AMEC Awards WinnerCategory: Best use of social media measurement
Client/Entering Company: Information Office of People’s Government of Chengdu Municipality
Campaign title: Chengdu Pambassador: The Cutest Job in the World
Company Name: iSentia

Objective/Brief

For a city that produces half the global supply of laptop chips, a fifth of all computers in the world and 80 percent of Apple’s iPads, Chengdu seldom features in a Google tourism search. Ironically, its highly qualified engineers also make essential parts for Airbus and Boeing, yet few of these planes return to the city, which is China’s fourth largest and the capital of Sichuan province in the west of the country.

The east-west divide in China’s economic development is a social ‘hot-button’. Western China accounts for 80 percent of the nation’s land mass, but just 17.8 percent of GDP¹. The widening income gap is driving mass worker migration from poorer western China to more prosperous eastern cities, like Shanghai and Beijing.

This is replicated in the tourism industry, with Chengdu’s 1.2 million annual visitors representing less than one percent of China’s 135 million total visitors in 2011². Our business challenge was to get Chengdu onto the tourism radar and then to drive tourism growth in the city, so it significantly outperformed national growth forecasts, estimated in 2012 at between 2.7 and 5 percent³. Not only would greater numbers of international visitors increase revenue and employment to help secure Chengdu’s economic growth prospects, it would also serve to ease a source of social tension.

Our communication objective was to make potential travellers from our key visitor markets aware of Chengdu’s natural resources, as measured by awareness and related media coverage.

To complicate these challenges, prevailing Western media attitudes persist towards an increasingly powerful China, so Chengdu’s story needed to be told by trusted third-party influencers in traditional and social media – not the Chinese government.

Strategy

Our initial research indicated that, if people knew Chengdu at all, it was at best perceived internationally as a drab second-tier industrial inland city, with no special distinguishing features. Against this backdrop, we developed an original campaign idea that could be significantly socialised and would deliver global impact. The “Pambassador” campaign connected the world with Chengdu’s uniquely lovable icon, the Giant Panda, by offering three people the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become a guest panda keeper and ambassador.

The priority markets for this campaign were Europe, US and its key Asian neighbours – Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and Korea:

  • Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan are close in terms of proximity and have a cultural affinity with mainland China. Our targets had therefore most likely visited Shanghai and/or Beijing in the past and were aware of Chengdu. They required less awareness building and more emphasis on reasons to visit a western Chinese city.
  • The US and UK were key drivers of traffic, yet awareness of Chengdu was very low. Analysis suggested they were more likely to be first time visitors to China, which was considered a challenging tourism option, ranking 47th as the most attractive country to visit, out of a total of 133⁴.

The international media were also a critical target audience, firstly in terms of persuading them to tell the Chengdu story, and then in educating potential tourists. Earlier research indicated that stories about the Giant Panda were considered entertainment news, which would not secure the global coverage desired, and required an element of public interest to qualify as mainstream news.

The opportunity to serve as a global panda ambassador was likely to attract many applicants. Their individual stories and passion for conservation could then be propagated through media. By linking Chengdu to conservation, and enhancing the city’s brand as the hometown of giant pandas, we would interest global media and a substantial online community. Social media platforms, such as Facebook, would facilitate interaction with a very wide audience.

Execution/Implementation

A series of Panda-themed stunts around the world drove competition submissions. Localised, semi-final events in four key markets allowed us to get closer to the audience and create local relevance that drove the traditional PR strategy. Authoritative endorsements from organisations, such as WildAid, a non-profit organisation; the United Nations; well-known figures like Yao Ming; and celebrities in local markets, lent additional support to the campaign.

