The press junket is at a crossroad. Long disparaged as a pay-for-play ploy from which ethical journalists shied away to maintain integrity, the blog-and-tweet era has, inadvertently, brought free-stuff-for-free-press back into fashion. (At least until the FTC shuts down the freebie firehose for good.)
But, for what it's worth, good digital press, or even good word of mouth, can only go so far in swaying potential purchasers to embrace a product or service. A journalist's favorable write-up may plant a seed in the minds of consumers, but it takes constant, concerted effort to nurture it and build it into lasting brand support and evangelism.
Late in 2009, online guy's guide Thrillist made a splashy play to make a name for itself -- and its sponsors -- in the minds of some key digital influencers by hosting Jet Mystery. The concept was simple -- bring a select group of bloggers, press, and other notable digital personalities to an undisclosed international destination for a fabulous 60-hour, all-expense-paid party, courtesy of some big-name sponsors. But the staging of every last detail was painstakingly elaborate, offering an engaging experience in exchange for some online love from the well-networked digital pros.
Brand interactions -- before
As host and chief party planner, Thrillist got the ball rolling on Jet Mystery early in the game by announcing the contest on its website and in the New York edition of its daily email. From that day on, Thrillist kept the momentum going with daily Twitter updates that eliminated cities from its list of potential destinations with cute, clever posts (e.g., "While the Beach Boys may want to take you to Bermuda, pretty mama, #JetMystery unfortunately doesn't"). An integrated Twitter feed on Thrillist's Jet Mystery homepage let contest entrants and other invitees express excitement and make guesses on where Jet Mystery would be taking them.
JetBlue, the official airline of Jet Mystery, also took its digital role seriously. Well known for its customer service efforts on Twitter, the airline's website had its own Countdown page for the contest, employing a digital Flash graphic that crossed off one choice from its list of JetBlue destinations every day.
Brand interactions -- during
As I said above, getting your brand on the radar of influential consumers and other tastemakers can only do so much to capture audience mindshare. Sure, you are inviting the digiterati to experience your brands, but will this help create and reinforce positive perceptions of your brand and its rightful place in the digital world? In keeping the drinks flowing in a tropical paradise, are you making the case for leveraging your brand's position in their coverage? Are you extending the experience throughout all the platforms they read, write in, and live through? Or are you just pushing money at the challenge of relating to digital citizens and using the same old tactics to prove your worth in the brave new world?
Well, for Jet Mystery, it depends on which brand you look at.
As the departure date arrived and the mystery location was revealed (Montego Bay, Jamaica), sponsors made the most of the opportunity to forge relationships with the participants in the real world. Smartly, key retail brands like Starbucks, Gillette, POM Wonderful, and Cold-Eeze inserted themselves into the weekend festivities in organic ways. For example, the hotel room mini-bars were stocked with POM pomegranate juice, and signature POM cocktails flowed at all the parties. Guests' bathrooms were supplied with all the Gillette grooming products they would need to stay soft, smooth, and sweet smelling while partying in the Jamaican sun. Starbucks' new VIA ReadyBrew line of instant coffees was on hand at all times to keep the party going, and Cold-Eeze lozenges were provided to keep the fun from taking a toll on travelers' immune systems.
Party-goers were wisely supplied with all the technology needed to blog, tweet, capture, and share their experiences throughout the event, and were encouraged to do so at every turn.
But how dedicated were the junket's partners in supporting continuous interaction before, during, and beyond the event? Here's the breakdown.
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