By Anna Lothson
Ernest Hemingway once was given a white, six-toed cat by a ship's captain. He wasn't a soldier, but was awarded a Bronze Star for bravery in World War II as a war correspondent. He survived a plane crash. Oh, and he wrote a few good things, too.
To some, you could say he's the most interesting man in the world (even more than the Dos Equis character) In fact, the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park agrees, and has used that theory as the basis for its new rebranding.
The foundation recruited Ogilvy & Mather, a Chicago public relations and advertising firm which is working pro bono, to launch a new campaign to expand Hemingway's voice and extend the mission of the foundation. Allison Sansone, executive director of the foundation, said because the group already had a significant following on Facebook, social media was the logical choice.
Thus, the concept of The Hemingway Hijacker was born, and 72 hours later the foundation's Facebook page had 1,000 new friends and was already being re-tweeted by many Hemingway enthusiasts. Oak Park's "most interesting man" had a new voice.
Andrew Gall, creative director at Ogilvy & Mather, said the group undertook the project because it felt like a worthy mission. As a fan of both Oak Park and Hemingway, Gall jumped at the chance to work with the foundation. The foundation is the owner of the Hemingway Birthplace on Oak Park Avenue and operates the Hemingway Museum at the Oak Park Arts Center at Oak Park Avenue and Ontario.
The Hemingway Hijacker project works as a Facebook application that allows users to use Hemingway-inspired facts, real photos, stories and anything related to his life, as a way to connect better to the Oak Park legend. It has the power to "hijack" your status and creates a new one based on something Hemingway did or said. For those wanting to get "Hemingway Hijacked," just log into Facebook and check it on the Ernest Hemingway Foundation page, or visit hemingwayhijacker.com and explore by simply clicking "get hijacked."
This allows you to undertake tasks such as "check in" with Hemingway anywhere imaginable. By doing this, people home in Oak Park or anyone across the globe can be immediately connected to his birth place. The foundation hopes this brings more people to read up on or visit the museum so Hemingway's name and the group's mission are shared with those interested in the writer's life and work.
"It's been a lot of fun," Sansone said. "We want to reach out to as many people as possible. People have been having a lot of fun with it. It makes you a participant rather than an observer."
For the foundation, the Hemingway Hijacker project is a new way to market itself, gain new faces, but still value the purpose of the foundation, she said. Sansone anticipates the social media initiative will attract a younger demographic to the museum and foundation.
"Hemingway was a young man here. He was ready to take a bite in the world," she said. His vivacious youth and adventurous adulthood is an aspect of the man the project hopes to share. "We view it not as a brand new thing. We are reaching out with what we already do to get as wide of a range as possible."
Gall compared the hijacker application to a "choose your own Hemingway travel adventure." By having a smartphone, computer or tablet constantly connected, the mission of the project is to remind people of another side of Hemingway, one that may be forgotten by youngsters picking up one of his books for the first time. Or maybe even for the longtime Hemingway lovers, they'll learn something new about him.
"[Hemingway stories] are too good to make up. Hemingway really was that [most interesting] guy and he was real."
That's why the foundation hopes people are ready to get "hijacked" and hang out with Hemingway — no matter where or how far away from Oak Park someone lands.