Three-hour queues, people pulling up on bikes to snatch away chocolate and a determined three-year-old boy are just a few indicators of the success of last year’s Wondrous Wellington Advent Calendar campaign run by the Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency. Here’s how the agency combined the digital with the physical to bring joy to city-dwellers.
We’re all familiar with the strange fervour that takes over during the Christmas period. Many of us are frantically trying to focus during the last few days of work to tie up all our loose ends before we’re lured away by the smell of summer barbecues, while evenings are spent wrapping presents or partaking in a bit of late night shopping at The Warehouse.
Many city dwellers then depart their respective big smokes to head out to more pastoral and less traffic-congested areas during the festive season, which affects the busy hum of the city, and therefore the businesses that inhabit it.
And for the past six years this is where the council-controlled Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency has stepped in, to make sure people are still spending money in the city so, that local businesses can continue to thrive.
The annual Wondrous Wellington Advent Calendar has been a great way of achieving this, bringing together 24 deals from local businesses, in areas including: retail, hospitality, sights and activities and events, with a new treat hiding behind a door in a digital illustration done by a different artist each year. The illustrations exist within a microsite and can also be accessed via mobile.
Users could click an open door to collect the corresponding voucher for the day. They then entered their details and the voucher was emailed to them, with vouchers being valid until 31 January the following year to drive spend during December and January.
News of the campaign first went out to the agency's database of some 60,000-odd Wellingtonians through a newsletter called ‘Know’, before the agency created hype on social media and installed some low-spend digital banners and billboards to amp up excitement over the campaign.
“We think about how we can make it bigger and better every year,” says Positively Wellington Tourism digital marketing manager Helen Player.
“Last year was the sixth year and we are pretty lucky in that the expectation is pretty high from Wellingtonians. They know it’s launching on the first and as soon as we test it we have clicks [on the website].”
She says prior to the launch her and her team go out and consult with the retailers that provide the 24 deals in the lead up to Christmas.
“We try and get a mix … So there’s things for the family and a night out and it also helps spread the love across Wellington’s different businesses. We can only accept 24 and we go out for submissions of interest and we get about 300-odd [submissions] each year. It’s also free for the businesses to get involved.”
Player says the enormous process is started as early as June or July the same year. “While it’s a Christmas campaign, the illustrator needs two months from brief to the final version and before that we need to find an illustrator that fits the look we are after for that year,” she says.
But, last year, in addition to the usual and ever-popular digital aspect of the campaign, it decided to team up with Phantom Billstickers to extend the calendar onto the street, after working with the company on a Wellington open day during the Rugby World Cup to educate Wellingtonians and others about its tourism offerings.
“So with that open day we used Phantom Billstickers as the primary media to push that out and it worked really well and was really cost-effective, so they were one of the first we looked at when we were thinking about running a street-level campaign.”
Player says the agency was looking for an option that complemented the online calendar rather than competed with it and as a way to push the reach of the online version.
“So this was a way to promote the online version for the 24-day campaign, while also surprising and delighting Wellingtonians and bringing joy and festivities to the street.”
The “offline” physical advent calendars, which basically look like small cupboards attached to large posters, were placed on Phantom poster bollards close to the businesses promoted in the online calendar, but instead of offering vouchers, much like a real advent calendar, these ones contained delicious salted brittle caramel chocolate from the Wellington Chocolate Factory.
“We had little prototypes and agreed on that and then Phantom did a custom build to house the chocolate, with moulds inside the doors that held the blocks in place.”
She says the demand for the chocolate was so great that often up to forty people would be waiting for the doors to be unlocked, then more people would line up, sometimes drawing a crowd of up to 100 people. “And the other days if it was in a bit of an obscure location, we just enjoyed watching people open them to see if there were any left.”
The agency had to do up to four restocks throughout the day. "Some people waited up to three hours. We had some people pulling up on bikes, some people driving down and others jumping out of cars, grabbing the chocolate and then driving away again,” she says. “It was a real race to get the chocolate and really great to watch.”
She says after each door was opened, at the end of the day it would lock and then function as a traditional poster to promote the campaign.
She says one particular heart-warming aspect of the campaign was when a three-year-old boy was desperate to get some chocolate from one of the physical calendar doors and had kept missing out because he had to go to pre-school.
“Then his mother got in contact with us and asked if we could open one just for them, so he got to open one of the doors and they came back with this really great response and he was so happy, you could see the grin on his face. [The campaign] created real community engagement and people loved it.”
She says there were 260,000 visits to the calendar site within the 24 days, which is a 23 percent increase year-on-year with 101,000 unique users (increase of 16 percent year-on-year), 94,245 vouchers were emailed to users (increase of three percent), 8,067 newly acquired users to Positively Wellington Tourism’s channels and over $160,000 in direct revenue was made from the vouchers, with one business alone making $30,000 on their offer.”
“All of the businesses want to be involved again next year. They were all really positive and some were overwhelmed with the results.”
We tried to ask what was in line for this year’s campaign, but Player says it’s top secret. Whatever the plan is, we're sure Wellingtonians will again be clamouring out of their cars and off their bikes to get a piece of the action.
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