Last updated: 05:00 PM ET, Thu March 05 2015

Expedia Celebrates Van Gogh, Holland with Innovative Twitter Campaign

Travel Technology | Ryan Rudnansky | March 05, 2015

Expedia Celebrates Van Gogh, Holland with Innovative Twitter Campaign

Photo courtesy of Expedia Media Solutions

Expedia Media Solutions is making it possible for travelers to paint like Vincent Van Gogh…using tweets.

On the 125th anniversary of Van Gogh’s death, the advertising division of Expedia, Inc. is supporting the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions (NBTC) in promoting Holland and the famous Dutch painter with an innovative approach to social media marketing.

While the NBTC and Holland hold special exhibits, tours and activities in Amsterdam, Brabant and Gelderland, Expedia Media Solutions is utilizing something it calls the “Flock to Unlock” mechanic to drive awareness of Holland and Van Gogh.

Each week through April 12, Expedia is challenging travelers to tweet and retweet the hashtag #VanGogh2015 to gradually unlock brush strokes of famous Van Gogh works of art. Enough brush strokes will reveal the entire painting on If enough tweets reveal the painting for the particular week, anyone who used the hashtag #VanGogh2015 will be entered into a drawing to win a trip for two to Holland. Six trips will be handed out for the six-week campaign.

Angelique Miller, global director of creative partnerships for Expedia Media Solutions, admitted that when the travel-focused division first received the request to market art, it threw the team for a bit of a loop.

“It was a bit of a strange request,” Miller said. “Here we’re getting a briefing from a partner that’s focusing on art and how we bring to life a famous artist. It’s not an immediate travel-centric brief.”

But things began to click when social media entered the picture, so to speak.

“In the same way that art becomes very emotional, we thought that could tie back into travel,” Miller said. “We thought that social was the best way to bring that to life because it is so personal. It’s almost a currency. The first thing people do when they travel is to share, whether it’s a photo or a tweet. They want to let their friends know what they’re experiencing.”

But how did the thought of tweeting to unlock brush strokes come about?

“When we got the brief from the Netherlands tourist board and it was focused on a painter, I was like, the first thing you need to do is showcase the painting,” Miller said. “I’m not going to get excited about going to experience Van Gogh myself if I don’t really engage with his work, and the best way to do that is with imagery. I knew that had to be centric to the campaign.”

In fact, Dan Biddle, head of broadcast partnerships for Twitter UK, just so happened to tweet the following while Expedia Media Solutions was already in the process of making it happen, something Miller said was a welcome sign:

Of course, the campaign is ultimately about driving tourism to Holland.

Miller said it was important to market all of Holland through the campaign. A difficulty a lot of tourism boards around the world face is driving awareness to areas that aren’t commonly known, she said.

For example, just about everyone wants to travel to New York City in the United States, and just about everyone wants to travel to London in the U.K., but it can be difficult to get travelers as a whole to branch out and discover smaller destinations and hidden gems. In this case, it wasn’t just about marketing Amsterdam; it was about marketing the rest of Holland, too.

In that sense, the three Expedia Twitter accounts marketing the campaign—@ExpediaUK, @ExpediaFR and @ExpediaDE—are not only sending consumers to the campaign homepage, but the campaign homepage has also been loaded with destination-specific content and links to book a trip to Holland.

For example, the destination-specific content may prompt travelers to take a certain bike ride that was the inspiration for “A Starry Night,” visit Van Gogh’s hometown, journey through Dutch landscapes depicted in Van Gogh’s paintings and/or dine at Holland restaurants with Van Gogh-inspired tasting menus.

Together with the all-powerful hashtag, it has already sparked interest in the destination early on in the campaign, Miller said.

“We’re seeing so much engagement,” Miller said. “We're trying to make hashtags central to the campaign. And we’re finding that, outside of tweeting for (the campaign), people are just getting really excited about tweeting about the destination and how they’ve interacted with and experienced Van Gogh’s life’s work, as well.

“We’re really celebrating Holland as a country with people around the world using the viral nature of social media to honor both the destination and really bring the historical, cultural and artistic message back into the power of travel.”

Of course, the success of the Flock to Unlock-driven campaign early on is not exactly a huge surprise to Expedia Media Solutions. The division also worked with American Express last year to market the company’s Sky Traveler card and build brand awareness in Japan.

Except, instead of unlocking brush strokes with their tweets, participants unlocked kilometers to virtually fly to a specific destination. Once participants “traveled” the necessary kilometers to the destination, they were entered into a drawing to win giveaways and a trip to the featured destination.

According to Expedia Media Solutions, the campaign “exceeded performance benchmarks,” driving more than 50,000 tweets with the #SkyTraveler hashtag and prompting nearly 30,000 consumers to visit the custom page to learn more about the Sky Traveler card.

“That was so successful for us and our clients were hugely excited about what we were doing in this space,” Miller said. “We thought, ‘How do we take that to the next level?’”

Considering the response so far to the #VanGogh2015 campaign, that next level may have already been reached.

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