We rolled out a series of offline and online events over a three-month period:

  • In China, Yao Ming, in partnership with the Chengdu Panda Base and WildAid, launched the campaign.
  • In Europe, costumed pandas toured Edinburgh, Paris, Brussels, Rome and Berlin performing flash-mobs, giving panda bear hugs to pedestrians, and simultaneously providing information about Chengdu, panda conservation and the competition.
  • North America saw the Pambassador competition semi-final and “Pambassador Day” at Georgetown University.
  • In Singapore, a retail activation with 7-11 stores featured the “Pambassador” search on posters, banners and price tags, plus a Panda-Rock concert, a Panda-themed black & white fashion show and Asian regional semi-finals.
  • Hong Kong saw a viral video of costumed pandas visiting city landmarks in search of bamboo.
  • In Chengdu, 16 global finalists experienced the Giant Panda’s natural habitat and promoted Chengdu and the campaign through their individual stories.
  • Globally, social and traditional media promoted digital content from all these activities.

Conclusions

Our business objective was to drive Chengdu’s tourism growth rate and significantly outperform national growth forecasts. The “Pambassador” campaign drove a 30.3 percent increase in international visitors to Chengdu in a year that saw a significant slowdown in China’s national tourism growth, to 1.2 percent ⁵. Furthermore, Chengdu tourism receipts grew 36.5 percent, well ahead of visitor growth, indicating that our new tourists were staying longer and spending more – or a combination of both.

Traditional Media Coverage
“Pambassador” was quickly dubbed “the NEW best job in the world”, a moniker picked up in many of the 2,852 international media reports that the campaign generated in 30 countries, and in 13 languages. Media outlets including the Wall Street Journal, US networks ABC & CBS, BBC, Global Al Jazeera, Japan’s Kyoto News and CCTV China featured video footage of the campaign and Chengdu.

Social Media Coverage
The stream of Facebook content generated by our experiential events in each market, together with agency-produced short films, saw 128 million YouTube channel views on Chengdu.

Combined, we generate 1.6 billion impressions across social and traditional media.

Creating Deeper Fan Engagement
Our 410,000 Facebook fans were actively engaged through:

  • Global experiential events in 10 cities worldwide that facilitated consumer-generated content.
  • Videos of adorable Giant Pandas at play in Chengdu Panda Research Base.
  • Online voting for regional semi-finalists.
  • Video and updates from contestants undergoing the final week of challenges in Chengdu.
  • Announcement of the winner in Chengdu.

We achieved greater word of mouth and deeper fan engagement than more established Facebook tourism pages, which also had active campaigns running during the year. Facebook PTAT scores – a metric of users who have engaged with a page’s content and created a “story” in news feeds – showed far higher engagement with Chengdu’s Pandas than for the “There’s Nothing Like Australia” tourism campaign, Visit London post-Olympics and New Zealand, during the release of “The Hobbit” film.

City/Country Facebook page Likes People Talking About This PTAT Score
Chengdu Pambassador 406,344 117,258 29%
Australia 3,835,886 257,834 7%
Visit London 95,484 4,881 5%
New Zealand 657,435 22,349 3%

Source: Facebook, November 28, 2012

Driving Awareness
Quality campaign coverage and messaging achieved our communication objective of connecting Chengdu as the home of the Giant Panda. Independent research on awareness of Chengdu as ‘Panda-land’ increased from 19 percent to 43 percent in the UK, from 14 percent to 27 percent in the US and from 58 percent to 75 percent in Singapore⁶.

Translating to Action
16,495 average daily Google searches for Chengdu represented a 54 percent growth from the launch of the “Pambassador” campaign. The level of coverage, engagement and search attracted 255,000 applicants to live and work in Chengdu, more than seven times the number attracted to Queensland Tourism’s “Best Job in the World” campaign as caretaker for a reef of stunning tropical islands!

Estimating the Commercial Value to Chengdu
More visitors accounted for US$161million in incremental tourism receipts for Chengdu in 2012, after allowing for trends in national tourism growth.

Name of contact: Jack Bailey
Email: jack.bailey@ogilvy.com
Telephone: +86 10 8520 6138

Notes
¹ Centre for Studies of China’s Western Economic Development, Northwest University, Xi’an, 2010
² China National Tourist Administration (CNTA) statistics
³ CNTO, National Tourism Administration of China, Euromonitor Outlook, 2011
⁴ World Economic Forum Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report, 2009
⁵ CNTA statistics
⁶ Facebook brand tracker study, August-December 2012

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