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Viral Hall of Fame 2008

Viral Hall of Fame 2008
Tested Tough

MarketingSherpa Summary:
Columbia Sportswear built its brand in this campaign by asking customers to test just how tough the outdoor-wear firm's products are. Customers were invited via email, display ads and contest websites to brutalize Columbia's products, tell the tale and send photos and videos of the action. Visitors to the contest site could view, vote and comment on entries. Columbia received more than 3,000 entries. The projected response rate was surpassed by more than 33%.

Agency: White Horse
Client/company: Columbia Sportswear
Brand campaign was conducted for: Columbia Sportswear
Launch date of campaign: October 2007
Target audience/demographic: Outdoor enthusiasts, typically ages 25 to 54

Campaign Goal:
Build and reinforce loyalty by prompting consumers to reflect on the brand's core promise and participate in its expression.

This promotion is an example of:
1. Highly successful user-generated content campaign that reinforced brand loyalty.
2. Rapid expansion of a campaign's audience through viral means.

The promotion invited Columbia's customers to participate in its popular and longstanding "Tested Tough" campaign, which puts gear through its paces by company founder Gert "Ma" Boyle and her son, Tim. Customers were encouraged to create their own Tough Tests or reflect on how they use the gear in their daily lives.

Participants were invited to submit a short description, with the option to include photos or video. They were also given mechanisms to comment, rate and share their entries with friends and family to increase their chances of winning. Visitors to the contest site could view, vote on and comment on all entries. Weekly winners received gear of their choice.

The campaign included email, online display advertising and viral seeding through contest sites.

Seed Strategy:
Initial traffic first was driven through a display campaign, then expanded through an email-a-friend option. The participant's ability to increase chances of winning through better ratings provided an incentive for viral distribution. The promotion was also seeded on contest sites which drove traffic equal to the media campaign at no cost.

Buzz Generated:
The campaign was built on the much-talked-about television spots featuring Gert Boyle testing her products on her son, Tim. Specific mention of the online campaign occurred in several blogs and publications, including By seeding the contest on sweepstakes and contest microsites, traffic from these sources grew exponentially.

Specific (Goal-Related) Campaign Results:
  • More than 3,000 thoughtful, funny and provocative entries reflecting gear usage as diverse as alligator wrestling and Pakistani earthquake relief
  • Projected response was exceeded by more than one-third, primarily through viral seeding and pass-along
  • The campaign received the Web Marketing Association's Internet Advertising Competition (IAC) Best of Category Consumer Goods Integrated Ad Campaign honor
Biggest Lesson:
The campaign's user-generated content succeeded because participants were not required to support their stories with photos or videos. The promotion drew a far better response than past efforts that involved users' addition of visual content. The expanded entry base, in turn, greatly heightened the level of viral activity.