The Bend Visitor & Convention Bureau has launched an edgy, animated online marketing campaign featuring a video the bureau hopes is so entertaining that viewers will e-mail it to friends, family and colleagues.
The video is sort of like Bend meets The Simpsons.
Locals will recognize scenes in the lighthearted production and presumably chuckle at the characters and lyrics.
The three-minute video begins with a ladybug lolling amid wide-open spaces with Mount Bachelor and the Deschutes River in the background.
But that tranquil scene doesn't last long.
Immediately, two geese appear, one smoking a cigar while the other goose chomps down on the wide-eyed ladybug. The groggy geese, fresh from a ”Bend-er,” then ask themselves, ”Where the hell are we?”
Out of nowhere, a casually dressed businessman appears, and the video launches into song.
A cast of characters - ranging from a hippie to a buxom German bartender and angelic children - join in the musical video parodying Bend without actually saying it by name.
By the end of the video, viewers have the option to watch the video again or to pass it along to a friend. There's also a link to the Bend Visitor & Convention Bureau's Web site, where visitors can find more information about restaurants, lodging, recreation and shopping opportunities around the greater Bend area.
Even longtime residents will need to watch the video a few times to catch its subtle humor, said Mike Glover, executive director of the bureau.
”The video is funny and entertaining,” Glover said. ”But, there's also a message that shows what we have here - the river, rafting, skiing, etc. We hope that people will be entertained, then watch it again or pass it along via e-mail.”
Ultimately, the video's goal is to interest more people in visiting Bend.
According to Glover, the video is the first of its kind to market a destination such as Bend through an emerging form of advertising known as viral marketing.
The idea of viral marketing is that viewers will spread the message - in this case, a link to the video - by e-mail to people they know. The hoped-for effect is exponential exposure for the message as it gets passed from inbox to inbox.
Viral marketing first gained national attention during the 2004 presidential campaign, when countless visitors turned to the JibJab.com Web site to watch an animated video that parodied President Bush and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to the tune of Woody Guthrie's song, ”This Land is Your Land.”
The site received national media exposure to put viral marketing on the national map.
The Bend campaign, which cost about $35,000 to produce and will run at least a year, relies upon word of mouth or at least the mass influence of e-mail to promote the city in a nontraditional way. The cost is about 8 percent of the Bend Visitor & Convention Bureau's annual advertising and marketing budget of $450,000.
The bureau is competing with other tourist destinations such as Park City, Utah, and Lake Tahoe to promote Bend as a destination among a national audience and capture a greater number of national travelers.
”We're using a lot of the same methods to reach people, such as direct e-mail, that they are,” Glover said. ”But I haven't seen anyone use a viral campaign to attract visitors to a destination yet.”
According to Glover, the campaign will complement the bureau's national public relations efforts. It's also a more affordable way to reach a national audience, ”something we could not do through traditional channels,” he wrote in an e-mail.
”We have seen through our research that the national audience now constitutes a larger percentage of visitors (coming to Bend) than in years past,” he continued.
Visitors are a key component in the economy of Bend and the region. Tourism's annual economic impact in Central Oregon is estimated at about $500 million, according to the Central Oregon Visitors Association.
Younger, male consumers between the ages of 18 and 35 are more likely to be influenced by word-of-mouth behavior than radio or television ads, according to Justin Yax, public relations manager at DVA Advertising & Public Relations, the Bend firm that created the campaign.
”This type of advertising targets a younger and more male-oriented audience than traditional print media,” he said. ”We want to grab the ... people who want to be first at everything.”
Yax added, ”They're the tech-savvy people who own iPods and they're the ones who would watch something like this and pass it along to their friends. This is the direction that marketing is going.”
According to Yax, viral marketing is growing in popularity because of the ease of executing the campaign, its cost compared to direct mail, and its high and rapid response rate.
But, most importantly, it works because it's funny.
”People don't want to feel that they're being advertised to,” said Ted Pate, co-creative director at DVA who created the site with Gary Fulkerson. ”Our goal is to entertain them and lead them indirectly to the Web site.”
The animated video targets the 82 percent of travelers who plan or book their trips online. More than 64 million Americans purchased or reserved an airline ticket, hotel room, rental car or package tour online in 2005, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Travel Industry Association of America.
Glover already considers the campaign a winner, thanks to a marketing coup that will allow friendster.com, a video downloading site popular among iPod owners, to send links to the video with endorsements to more than 1.25 million of its subscribers.
”Just through that, the campaign is a success,” Glover said.
”Our ultimate goal is to increase awareness, get (people) to our Web site and ultimately visit Bend,” Glover said.