage from four different cameras positioned around the office, showing highly professional and indisputable proof that the Wanamaker Building was haunted.
This video showing an apparition grabbing a soda from the office refrigerator is my personal favorite proof that ghosts are real, although I highly suggest watching the full series.
Particularly curious prospective ghost hunters would learn that nothing untoward happened to the founding members of the Society, and that membership was closed due to overwhelming interest. It’s important to note that everything was fine.
PLANNING AND IMPLEMENTATION:
Once I settled on an office haunting theme, I resolved to record intentionally bad in-office haunt footage, framed as security camera footage. So I came into the office on a weekend when I was reasonably sure no other coworkers would come in, and recorded a series of four haunt videos in a single day. And because I was aiming for faux security cam vantage points, I placed my 6-foot tripod on top of work tables to get the angles right.
On the tech side, I was using a Dolica ST-500 68-inch lightweight tripod (it's currently going for $25 on Amazon), a Canon T3i DSLR, and the stock lens. Quality wasn't a major concern for the idea, so I just used what I already had.
After getting the footage, I added fake timestamps and static fuzz effects, dropped the videos on YouTube, and created the WanamakerGhost.com website: while the domain was registered through GoDaddy, I routed hosting through the Tumblr blog I created it on, to keep costs to a minimum.
After that, I opened up an "Ask" section of the Tumblr page as the sole mechanic for people to contribute / issue feedback / try and join the "defunct" organization.
Captivate has an in-platform ad creation tool I used to create the ad, and at the time reserving a day of ads for the building cost $65. My main expenses for the project were the extra set of sheets I ordered for the project (the fact that I ordered the sheets on February 15, 2018 is why I know I was seriously planning for the event that early).
Because I deployed this as a test of the Captivate Network, promotion of the experience the day of was expressly limited to the Captivate ad, although I did inform someone on the HR team that it would be happening, as well as a member of our office's Social team in case they wanted to do anything.
I came into the office early that day (around 7am) to confirm the ad was running and to get video footage of it for later distribution, and then rode the elevator a few cycles later that evening to confirm visibility rates, to confirm the following:
An average trip on the elevator takes about 30 seconds, and Captivate's ad rotation for that day meant my 10-15 second ad would appear about once every 3 minutes. Assuming the average coworker would take ~3 one-way elevator trips in a day, that would make the odds of a given employee seeing the ad at ~25%. For a company with 500+ employees and a broader office complex that's likely 5x that amount, that left a decent core audience for the experience.
Only one problem: nobody came.
During the first day of my Wanamaker Ghost campaign, 43 people checked out the site…but the vast majority did so in response to a Facebook post revealing my chicanery, after the last of my coworkers called it a night and went home. After accounting for a few members of the Social team who were read into the scam, we were looking at 7 or 8 coworkers who were curious enough to check things out.
Since launch, the website received 699 visits. Most of that (66%) was from direct traffic, with ~17% coming from social referrals and the remained surprisingly coming from organic search.
The video of the elevator ad (only linked from my Medium.com writeup) received 119 views, while security cam footage received the following views:
CAM-01 (office entry): 235 views
CAM-02 (office cafe #1): 221 views
CAM-03 (office hallway): 152 views
CAM-04 (office cafe #2): 132 views
All of these videos remain unlisted, so the only way to find them are via WanamakerGhost.com or (in the case of the elevator ad and Cam-2 footage) through the Medium.com article.
The Medium.com piece has received 248 views since it was initially posted, with average read time at 3 minutes 41 seconds.
This was intended to be a small project, so I was very happy with the numbers on the project - both because it gave me a scale of what to expect in terms of responses from elevator ad buys (negligible on direct response) and because it reinforced the fact that this type of experience is as much about documenting what happened for others as it is about building an experience for people as they live through it.
A Few Lessons That Haunt Me Still
It’s easy to write off the Wanamaker Ghost experiment as an abysmal failure… and yet, I consider it one of my greatest successes, both critically and from the metrics perspective.
Some Things Were Meant to Be Experienced Vicariously
Sure, practically no one responded to the elevator ad when it happened…but the story of what people could have experienced sparked the imaginations of friends and coworkers. If the number of people who claim to have found the website unassisted actually did, the Wanamaker Ghost site would have seen double the visits it actually did. The story of the Wanamaker Ghost Hunting Society is better than the actual experience of it…and so, people write themselves into it.
When In Doubt, Test It Out
I always wondered whether people paid attention to office elevator ads…but until I tested it myself, I’d have no way of knowing. Since running that test ad, the company took out an in-office ad of their own, although I’m sworn to secrecy on its context.
I went in with no clue what to expect: they went in, armed with metrics and experience to back up the decision.
Fake Security Cam Footage is Surprisingly Fun to Fake
When I went in over the weekend to film my fake footage, I had a grand old time running around the office and looking like an idiot, hoping none of my coworkers had urgent projects that would lure them in for some off-hours work that would spoil my April Fool’s Day surprise.