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Why these award-winning Irish digital marketeers set up a secret sex shop

Wolfgang Digital announced plans to hire 50 staff today – here’s how they got there.

Image: Shutterstock/JohannesS

DESPITE WINNING INTERNATIONAL plaudits for its marketing exploits, Wolfgang Digital is probably best known for a very different reason.

“Everyone says ‘oh they’re the guys with the sex toy shop’ … in a way it stands in front of all the other things we’re trying to promote,” CEO Alan Coleman told TheJournal.ie.

“But f*ck it. I think if you’re showing yourself you’ll attract the right people and the people that aren’t going to like that might not have liked you in the long term.”

The store Coleman refers to would be TheSexShop.ie, which the fledgling agency set up in 2012 as a top-secret training ground.

Recruits were unleashed on the project as they learned how to maximise the returns on online ad campaigns in the ultimate ‘be your own customer’ exercise.

“We had people wanting to meet us in car parks in Wicklow (saying) ‘don’t deliver to my gaff’,” Coleman said.

We were subletting from a bigger agency who were in the process of being sold at the time and they didn’t know that there was a sex shop operating out of their basement. And there were people ringing us saying ‘I’m outside’ and you’d look outside and there would be some old guy in his anorak.”

Coleman1 Wolfgang Digital CEO Alan Coleman Source: YouTube

Growing

While at first Coleman was worried the store would derail his company’s mission to establish credibility amongst much bigger names, when it was eventually revealed who was behind the site the clients loved it.

Over the past three years, the Dublin-based agency has since grown from three people to 25 – and has announced plans to add another 50 staff by 2020.

Its clients include Brown Thomas, Tesco and Red Bull, among others. Today Taoiseach Enda Kenny also officially opened its new offices, where it will house the growing workforce.

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Coleman started the company at the kitchen table after translating a love of fantasy football to the challenge of manipulating Google’s AdWords platform, one of the main sources of the US tech giant’s $60 billion (€53 billion) in ad revenue last year.

The breakthrough came in 2011 when Wolfgang Digital won an award as Ireland’s best digital media agency at a stage when the company was two people working on hand-me-down desks and laptops and its customers included “a dentist in Limerick”.

“We had no money for nothing. If the biro ran out and we didn’t have a box we went down to the shop and bought one more biro – we were totally bootstrapped,” Coleman said.

Advertising agencies are notorious for wining and dining and free tickets, whereas we were like ‘we might buy you a coffee, but that’s it’ – we’re not those guys, our results speak for themselves.”

The ‘data scientists’

The agency’s approach is almost-exclusively based on the figures, with the company billing itself as the ‘data scientists’. Its work involves using the main drivers of web traffic like AdWords, Facebook ads and search-engine tweaks to boost clients’ online business.

The Irish online economy has been growing at a rate of 50% per year, according to Wolfgang Digital’s own analysis, and Coleman said it was a “no brainer” that companies needed to make the most of that boom.

With online you can get lost very fast because there are so many different things you could be doing – I think if you get Google right and you get Facebook right you’re 75% of the way there,” he said.

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Earlier this year Wolfgang Digital won the top prize at the European Search Awards for its work on a Unicef fundraising campaign for Syria.

That involved ”newsjacking” the organisation’s online ad activity whenever there was a media mention about its efforts or the conflict after the marketeers noticed spikes in traffic to coincide with evening news bulletins.

While its clients were mostly Irish and its market share was only a fraction of the domestic industry, Coleman said his ambition for the company was to be recognised as one of the world leaders in the industry.

“We take a lot of pride in growing, in being an indigenous Irish company competing with some of the biggest PLCs (public companies) in the world – I f*cking love that, we love beating them, we love taking work off them,” he said.

But the sex shop will remain in place, complete with a “sex line” direct to the company’s Dublin office. 

Our most recent AdWords hire has been given €800 and told ‘look, sell as many dildos as you can for that’. If you’re given real money to spend and you can see real money coming in you learn very, very fast.”

READ: Online ad blocking has become an arms race – and advertisers are partially to blame >

READ: How’s this for a Monday morning… Ireland’s getting 200+ new jobs >

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About the author:

Peter Bodkin  / Editor, Fora

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