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September 15 , 2009

Photo-crashing squirrel leads to social media win

More than 82 million impressions around the world

Quick thinking and a well-established social media program helped Banff Lake Louise Tourism (BLLT) turn the latest global internet sensation into a marketing dynamo for Banff National Park.

"Two years ago, we launched an integrated social media program including the weekly Real Banff video report, a blog, Facebook page and Twitter profile," said Julie Canning, president and CEO of Banff Lake Louise Tourism. "When the "Crasher Squirrel" literally popped out of nowhere, our social media team was ready and able to quickly take advantage of the opportunity."

Within hours of the Banff Crasher Squirrel taking off as the newest internet meme, BLLT had created a promotional YouTube video, the @Banff_Squirrel on Twitter, a search engine marketing campaign based on the squirrel keyword, a Banff Crasher Squirrel Facebook page, and had "crashed" the homepage of the BLLT website with the curious rodent.

"The power of social media allows smaller destination marketing organizations to compete on the world stage -- provided they act fast. Those who are nimble can leverage communication opportunities like this to their advantage. Banff jumped on this opportunity without hesitation and the immediate results have been exceptional," said Greg Klassen, senior vice president, the Canadian Tourism Commission.

As the squirrel meme took off, BLLT also leveraged the efforts of developers who independently created applications to add the Banff Crasher Squirrel to Twitter avatars, "Quip-art" to superimpose the squirrel on websites and United Playco's Banff Crasher Squirrel iPhone application. BLLT negotiated with Quip-Art and Playco to include links to BLLT's website, create a customized iPhone app for BLLT use and include information on Banff and Lake Louise within the applications.

BLLT then used the applications as a social media pitch to journalists and online influentials around the world, photo-crashing the Banff Squirrel onto each target's website. The pitches extended the news cycle and resulted in coverage on leading blogs including CNBC's Funny Business, National Geographic Traveler, Canada.com, the Twitter Blog, and many others.

"The challenge wasn't to make the Banff Squirrel become more 'viral'", said Steve Wright, president of Arcade Consulting, BLLT's social media agency. "The real task was to harness the momentum of the Squirrel to direct attention back to Banff as a tourism destination."

BLLT also mobilized its tourism partners in Banff and Lake Louise to create squirrel themed promotional packages, promoted the squirrel via the organization's blog and even arranged to have a pop-up cutout of the squirrel added to an outdoor billboard in Alberta.

BLLT's quick response was rewarded when the tourism organization's YouTube video was featured on broadcast news reports including CNN's Situation Room and a wide range of other US-based channels.

The @Banff_Squirrel on Twitter has attracted more than 1,000 followers and the "squirrel's" tweets have reached more than 385,000 Twitter users, placing @Banff_Squirrel in the top 98 percentile of Twitter users just two weeks after launch.

"Banff Crasher Squirrel: The Movie" has been viewed more than 35,000 times, placing it among the most popular travel videos for the week in many countries including Canada, USA, UK, Poland and Australia. The video was also featured among the Top 10 of over Crasher Squirrel 1300 submissions on Buzzfeed.com, the site where the meme first took off.

In total, BLLT estimates that the Banff Crasher Squirrel resulted in more than 82 million impressions on TV, in print and online around the world, popping up in more than 70 countries including Japan and China to India, the UK, South Africa and Australia.

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