Montreal's 11 summer festivals already draw some 3 million visitors (out of a total 6 million visiting the city during the summer). But Montreal is now building on these key tourism assets, with the goal of becoming North America's premiere festival destination by 2015.
This year the festivals, held between mid July and mid August, are being collectively marketed for the first time as "Montreal Festimania," a concept inspired by Scotland's famed Edinburgh Festivals.
The Festimania concept was a natural, given Montreal's reputation for offering "the best of Europe and North America" and the logic of pooling resources across its wealth of festivals, says Isabelle Hudon, chairman of the board of Le Collectif de Festivals Montréalais, the nonprofit collective organizing and marketing Festimania. The festivals span virtually every cultural activity imaginable, including film, comedy, theater, circuses, design, art and a wide variety of music.
The first-year efforts for Festimania (a three-year pilot project) aim to build awareness of the city as festival destination, as well as boost ticket sales and of course tourism revenue throughout Montreal, by attracting visitors from four primary markets: Quebec, the rest of Canada, the U.S. and Europe.
Tourism campaigns tend to be bigger on scenery than humor. But the Collective created a campaign of international scale on a small budget (about $1 million, nearly all spent on marketing, according to Hudon) by leveraging the impromptu musical humor and popularity of YouTube star Merton, social media and a contest.
Why Merton? The musician has drawn millions of international fans by posting YouTube videos of himself interacting with people through Chatroulette and Omegle, sites that enable strangers around the world to have Webcam- and online-based chats. Merton (always sporting a green hoodie) spontaneously composes humorous songs on his piano about each person he "meets" in cyberspace, based on their images and comments. His first video in March 2010 went viral, to date generating nearly 8.8 million views, and his subsequent videos also have drawn millions or hundreds of thousands of viewers/participants.
The Festimania campaign tapped into Merton's fan base with two efforts. In March, Merton took his piano act to the streets of Montreal and also performed in the city's Place Des Festivals hall. A video created from those performances was hosted on his PianoChatImprov YouTube area and embedded in Festimania's site.
During the first week of May, Merton was in action again for combined virtual/physical events in New York, Paris, London and Toronto.
For each event, multicolored installations that resemble the prism design of the Festimania logo were set up in areas within the city. Within each was an iPad linked to a computer being used by Merton in Montreal. Through Skype, Merton (seated in front of Festimania branding elements) engaged with the iPad users and then endeavored to persuade them, through song (bringing in the festivals' highlights), to attend Festimania.
A screen outside the prism structures enabled onlookers to see what was happening inside. (No audio was provided, to preserve an element of surprise for those next in line for the experience.)
In each city, the performer also chose two participants (friends or a couple), based on their social media influence and personalities, to receive free trips to Montreal for Festimania, including transportation, hotel, two all-access passes to the festivals (called "Golden Lanyards") and some spending money.
These "ambassadors" will be videoed during their activities at the festivals, with the footage to be used in social media and on the Web. The ambassadors' own posting and tweeting about their experiences are, of course, also expected to generate substantial buzz, says Hudon. (Press, bloggers and artists also will be invited to the festivals as guests, to further drive buzz.)
Tied into all of these efforts is a "Golden Lanyard" contest, offering the winner the same package of a trip to Montreal and festivals access for two. The contest/entry form is hosted on the Swakes.com Facebook platform, and can also be accessed through a Swakes app on Festimania's Facebook page, or through the news feeds or personal pages/walls of participants registered for the sweeps on the Facebook platform.
To feed viral activity, entrants who "like" Festimania invite their friends to join via email invitations, or get friends to enter the contest through a posting of their entries on their Facebook walls, get additional chances to win.
The contest was promoted during the Merton four-city events via the distribution of "regular" lanyards bearing the entry Web site's URL.
How is all of this panning out? The March-posted "Merton Loves Montreal" video has so far drawn more than 332,000 views, and both that video and the early May "international stunt" have generated many millions of media impressions and posts/tweets.
In just a few weeks since launching the contest, Festimania has added about 1,000 Facebook fans, and the contest has drawn 1,200 entrants.
Festimania also has its own YouTube page, which is drawing views of videos that highlight the festivals' activities, as well as more views of Merton's March video and a new Merton video song message about Montreal recorded during the international promotion.