Banff Tourism goes nuts with ‘crasher squirrel’

The destination marketer capitalized on the fuzzy little phenomenon with a very social media campaign, and attributes $3 million worth of media attention to hooking up with the welcome 'crasher'.

Its funny little face has been all over the place and this week Banff Tourism claimed ‘crasher squirrel’ as a big media win for the marketing organization.

The viral phenomenon started when a couple set up the timer on their camera to take a photo of them at Lake Minnewanka in Banff, Alta. A curious squirrel popped into the picture as it was being taken and the couple submitted the photo to a contest on National Geographic’s website. In the week that followed, people started Photoshopping the ‘crasher squirrel,’ as it was soon known, into their own photos and a viral wave was born.

Banff Tourism’s involvement started as soon as the buzz did. For the past two years, the organization had been building a social media presence including a weekly Real Banff video report, a blog, Facebook page and Twitter profile. So when they heard the squirrel story was starting to build, they moved on it immediately, Lori Bayne, communications director, Banff Lake Louise Tourism (BLLT), tells MiC.

‘The beauty [of this] is that we’ve been building up to be ready for an opportunity, and the opportunity came and we were able to move on it. That’s really one of the big messages: You think that you’re doing a lot of things that aren’t grabbing, but you’re getting ready for that one thing that does.’

Within hours of the squirrel’s media debut, BLLT started leveraging their social media properties, creating a YouTube video, @Banff_Squirrel on Twitter, a Facebook page, a search engine marketing campaign triggered by the squirrel keyword and it posted squirrel photos to the landing page of its website. They also immediately contacted National Geographic to seek copyright use of the original image.

With Toronto and Vancouver-based agency Radar DDB at the helm, the social media push continued combined with traditional media promotions. The crasher squirrel was added to existing regional billboards, squirrel-themed Banff stickers were sent to retail partners and BLLT even commissioned a squirrel pendent with a local jeweler. While this was going on, blogging was continuous on The Real Banff National Park blog, Twitter and Facebook were maintained and arrangements were made to have the squirrel ‘crash’ other websites around the world. Simultaneously, the television media caught hold of the story and it was featured on CNN, CBC and a variety of other international networks.

The early results look significant: BLLT estimates that the advertising value to the destination has been worth $3 million in print, TV and online and reached over 80 million people. It was mentioned in 301 blogs in North America and generated over 5,000 Twitter mentions and 659 Facebook posts. The demographic reached is estimated at 63% male, 37% female, ages 25 to 34 (10%), 35 to 44 (22%), 45 to 55 (33%) and 55+ (19%). Countries reached include Canada (36%), USA (29%), UK (8.4%), Australia (3.2%) and Germany (2.9%).

There was no additional media purchased outside of what already existed and the entire spend on the squirrel campaign has been under $5,000.

By virtue of the sheer number of times that Banff was mentioned in the media over print, television and online, Bayne feels that the campaign reached the goal of promoting Banff as a destination and not just building buzz around the squirrel. But it wouldn’t have been possible if all the existing media properties were not in place, already populated with content, Bayne says. ‘It was a year and half of getting our team ready, our content ready…and so when that happened, within hours we could activate these things. That’s the key.’