Consumer Content Creates Campaigns

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Choice Hotels International Inc. is working with Agency.com to create an online sweepstakes with a possible $1 million award, a campaign that highlights the growing use of consumer-created content in promotions.

Choice's campaign looks to drive summer leisure and business traffic to its Econo Lodge and Rodeway Inn hotel brands. The "Key to a Million Sweepstakes" promotion features a digital wishing well in which users submit how they would spend $1 million. Each entry is represented by a gold coin in a well that displays a pop-up wish when rolled over. The creative is live, and it dynamically updates across networked ads in real time.

"One of the most unique aspects to this campaign is that it's tapping into community online," said Tom Ajello, vice president of creative at Agency.com. "People are sharing wishes with each other, and they come back over and over to make that wish again. The more time they spend with the brand, the better."

The interactive campaign is based on giving consumers an experience with the brand, not just promoting a message.

Meanwhile, Procter & Gamble Co. launched an interactive campaign July 18 with a Web site at www.secret.com/share/secrets.asp created by Dallas interactive agency IMC2.

Targeted at women, the campaign lets consumers submit original content as well. Built around Secret deodorant's 50th anniversary, the effort encourages users to submit their secrets to be displayed in real time.

Secret's campaign had 1,700 entries before its official launch but was not viral by design, a P&G spokeswoman said.

"It's nothing that we've done," Michelle Vaeth said, "but obviously something viral is happening."

The campaign centers on the strength it takes for women to share their secrets. All the creative features content submitted by consumers.

Marketing through consumer-generated content campaigns is gaining ground.

"It's something that's really popular right now," Mr. Ajello said. "Consumer-generated content is really 'buzzy.' In the case of the Wishing Well it can be really powerful. It allows you to express yourself in a textual way."

Initial response to the Choice campaign was strong. Agency.com reports repeat visits to the sweepstakes link from the www.choicehotels.com site. The contest already has surpassed 200,000 entries, said Melissa Kinsley, senior director of North American advertising at Choice.

Agency.com will measure interaction, time spent, click-through rates and actual sign-ups through Aug. 18 when a $50,000 winner is announced. The winner then chooses one of 20 room keys for a chance to win 20 times that amount.

The Wishing Well promotion seeks summer sales for Econo Lodge and Rodeway Inn in what is considered the strongest season for the hospitality industry. The targets are leisure and business travelers, whom Mr. Ajello described as family oriented.

A tracking program and spam control were put into place to prevent negative or inappropriate comments from being posted live. Choice has reported no negative feedback a few days into the campaign.

"When you understand your target you don't have to worry about [negative feedback]," Mr. Ajello said.

Respecting the target is the key to getting a positive response from the audience, he said.

The P&G campaign also places trust in the opinion of its customers. The secrets.com site screens submissions only for their abuse of obscenities or obvious spam. There are many secrets that could be considered controversial or inappropriate.

"We fully expect that these secrets will run the gamut," Ms. Vaeth said.

Choice and P&G are using a new form of advertising that lets consumers reflect on their brand experience and share feedback openly with other community members.

"With each of our campaigns we like to approach it with fresh ideas," Ms. Kinsley said. "In this case it's the million dollars and what does that mean to you. To a lot of people that means freedom."

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