April 30, 2013
Case Study

User-Generated Content: Video email contest increases site traffic by 13%

SUMMARY: Garnering brand advocates and increasing site traffic became an important goal for the destination marketers at Visit Carlsbad. They decided to use a video contest to engage their email newsletter subscribers.

Learn how the team was able to acquire 21 user-generated videos endorsing Visit Carlsbad, increase open rates, gain more than 12,000 total video views and increase site traffic by 13%.

by Courtney Eckerle, Reporter


Visit Carlsbad, the destination marketing organization for the city of Carlsbad, Calif., needed a new route for building brand awareness and driving more site traffic.

It opted to begin a campaign that was visually driven and interactive by incorporating videos into email content.

According to the MarketingSherpa 2013 Email Marketing Benchmark Report, only 11% of marketers are utilizing video or animated GIF images as a tactic to improve the relevance and engagement of email content delivered to subscribers.

For Visit Carlsbad, embracing lower-cost options like having customers create video content was appealing on the $800,000 budget last year, "with about two-thirds of that going towards marketing promotions. Not a whole lot of budget, which is why we concentrate mostly digital marketing to build brand awareness for Carlsbad," said Sam Ross, Executive Director, Visit Carlsbad.

The need to increase brand awareness for the city became apparent last year when Visit Carlsbad was in the process of hiring a PR agency.

A Santa Barbara agency submitted a video in its presentation, featuring people around Santa Barbara Harbor. The agency tested their knowledge of Carlsbad, a city only a couple hours drive to the south.

"They video-taped people, asking them, 'Do you know where Carlsbad is?' and from that video … people had no clue where Carlsbad was," Ross said.

There was brand confusion, a challenge faced by many marketers who face a similar brand that is equally or more well known. In the case of this Southern California town, there was brand confusion with Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico.

Ross said out of "four or five people they interviewed, one person knew it, and he was a boat captain, and it was only because he sailed to Carlsbad. They knew La Jolla, San Diego, they knew that LEGOLAND was somewhere in Carlsbad, but they didn’t know exactly where Carlsbad was located."

That "got the idea rolling," Ross said, to do a video campaign that would be innovating and engaging in how it built brand awareness for Carlsbad, involve email subscribers in becoming advocates for the brand, as well as boosting traffic and engagement on the website.


The "Carlsbad is where…" campaign was started, and designed to inspire natives of the city and tourists into a conversation about their fondness for Carlsbad.

"We wanted to get people who would become brand ambassadors for Carlsbad, and kind of push out the idea of [coming] to Carlsbad for your vacation," he said.

In this campaign, his team wanted people to tell their stories in video format. They put together a contest where people would submit videos finishing the phrase "Carlsbad is where…" for a free trip to Carlsbad.

Ross said the team was "a little skeptical at first," and apprehensive about centering their summer campaign around video, but in the end his team was “really happy with the results … it turned out really well for us."

"All you've got to do is throw out a really good prize package, and you'd be amazed at what you get," he said.

Some people just submitted a video quickly with their phones, he added, but others "do exciting stuff." The objective of the campaign was to increase awareness of Carlsbad as a vacation destination.

"My goal all along has always been to get Carlsbad known in the way you might know Santa Barbara," Ross said.

Step #1. Tie-in key marketing elements into sends

Visit Carlsbad saw a video campaign as an opportunity to increase recognition and presence of "Squawky" the seagull, the recently launched mascot for Visit Carlsbad, as well as further define his personality.

"It didn’t make sense to have people engaging with a logo," Ross said. "Consumers love to engage with either a person or an animal. You look at someone like Flo from Progressive Insurance and she has, I think, four million Facebook fans and the corporate page has 100,000." (Editor’s note: As of press time, Flo had 5,179,401 likes and Progressive had 62,931).

Part of the reason a seagull was chosen over other animals frequently spotted around the southern California town was because "seagulls can fly, they can see everything that's going on in Carlsbad," Ross said.

This ability would make Squawky the perfect companion to the video campaign. In the emails during the campaign, he was often depicted wearing a hat with a camera attached to it.

By putting the recently established mascot at the forefront of this project, the team was also making sure their email subscribers would become familiar with and attached to the character.

Carlsbad is where…

This phrase was established to be the theme for the video campaign, both in the contest and in the videos that Visit Carlsbad would generate themselves.

"It goes back to the video that we saw shot in Santa Barbara, and [people] not knowing where Carlsbad is, that was the catalyst of it," Ross said. His team wanted to provide an answer to the question, "Where is Carlsbad?"

Step #2. Introduce video as a consistent part of monthly newsletters

Visit Carlsbad embedded videos filmed by the team in the monthly newsletter send as a "tease" to familiarize subscribers with receiving video content, and to also build up its YouTube channel with those already interested in the brand, and to introduce subscribers to the video concept of "Carlsbad is where…"

The narrative in the newsletter explained how Squawky went around town and filmed local personalities, getting their take on the "Carlsbad is where…" idea, and showing their perspective of the city.

The objective of these interviews was to "get their take on their memories of Carlsbad, and why they love Carlsbad so much," Ross said.

The filming took just a day to do, Ross said, and produced a lot of genuine sentiment about Carlsbad from the people who know it best — founders and owners of famous local eateries, shoppers, as well as an older couple who were transplants to the city from their native Chicago.

In the latter video, Betty describes how "Carlsbad is where I really fell in love with the ocean," as she stands in front of the local visitors center, adding "we can walk to the ocean every day from where we live."

Her husband Richard talks about how "you can go to the mountains within an hour’s driving … the best weather in the hemisphere is right here. You can do anything you want really, except shoveling snow."

