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Lee County VCB launches viral Manatee Message campaign

By Staff | Nov 30, 2010

The Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau (VCB) on Monday unveiled its new Manatee Message viral marketing campaign to shore up tourism’s high season and to foster brand evangelism this holiday by harnessing the power of social sharing networks.

The innovative online viral campaign features “Hugh Manatee,” an animated manatee who serves as a brand ambassador for The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, in a series of light-hearted holiday-themed e-cards that can be customized by senders.

The VCB chose a manatee for the campaign because it is an endearing and well-loved member of the destination’s natural environment and pays tribute to the pristine nature of the area’s unspoiled island sanctuary.

“Viral marketing can help build and foster a community of advocates online. The key is to keep it simple, make it personal and give people a reason to pass it on. But first you have to get their attention, which we believe Hugh Manatee will do,” said Tamara Pigott, VCB executive director. “Providing this new avenue for consumers to connect for the holidays helps shore up season while communicating our key brand message of the importance of reconnecting with self and others.”

Manatee Message allows online visitors to www.ManateeMessage.com to customize their manatee, personalize the message and send it out via e-mail or share it on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Similar to other popular viral sites, users have the opportunity to pick a background in which Hugh appears, including a sprig of mistletoe over his head, a snowman, party balloons, a David statue, or a hot tub. Users then dress up Hugh with different hats and facial hair and add audio to their digital postcard by either choosing from a pre-selected menu or by typing their own comments for Hugh to speak.

A few of Hugh’s pre-selected messages include: “Naughty or Nice? Does it really matter? Ho-Ho-Holy sea cow.” (for Santa hat prop) and “Who wants some of this? Why not come over here and give me a big, wet, slobbery, whiskery smooch.” (for mistletoe background)

Manatee Message is patterned after other online viral campaigns that have met with huge success. These include OfficeMax’s Elf Yourself website and CareerBuilder’s humorous Monk-e-mail.com.

According to Pigott, the ongoing presence of online advertising differs from campaigns in traditional media outlets, which end when television commercials and print advertisements cease appearing or billboards and in-store signage is taken down. Thanks to Internet staples like YouTube and Facebook, viral campaigns executed effectively can have extraordinary success and can linger on well after the official campaign has ended.

The VCB is supporting the launch of Manatee Message with distribution of a postcard collateral piece in vacation fulfillment packets, by the sales team and during tour stops for the Island Treasures Tour, a guerilla marketing program in which a 40-foot branded recreational vehicle is on the road for 200 days this year making stops at consumer shows and events nationwide.

The VCB also is executing a promotional consumer e-mail to drive visitors to the Manatee Message website; cross-promoting the campaign on its consumer website as well as on its social sites on Facebook and Twitter; and issuing a news release to relevant consumer media.

Additional promotional efforts around Hugh Manatee, including new themes for the e-cards, will be launched periodically as needed to maintain brand “buzz.”