Contiki is back with its YouTube vlogger roadtrip for the third year running, once again piggybacking on the millions of pairs of eyeballs already following every single step those vloggers take. This year young New Zealand eyeballs might be captive too, with Kiwi star Shannon Harris onboard as the only person from outside North America.
The 2014 Roadtrip follows YouTube stars on a trip around Europe, and airing it all on YouTube. It gets the stars’ combined subscriber lists of more than 13 million viewers to follow the group while they showcase Contiki’s tours. The tour also includes a huge “fan gathering” where fans can meet the YouTubers.
The travel sector is a sitter for content-based campaigns like this and Tony Laskey, Contiki regional director of sales and marketing Asia New Zealand, believes the Roadtrip is potentially one of the most powerful marketing strategies Contiki has ever used.
“The first two trips [to Europe and then Australia] got 26 million views on YouTube. There were 400,000 organic views of content, 1.4 million likes, and 100,000 comments, most of them talking about how they want to do those activities. In terms of sales, we’ve had record years in the last few years in New Zealand, and it’s working very well globally too.”
Laskey says the gatherings are the most challenging part of the campaign to manage, with the sheer numbers of people turning up.
“Because most of our YouTube fan base is in the states, we thought our first gathering, being in Europe, would be small. But it turned out our audience across continental Europe is massive, and so the London gathering had a queue down the street several hundred metres long. The following year, in Australia, it was out of control. This year we haven’t finalised the detail for the gathering yet, but we’ll focus on crowd control.”
On top of the numbers they have already, he says the true value of the campaign may not be evident for a few years. “Many YouTube viewers are in their late teens, so we have a long lead time from first exposing them to the brand. They’re young and go off to university, and only consider Contiki as an option later on. There’s a long lead time between exposure to conversion, around two or three years,” says Laskey.
He says YouTube enables Contiki to talk to a broader audience than with any other channel. “In the US particularly, the average person on the street doesn’t know about Contiki. But there, YouTube views are bigger than the biggest cable channel in the states.”
YouTube is particularly effective with the youth market, which is backed up by the recent NZ On Air media consumption study. Alexis Sitaropoulos, Contiki group marketing director, says the trend amongst millennial audiences is that they are identifying more with YouTubers than with TV and movie personalities. “[The roadtrip] has turned out to be a perfect collaboration – we send the YouTubers out on the road to experience what makes travelling with Contiki so unique, and they’re able to create organic, unscripted content for their loyal fans in incredible cities around the world,” he says.
Laskey agrees. “There’s no denying the audience base is huge. They may not be household names like Hollywood stars, but they’re rockstars to people in their audience. These YouTube stars have also come into the mainstream media – until recently [Kiwi YouTube stars] Shannon Harris and Jamie Curry were not as well known.”
This year is the first time a New Zealander has been on The Roadtrip. In fact, all past participants have been from North America, save for one Aussie last year for the down-under tour. “In the States, YouTube personalities have subscriber bases of millions – it’s a bigger market so you have a bigger YouTube base,” says Laskey. “There’s not the critical mass of population down here in New Zealand.”
New Zealand actually only has two vloggers with massive fan bases - Shannon Harris and Jamie Curry, both with just over a million subscribers. Laskey says Contiki’s local offices around the world are always looking out for local YouTube stars, but it’s not always possible to get people onboard because of timing. “With Shannon, we engaged with her 12 months ago to work out timings.”
21-year-old Shannon Harris, or ShaanXO, has just hit more than a million subscribers to her YouTube channel, and gets more than 69.4 million impressions a year. Originally from Palmerston North and now living in Auckland, she vlogs about makeup, fashion, hairstyles, even her boob-job. She’s now a YouTube partner and makes a fulltime living off the gig. Despite being a little nervous, she says she's looking forward to the trip, even though it’s a big step up from blogging and editing via her own laptop and camera.
“I think I'm okay with being filmed – my partner MooshMooshVlogs on YouTube and does quite a few 'follow me' vlog videos, and I never get any control over them. I’m used to it now! Let’s just hope I don't do anything embarrassing in any of them. I definitely hope that my YouTube channel gets more exposure from this, especially if I am able to collab with anyone else or vlog with them. I'm also hoping to grow my second channel ShaaanxoVlogs by doing frequent travel vlogs while I am travelling.”
So is this sort of marketing the way of the future?
“It will be interesting to see what happens,” says Laskey. “The Youtubers we work with are down-to-earth, you can engage with them directly. These are rising stars, handpicked because they’re so grounded. If they were to become more commercial, with agents and managers, it would be different. My personal opinion is the dynamic will change, and the whole thing will become more commercial, big brands will definitely start to use them more. But things change, we are one of the first brands doing this in the youth market – and in the category we are the leaders – but in five years’ time we might be doing something totally different.”
Says Harris: “The Hollywood dream can now be attained by anyone with a passion for a specific topic. And you can even make a living doing it. Even before I had my own channel, other YouTubers were so much more relatable than anyone I saw in a movie or on TV. These people are real, they aren't acting as someone else. It just makes everything so much more interesting. Yes, marketing is changing for sure. People are more likely to buy something that someone they look up to on YouTube wears, uses, etc, than buying something that is advertised on television. It’s just so much more natural and honest than paid adverts. To be honest, I think everything is going to go online. TV, radio, advertising… I mean, it already has started to, but I can see it going even further. I don't think YouTube is going to fade away any time soon!”