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News Analysis 21 Oct 2020 - 3 min read

$17bn game face on: Tourism New Zealand GM and ex-Red Bull marketer on turning to Amazon’s Twitch to make gamers virtual tourists

By Josh McDonnell - Senior Writer

Tourism NZ's Andrew Waddel: “It’s not something that you could replicate over and over, but [marketing via gaming platforms] has shown its value, particularly with the idea of ‘normality’ still a way off."

Tourism was New Zealand's largest export, representing $17.2bn annually. Covid has brought international tourism spend down to almost zero and left Tourism New Zealand with the daunting task of keeping global travellers engaged in a product that is currently unavailable. Australian GM and former Red Bull marketing boss Andrew Waddel found a winning solution in the online gaming community.

What you need to know:
  • Before Covid, tourism was New Zealand’s largest export, making up 20.4% of the country’s total.
  • Last year it directly contributed $17.2bn to NZ’s total GDP and directly employed 8.4% of the workforce.
  • Tourism New Zealand General Manager (Australia) Andrew Waddel says the organisation faces one of “its toughest tasks”.
  • To maintain brand equity, it is exploring new media channels.
  • One of those is gaming and it has created PLAY NZ - an ode to open-world gaming that enables tourists to travel the country virtually. 
  • So far, it's seen significant uplift in engagement, with nine-minute video pieces holding an average view time of four and a half minutes.

 

”We went from having an average of 1.5m Australian visitors a year to a handful in quarantine. The knock on effects have been devastating ... for so many people. The challenge became keeping up a level of desirability for tourists, so that when we do open up once more, we are high on the list of considered destinations.”

Andrew Waddel, Tourism New Zealand General Manager (Australia)

Playable tourism

Travel and tourism are among the industries worst affected by Covid - and New Zealand is feeling the pain more than most.

Prior to the pandemic, tourism made up 5.8% of total GDP, equating to $17.2bn alongside a further indirect contribution of $11.2 billion, another 4%. Since overtaking dairy in 2017, it has been New Zealand's biggest export.

Pre-pandemic, Australians made up roughly 40% of all visitors to the country. The drop off has left Tourism NZ GM (Australia) Andrew Waddel and his team facing one of its “toughest tasks”.

”We went from having an average of 1.5m Australian visitors a year to a handful in quarantine, so the knock-on effects have been devastating for promoting NZ as a brand, as well as the employment it brings for so many people,” Waddel says.

“That meant the challenge became keeping up a level of desirability for tourists, so that when we do open up once more, we are high on the list of considered destinations.”

With its latest campaign (Good Morning World, a 365-day video campaign which later won an Effie Award) wrapping up, Tourism NZ was ready to “try something new”, with the focus on maintaining brand equity and building awareness.

The result was ‘Play NZ’, a half video, half ode to open-world gaming campaign where virtual tourists are guided through an open world experience by Kiwi narrator Julian Dennison (known for his roles in Deadpool 2 and Hunt for the Wilderpeople).

Virtual visitors follow avatars travelling the the country, encountering locals along the way.

There is also a series of adventure challenges, including mountain biking through the Redwoods Forest to white water rafting down Okere Falls.

Waddel says while the concept had been in the works pre-Covid, it was a “real opportunity” to rethink the Tourism NZ brand and challenge traditional marketing strategies.

“The 100% Pure NZ brand has been running for 21 years now and we’ve moulded that to fit many different moments in our history - from Middle Earth to same sex marriage. But this was a very different scenario,” Waddel says.

“We couldn’t simply go out and do another fully integrated campaign, using our usual above the line media and push it out to press and trade – it needed to evolve with the situation.”

While Tourism NZ has still utilised television, outdoor and radio over the last six months, Waddel says it has also focused on pushing the Play NZ platform through new digital channels.

 

“It’s not something that you could replicate over and over, but [marketing via gaming platforms] has shown its value, particularly with the idea of ‘normality’ still a way off. It has shown its value as a cost-effective channel that provided reach and engagement at time when it seemed extremely difficult.”

Andrew Waddel, Tourism New Zealand General Manager (Australia)

Talking Twitch, high score results

One of the new channels Waddel and his team used was Twitch, the Amazon-owned gaming and streaming platform.

In partnership with its media agency Mindshare, the brand partnered with gaming influencers to launch the campaign, which included playable video content.

“We knew we weren’t just talking to our usual audience and that gamers know when brands aren’t being real with them,” Waddel says.

“You have to speak to them through the right channels and offer them something more than just a 30-second trailer or ad – or it won’t drive a result.”

Mindshare Group Strategy Director, Joel Brady, says it was the first time Mindshare and a tourism body had launched on Twitch.

“If you think back to 15 years ago, when you just had three TV channels, we would have just done a TV ad,” says Brady. “However in a fragmented world it led to something quite new and interesting which has yielded tremendous results.” 

These include:

  • +3.1 points increase in consideration of New Zealand as a destination, more than double the industry benchmark (1.3 points) using Facebook.
  • A 120% increase time spent on site from previous campaign benchmarks
  • The 9 minute piece of content delivered 54,000 hours of watched time and when served as an ad, had an average watch time of nearly 4.5 minutes (YouTube/Google).

AdColony, a programmatic platform specialising in mobile game video advertising, was also involved.

Local boss Lance Traore told Mi3 the campaign underlined the growing interest in using gaming as a means of targeting various demographics at scale - but said there are still misconceptions around audiences.

“The results speak for themselves, but there is this inherent complex that gamers remain the loner type, young male, at home, hiding in their parent’s basement,” Traore says.

“It’s simply not true, with gaming already being the number one digital entertainment activity for all Australians, it reaches everyone. Gaming needs to be viewed as a mass reach channel because whether you look at mums, main grocery buyers, Gen Z or Millennials you will find between 70-90% of them are gamers,” he claims. “Mobile gaming is by far the preferred device and almost twice as popular as console and PC.”

AdColony ran full-screen video ads across multiple mobile games.

The firm claims its interactive dynamic end card, built to run after the video where users could scroll through the various characters and engage with them, delivered an engagement rate of 47%.

According to Mindshare, AdColony’s mobile gaming video creative delivered an average cost per visit almost six times lower than the broader campaign’s average.

Waddel says Tourism NZ is “incredibly proud” of the results at a time when driving desirability for a product that is unavailable has been daunting.

While he says the brand will continue to utilise traditional above the line campaigns when borders begin to reopen, the organisation has learned a lot about the value of gaming as a marketing tool.

“It’s not something that you could replicate over and over, but it has shown its value, particularly with the idea of ‘normality’ still a way off,” Waddel says.

“It has shown its value as a cost-effective channel that provided reach and engagement at time when it seemed extremely difficult.”

 

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Josh McDonnell

Senior Writer

Market Voice

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