Virgin Hotels has had anything but a smooth start. Back in 2010, the idea was to create around twenty-five hip, leading-edge-of-tech, four star hotels around the world. Fast forward to today, and only one hotel will be ready this year – in Chicago – and even that one may not open until 2015.
So, what would most brands do? They’d try to keep everything quiet, and wait until better news arrives. What did Virgin do? They decided to create a ‘rumor campaign’ to generate interest before the hotels even open. So there’s a teaser website where you can contribute your own ‘rumors’ about the hotels (I’m confident these are monitored by the brand). So will Richard Branson personally tuck in the first 25 guests to stay at the hotel? Right now, that’s one of the rumors. Naturally, there’s a contest for the best rumors and winners receive, you guessed it, a free stay at the hotel – when it opens.
This is a very timely solution to what used to be considered a PR problem. It embraces the notion that people are going to share stuff about the brand regardless, so why not create a vehicle for them to do just that? It puts positive spin on a situation that could have simply been regarded as bad news. And perhaps most importantly, it gives fans of the Virgin brand a chance to participate in social marketing.
A couple of years back, Dos Equis did the same thing with their ‘most interesting man in the world’ campaign. Fans submitted lines for commercials and billboards, and once again a contest was involved to encourage participation. And Ben & Jerry’s has used fan suggestions to create some of their most popular ice cream flavors.
So how do you get on the fan-assisted marketing train? First, don’t ask them to create a commercial – you’ll get mostly crap. Hire a creative agency, and ask them to weave evangelist contributions into the campaign. That’s what both Virgin and Dos Equis did. That way you get big ideas that encourage your fans to contribute and share. Put simply, you have more control over the process this way. And it’s also marketing based on the way the world works right now.