The technical writer became famous almost overnight after his appearance at an H2O party in March, sporting a mullet, a tiny pair of shorts and a cropped, checked blouse. Two days later a surge of photo-shopped pictures were emailed back and forth, showing the bulky man from Boksburg in a number of comical poses Ã¢Â€Â“ as his alter ego, Vernon Koekemoer.
Booyse says a woman approached him at H2O and asked if she could take his picture, “she then gave me her card and told me to watch out for the photo”.
“I didn’t take it seriously and threw the card away. On the Monday morning the pictures started… to this day I still don’t know who she is.”
Several Vernon Koekemoer Facebook profiles and fan clubs have since been established and Booyse and his alter ego have appeared in newspapers and on 5FM. The gentle giant is featured in a Vodacom television advertisement and is set to do spreads for two magazines.
Bryan Theunissen and Damian Armstrong have claimed responsibility for the Koekemoer phenomenon. Newspapers in the Independent group reported Theunissen, “who works in the advertising and marketing industry” renamed Booyse and sent out his picture as an “experiment”. Armstrong is reportedly behind the Facebook group “Make Vernon Koekemoer famous”.
Exactly how they are linked to the woman Booyse referred to, is unclear. It is also not certain who or which company was supposed to benefit from this “experiment”.
!_LT_STRONG!_LT_EMIdols!_LT_/EM viral campaign!_LT_/STRONG
Theunissen counts the fictitious Cliff Jennings as one of his Facebook friends. The Koekemoer phenomenon brings to mind Jennings’s instant celebrity Ã¢Â€Â“ thanks to ad agency Ogilvy Johannesburg’s viral campaign for Idols 4 in which an actor pretended to be an Idols contestant (Jennings) who would not give up despite harsh criticism from the judges. This resulted in a massive following on social networks including Facebook and the video sharing site YouTube. Ogilvy later revealed Jennings was a fake.
Trend analyst Dion Chang of Flux Trends believes the Koekemoer phenomenon could be the result of a viral campaign.
H2O has denied its involvement in such a campaign.
Vodacom, who used Koekemoer in a TV ad, has also denied any involvement in Booyse’s rise to fame. “We weren’t involved. We used Koekemoer in our campaign because he is such a huge phenomenon,” says Dot Field, chief communication officer at Vodacom.
Japie Swanepoel, strategic director of Longtail, an e-marketing and online strategic solutions company, agrees it is possible that Koekemoer could be the product of a viral campaign, “but I doubt it, I don’t think an agency would get involved with such a thing after the backlash that the Idols campaign received”.
“If it is done correctly though, it can be a brilliant marketing tool.”
!_LT_STRONGFlavour of the month!_LT_/STRONG
Chang has dubbed Koekemoer “flavour of the month” for May. “Koekemoer is a supernova, our society is completely over-obsessed with celebrities, but this is a fad that will soon come to an end.”
Swanepoel says he gives Koekemoer two more months before he is out of the limelight, “He is not sustainable, I don’t think he will last much longer.”
Even Booyse believes his fame will soon dwindle. “I feel like Paris Hilton, I am famous for being famous. However, I am not a celebrity, I am an internet phenomenon, but its just a fly-by-night thing,” Booyse said at a recent C4 party at Carfax, in Newtown, Johannesburg.
“Artists out there are competing to see who can come up with the most funny and unusual image, with me in it. I play along, I dress like this (shorts and cropped shirt) when making an appearance, but usually I look like any other normal person.”
Dave Forbes, the owner of H2O, is now managing Booyse and together they are promoting the club. “Dave is organising everything, I’m giving him a chance to prove himself as my manager and so far he is making things happen. He is promoting his business and exposing H2O.”
Koekemoer now makes appearances at parties and charges between R5,000 and R15,000. Booyse doesn’t plan to change careers. “But I do plan to enjoy it while it lasts.”