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eureka.gifHere’s the report we submitted to Cendant’s Budget Car Rental as the wrap-up for the first Up Your Budget, the online treasure hunt we created for them in 2005:

We know that embarking on the Up Your Budget Treasure Hunt required courage, faith, and fortitude on the part of a giant corporation used to traveling in chartable waters and getting minute metrics. We can’t provide those for this campaign, but we can provide some numeric documentation and informed interpretation of what the campaign achieved.

Up Your Budget Treasure Hunt traffic was generated without a single press release, print, TV or radio ad; with no link from the Budget website; and without dealer tie-ins.

We believe this campaign provides clear proof of the validity of including social media in Cendant’s marketing mix and welcome the opportunity to create successful social media programs for the company’s other brands.

Stated Goals in the campaign proposal:
hunt_treasure.gif“The campaign uses buzz marketing to build an online social media community on a multi-media blog. Participants who join as members of the community will be able to upload video, audio and digital photographs to the blog to show their activities looking for and finding hidden treasure.

We will employ a host of social media tools to encourage participants to get deeply involved in the contest and to interact with each other; all while building Budget brand awareness.”

We achieved these goals, generated widespread blog and other online media coverage, (report attached) and received overwhelmingly positive feedback from participants in the treasure hunt and visitors to the blogs.

The Blog Buzz
Bloggers called the Up Your Budget Treasure Hunt “heady,” “imaginative,” “innovative,” “genius,” “clever,” and “exciting”.

They compared it to the Amazing Race and called it “Willy Wonka-esque” and Internet godfather Doc Searls said “kudos to the smart people at Budget (I’m sure there are plenty) for hiring these folks to make marketing fun.”

Bloggers’ extremely positive reviews are summed up by Brandopia which wrote “Budget hit a home run with their campaign,” and by Mark Collier at Beyond Madison Avenue who said:

“Why people are taking this seriously is because it’s a revolutionary way to advertise and market a company’s product/service. If you think people are talking about this because of prizes being hid in 16 US cities, then you are totally missing the point, IMO.

Others can likely make this point better than I, but I feel that the excitement about this campaign revolves around the fact that this is something that’s never been done before. For the first time, a campaign is launched on blogs, and supported by blogs. Since there won’t be any ‘traditional’ media exposure, it’s completely up to the viral tendencies of blogs and bloggers as to whether or not this campaign will work, or bust.”

Here’s a sampling of the buzz Up Your Budget generated in other influential blogs and online media.

ClickZ media buying expert Tessa Wegert, in an article about non-ad advertising, said “Up Your Budget … underscores the company’s low prices without ever emphasizing Budget’s behind it.”

not_crap.gifShe points out that “non-ads can, however, deliver results far greater than anything you could get from a standard banner campaign. Attracting several million visitors to your micro site in a matter of days isn’t uncommon, nor is receiving press coverage that draws countless additional consumers online.”

– Pinfo blog says “Start at the bottom to see the oldest blogad first and you’ll see an astonishing 10-fold improvement in the clickthrus between ad #1 and ad #4… going from 0.05% to 0.52%. Zeeowee!”

– The highly influential Jeff Jarvis at Buzz Machine, noted that The New York Times ad columnist Stuart Elliott gives admiring attention to an ad campaign conducted on blogs.

– AdJab (another influential advertising blog) wrote: Budget … “created a good amount of buzz, got great numbers for views of the placed ads and generally did a good job of using new media for a campaign that didn’t cross the line into overly hokey.”

– Cool Site of the Day’s Dennis Cronin says: “Up Your Budget is part treasure hunt, part blog, and part good ol’ Internet bubble hype, fun, and craziness.” Web Logs’: “Up Your Budget – A Mini Case Study, gave
“six reasons why Up Your Budget Blog is a winning company blog idea: “1. It’s strong but subtle. 2. It gives readers reason to return 3. It’s not just about the company, it’s about people 4. It is sustainable. 5. It offers rewards 6. It is fun!”

