40 days on Chatroulette: Travelocity sees positive results - McKinney

40 days on Chatroulette: Travelocity sees positive results

May 11, 2010

Travelocity’s “Roaming Gnome” mascot made headlines on April 1 when it began appearing on Chatroulette. Now, 40 days into the effort, the travel brand told ClickZ that the initiative has resulted in 350,000 impressions and 400 conversations between potential customers and its chat specialists.

“We’ve been really happy with the way [the gnome] has been received and how the chat conversations have gone,” said Joel Frey, spokesperson for the Southlake, TX-based company. “The gnome is kind of a perfect character for social media because he’s non-threatening and conversational. We have had a lot of fun with the gnome on Facebook and Twitter, and Chatroulette is just a natural extension of those things.”

A lot of Travelocity’s enthusiasm for the effort lies in its low cost. The budget line items were a video recorder, a tripod, and paying a staffer to chat with people. But what about interacting in a video chat forum that has become known as an online haven for real-time, X-rated conduct?

Frey said the marketing play is not as risky as it may initially appear because it’s only a two-way interaction – between Travelocity’s chatter and the Chatroulette user on the other end. In other words, if the Travelocity chatter comes in visual contact with some unsavory activity, the rest of the world will never know.

“If we do run into somebody that we don’t want to talk to, we just hit the ‘Next’ button and move on to the next conversation,” he said. “That’s helped us answer the question about whether we wanted to be associated with a medium known for people hanging around in their birthday suits… And, we think over time Chatroulette could get past the reputation it has for being a seedy place.”

Travelocity’s agency of record, McKinney, invented the gnome character in 2003 and also thought up the Chatroulette play. The agency executes the project at its Durham, NC-based offices (see image above). On the video chat site, the gnome is usually seen holding a sign, which communicates – in handwritten magic marker – where the mascot is located at that moment on his fictitious travels. Dedicated Facebook and Twitter accounts for the gnome also reflect where he is supposed to be.

Travelocity has seemingly benefitted from a groundswell of general buzz around Chatroulette in recent months. According to the most recent comScore data, Chatroulette.com went from a few hundred thousand unique visitors in January to more than 4 million in February.

“We’ve gotten a lot of positive buzz from this that we really weren’t at all expecting,” Frey said. “The PR alone has totally captured the ROI… And our hope is that as Chatroulette continues to grow, we’ll sort of get that halo effect for being an early adapter.”