Betty and Richard's video, along with others collected from locals, were featured in Visit Carlsbad’s monthly newsletter send.

"Once we put the five videos together, Squawky went out and announced and released them," Ross said.

The email opened with the headline, "Carlsbad is where … great stories are made." It continued by saying, "Watch what some Carlsbad visitors, vacationers, business owners and even Carlsbad natives are saying about the place to go for fun" and prompted readers to "Watch Now."

Step #3. Establish outline and goals for contest

Ross and his team set out to establish the rules and goals for submissions so they could clearly outline them in a planned dedicated send about the contest to their database of 15,500 opt-in email subscribers.

They came up with three simple steps to enter the contest, because "we knew that we had to make it easy for people to enter, just submit a short video to our YouTube channel," he said.

In the email sent out announcing the contest and encouraging subscribers to submit, the steps were:
  1. Create your own video: Create your "Carlsbad is where…" video.

  2. Upload your video: Click "Enter Now" to upload your video.

  3. Vote for your favorite video: Vote to sway the judges. They will pick the best.

The team wanted subscribers to submit a video of them finishing the phrase, "Carlsbad is where…" which would enter them into the contest for a chance to win a trip to Carlsbad.

By using that phrase as the prompt, they would be connecting it to their previous videos, as well as having contest entrants promote a brand message.

Step #4. Send email announcing the video contest

After releasing all of the videos made by Visit Carlsbad, "then Squawky announced that we wanted consumers to submit their own videos," Ross said.

Visit Carlsbad (and Squawky) sent out an announcement to email subscribers, an audience that would be especially interested in a vacation to Carlsbad.

"To entice them to submit their videos, we put together a prize package for them," Ross said, adding this team put together a trip to the city including two roundtrip tickets, a two-night stay at The West Inn and Suites, a rental car and dinners.

The email announced the prize package the winning video would receive, with the subject line “Win Round Trip Flights for You and Your Guest” and opening with a graphic of Squawky on the beach, holding a sign checking off the details.

Two short paragraphs followed the graphic, explaining to “Submit a video of yourself finishing the phrase, ‘Carlsbad is where…’ and you’ll be entered for a chance to win the ultimate Carlsbad vacation.”
The three simple steps that Ross and his team established were laid out, along with a call-to-action encouraging the reader to “Enter Now.”

Below the rules were four of the videos Visit Carlsbad had put together themselves, under the tagline “Need some ideas? Check out these videos created by yours truly.”

Step #5. Choose and announce winner

One overall winner, as well as a fan favorite and Squawky’s favorite were chosen “because the videos were so good,” Ross said.

Overall, 21 videos were submitted, and the overall winner was chosen by Ross’s team and had the highest amount of votes. The fan favorite was the video people voted for the most, aside from the overall winner.

"From what we've been able to glean … it's very tough to get people to submit videos, and this was very big that we actually got 21 people to do it," Ross said.

The winner was announced in the monthly newsletter, in a style very similar to the original contest announcement, with Squawky on the beach holding an image of the video, which subscribers could click on and immediately watch, with a "Winner" banner across it.

The send also recognized the fan favorite, which could also be immediately watched, and then listed events going on in Carlsbad that month, and encouraged subscribers to continue on to the Visit Carlsbad Facebook page for more opportunities to find deals on a Carlsbad vacation.

Utilize brand advocates

Visit Carlsbad had a banner running across the top of its website, announcing the winning video, as well as the sidebar ad. Site visitors could view the video from the banner.

Visit Carlsbad also put the videos into its interactive testimonials page, integrating the video content with those they had already shot themselves, pictures of Carlsbad and written testimonials. Again, the videos were immediately viewable with one click.

The videos were also sent out over Visit Carlsbad's Twitter and Facebook pages, and posted onto its YouTube page.


The greatest, although incalculable, result of this campaign in Ross' estimation has been their cultivation of brand advocates.

"Invaluable testimony from consumers about Carlsbad made them our brand advocates … we learned the importance of nostalgia and the desire of our fans to remember and share their stories with us was huge," Ross said.

Knowing the desire for nostalgia was so strong, both from the videos and the comments his team received, they were enabled to structure and tailor their content to reflect that in promoting Carlsbad in the future.

Measurable results Visit Carlsbad achieved were:
  • Email open rates climbed to 18% — 3.5% higher than the average travel and tourism brand

  • Social-driven site traffic increased by 240%

  • The Visit Carlsbad Facebook page gained 1,164 new likes

  • All "Carlsbad is where…" videos gained 12,395 total views

  • Site traffic increased by 13%
"People love to tell their stories about Carlsbad … that emotion that we were able to pick up from the videos has really helped with our strategy," Ross concluded.


Visit Carlsbad

Mindgruve — Visit Carlsbad's digital marketing agency

Creative Samples

  1. Newsletter featuring brand video

  2. Visit Carlsbad video contest email

  3. Visit Carlsbad contest winner announcement

  4. Testimonials page

Related Resources

Email Marketing: Segmentation, integration, automation and personal interaction

Social Email Integration: Sony Electronics nets 3,000 clickthroughs from email to "pin" on Pinterest

MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2013 Wrap-up: Top 5 takeaways for email marketers

E-commerce: How Wine Enthusiast increased organic traffic 154% with content marketing

Mining Gold through Email Integration: 3 lessons from MarketingSherpa Email Awards 2013 winners

Video Marketing How-to: 4 tactics from a small business that generated 1 million YouTube views

Social Media Marketing: Travel company uses Facebook as a tool for generating testimonials

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