Kevin Briody of writes:

“In pure terms of “experiential marketing” – this thing’s got it going. It has loads of user interaction, puts the customer in the forefront by sharing their pictures and stories, has near-realtime updates, is very blogabble (link-friendly in the link-happy blogosphere) and so on. Sweet.”

All in all, a truly remarkable response in a very short time, for a pure play blog-based campaign. The campaign experienced viral acceleration by the end of the first week, with people sending the URL to friends, setting up offsite photo galleries, and creating buzz in their blogs.

Here are the results we can document with the information to which we have access:

• More than 1800 people registered to play and were given authorship privileges on the Hunters Blog. There had never been so many people involved in creating content for an online community.
• Nearly 300 stories were written by treasure hunters, on the Hunters Blog, and nearly 900 comments on the two blogs.
• The clue videos were downloaded a total of 43,906 times during the 4 weeks of the Up Your Budget campaign.
• Masroor Farooqi at Indigio, which hosted the site, told Komra that from November 4 to Nov 10th we were the top-trafficked site on their network.
We were consuming 38% of their bandwidth; the next largest site on their network was using only 14% of the bandwidth.
• Within four hours of the site’s launch, we were getting a new registration every three minutes, a phenomenon that was repeated on the first days of each week.

To provide some perspective:
According to one of the creators of the highly successful multiple award-winning, precedent-setting Audi Art of the Heist viral campaign, during the three months only 2500 people actually played their game. They got 600,000 uniques, in three MONTHS, which we did in four WEEKS.

The Audi campaign had outdoor, main-stream media, and dealer location advertising and a multi-million dollar budget.

Advertising metrics:
The $25,000 we spent on blog advertising, while only 10 percent of the overall budget, provided an extraordinary ROI:

• 19.9 million impressions at an average cost of just 33 cents. (Compared to $1.62 per click on AOL Instant Messenger.)
• We achieved average clickthrus of .357% and clickthrus on as high as .857%.
• All in all, blog advertising generated as much as 40 percent of the traffic to the site.

The ads we ran were edgy, mysterious, and effective. While I originally thought that the Hugh Macleod cartoons, which gave a wonderful graphic identity to the blogs, would also work in blog ads, I was quickly proven wrong.

Bloggers complained that the animation was annoying, and clickthru rates were abysmal. As soon as we switched the creative to an edgier approach, click thru rates soared.

Blog advertising is a horse of a different color from other online advertising, and a different animal altogether from traditional advertising. Bloggers do not want hype, hyperbole or happy talk. They want to be engaged at an intellectual level several steps above what is traditional in advertising. And they want to have fun, not be hit over the head with a message.

The most important response, the public’s, was overwhelmingly positive
Best of all for the Budget brand, treasure hunters loved the game. Sure there were a few grumps, gripes and sour grapes, but the public response was remarkably positive. Here are some excerpts from their comments:

– “This hunt is amazing!”
– “This contest was a lot of fun.”
– “Oh, well, even if I didn’t win I still had an exciting night.”
– “Me and a few friends had so much fun, on top of possibly going down to San Diego for the re-match, we’re talking about doing one just for kicks.”
– “You guys did a great job with the Treasure hunt and I enjoyed the hell out of the whole week. Thanks for doing all you did.”
– “We had so much fun hunting all over St. Louis – on foot – & on the computer – seeing things never seen before. Thank you Budget for putting this together. I’ll be out there looking for more contests like this.”
– “I think we need a hunt off between all the regions, the east coasters truly raised the bar.”
– “Sure felt a little weird shining a flashlight on the underside of thirty something steers and three horses in the middle of the night. I’m sure people thought I was a loon. But hey, it’s $10,000. Who cares what I looked like.”
– “You’ve gotten me HOOKED! I’m going to find it here in PHOENIX!”
– “…felt like I was a little insane for actually walking over a mile in heels to hunt for treasure.”
– “the state of shock I was in didn’t affect anything (When I called I said my name was Willie rather than William…oops)
Hey…$10,000 is definitely worth a road trip!”
– “Ahh, the agony of defeat. Guess you won’t be sharing any of that $10,000.00 with us, huh?”
– “I spent the entire week doing mounds of research and driving myself mad trying to piece together song references, searching for the desert rose painting, visiting comedy clubs, learning about Japanese swords”
– “Budget – you guys are GREAT! This was FUN!”
– “HA! Holy lasertag, Batman…I think my hunches have been right!”
– “I’ve been up since 3, anticipating today’s final clue. I’m so psyched. The quest is on, baby!! It’s GO TIME!!”
– “I am dying here in NYC… know exactly where I would be hunting if I were there, but instead I’m stuck 600 miles away.

