The Challenge

In 2002, the International Spy Museum opened to rave reviews in Washington, D.C. The privately owned museum is dedicated to the tradecraft, history and contemporary role of espionage and features the largest collection of international spy artifacts on display publically in the world. However, the challenging economic climate and increasingly crowded museum landscape had an impact on the museum’s visitation. So the Museum hired DMI as their agency of record to help them drive more visitors to the museum, especially local visitors in the lead up to the museum’s potential relocation in 2017. The museum (which is one of the very few paid museums in D.C.) wanted to keep their media budget the same as in years past – but challenged us to increase both revenue and audience growth.

Our Insight

Knowing we needed to target families - both local and nationally - we came up with a single compelling idea that would resonate with parents, and give them a reason to visit. In recent years, the word ‘spy’ had taken on a darker connotation to some – and the existing campaign embraced that ominous and foreboding feeling. We wanted to create a more positive and inviting campaign. So, we looked at what made the museum intriguing, and realized that we all have spy-like tendencies in our everyday lives, from looking up friends on social media, to deceiving our kids to get them to eat their vegetables. So, we built a campaign around the idea that ‘there is a little spy in all of us,’ to encourage audiences to visit the International Spy Museum to “embrace their inner spy.”


Our media and creative teams work closely together, and that collaboration led to a campaign that really stood out, and delivered for the museum.

Knowing that the creative concept was aiming to catch people when they were doing something spy-like, we focused our media buy on placements in areas that those activities were more likely to happen.

For example, a metro car card was designed and printed backwards so that when placed in the metro car, it reflected on the window of the car, enabling passengers to read what it said in the reflection. The copy on the advertisement read “Use reflections to people watch? You may have what it takes.” Thus, calling out spy-like behavior in the moment it was happening, and connecting with our audience on a personal level.

By marrying our strategic insight, creative execution and understanding of media placements – we were able to surprise and delight anyone who came into contact with our advertisements. The content and the context worked hand in hand to create maximum impact.

By making the audience feel like a spy – we could then drive them to the museum to embrace that behavior.


We developed a media strategy based on our comprehensive understanding of the DC media landscape to attract visitors both inside and outside of the region, with a focus on families and young locals.

The media mix focused on Metro Posters, Metro Car Cards, Print, Capitol Bikeshare Posters, Hotel Key Cards, Paid Social, Native, and Digital Display cross-platform. Every placement was filled with a contextually relevant message to continue to surprise and delight locals and visitors alike, and to tease the museum experience.


Utilizing spy-like tactics ourselves, we wanted to go after members of our target audiences using location-based geo-targeting advertisements. By geo-fencing around DC tourist attractions, hotels, metro locations and others, we could direct advertisements for the Spy Museum to members of our target audience who were more likely to be potential visitors right on their mobile devices.

We took it a step further with ads that tapped into another everyday spy-like behavior: Who hasn’t done a little recon on social media?


While a majority of the campaign needed to target families, the museum also wanted to increase attendance of local D.C. millennials to the museum. In line with the campaign concept of acknowledging everyday spy-like activities, and leveraging the ‘selfie’ craze, we came up with the concept of the ‘stealthie,’ a sneakily taken photo, to connect with the younger audience as a part of the campaign. The advertisements were placed on Capital Bikeshare locations, and encouraged engagement using the #stealthie hashtag.

This campaign component contributed to an increase in 2,000 followers for the museum on their social media channels.


The museum saw an increase in attendance within the first few months of the campaign. We worked with our client to implement measurement of online intent conversions for the first time in their history, which provides a baseline benchmark to optimize current and future campaigns.

The museum does not publicly share their numbers, but their attendance measurably exceeded their goals since the beginning of the campaign.