They teased:
– “Sorry people but after the today the hunt in D-town will be over. The 10K will be mine.”
– “I drove 300 miles all the way from chicago on Tuesday in frightening weather and searched all day in the pouring rain but returned home disappointed”

They complained:
“I believe we are being led on a “goose chase”… I think we’re going in circles!”

They made friends:
– “I am the HONDA CR-V Hunter you met last night, and wish you as much luck finding this goose from hell as everyone else. Well I’m off to hunt, see you tonight. . .”
– “I rather someone else find it than to have nobody find it at all after the left coast was collectively referred to as clueless a few weeks back. It appears as if that honor is now for those in the north.”
– “The clues advise to leave the chickens at home, so bring your “get out of jail free card.” This isn’t Monopoly, but as my username implies, I will have mine.”
– “Goodness gracious, It’s so close, yet so far from me!”

They cajoled:
– “the rest of y’all might just want to give up, because we have pretty much found the exact location…”
– “you THINK you know who I am, but I’ll tell you this much, I’m not one of the two people you met last night in the mini cooper, i’m actually on a totally different team, and we hung back and watched you guys last night hoping one of you would take us to the sticker, but you are just as clueless as that other team!”

They helped eachother:
– “Chicken, goose, stars. … Must be at the El Capitan theater on Hollywood Boulevard where Chicken Little premiered. Follow the stars on the sidewalk.”
– “As Lynne Thigpen would say on “Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?”: GOOD WORK, GUMSHOES! HIT IT, ROCKAPELLA!”

– “Oh well, it was fun and I’ve never worked out that hard at 6 in the morn”
– “If someone got there before me and would like to accept the journey instead of the $10K that would be great. I spent hours looking yesterday starting at 6am and got up at 5am this morning. I think I’d prefer the money.”

One of the comments on the site sums up the way a lot of bloggers reacted: “Forget the $10,000, that was just a red herring to start the hunt. The journey is the real prize.”

And these delightful comments are representative of many:

Thoughts about the next campaign:
• While it could be fun to repeat and improve The Up Your Budget Treasure Hunt, we encourage you to consider a contest that is a little nerdier, more complex, and harder to solve. People had the most fun in the weeks when we didn’t get a winner until the end of the week.

We believe the next one should be integrated into the company’s advertising and PR, after its cool factor has been established online.

It didn’t seem so much the money that motivated people to come to the site, although that surely motivated those who decided to play. It seemed that the fun and the thrill of it was the reason for clicking onto Up Your Budget.
Launching the campaign only through blogs was proven to be a very effective and noteworthy way to work. We believe we proved the efficacy of a pure play, online-only campaign with the first Up Your Budget Treasure Hunt.

The impact on the Budget brand has been tremendously positive. And by developing a list of more than 2,000 registered players, we have created a community that can very quickly seed participation in the next Up Your Budget or other viral campaign.

We look forward to working with you again, and hope that you have been satisfied with our work and its contribution to a new-media-savvy image for the Budget brand.

Of course, one campaign is just a toe in the water.

Now it’s time to take a bigger, more comprehensive leap. We stand at your service for the next campaign, and are ready to begin planning immediately.