Travelocity: Chatroulette marketing a success

Travelocity made headlines this week when it revealed the metrics of its Chatroulette marketing campaign and declared the site to be a successful platform for reaching consumers. Other early pioneers of Chatroullette ad experimentation include Burger King, which used its King character to give users coupons, and French Connection which actually asked users to prove that they successfully seduced someone on the site to earn store gift certificates.

According to Travelocity, the company received 350,000 impressions and had 400 conversations with potential consumers who chatted with “chat specialists” that use the popular Travelocity gnome mascot as their avatar. During non-business hours the company kept the cameras rolling and left the gnome to his own devices– holding up signs with messages like “Traveling from person to person doesn’t count.”

Travelocity neglected to disclose ROI metrics based on the consumers it chatted with, and was not shy in admitting that the real ROI value of the campaign was the traffic resulting from free publicity. In that context, it’s hard to embrace Travelocity’s “success” as proof that other mainstream companies could reap great returns on the site. Despite the site’s growing numbers– it mushroomed from 109,000 unique visitors in January to 960,000 uniques in February according to comScore– Chatroulette is completely random, requires one-to-one interaction, and has none of the traditional demographic targetting capabilities offered by other social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace.

The site does skew towards the 18-24 age group (45% of users), predominantly males (72% of users), and is infamous for its exhibitionist demographic– reportedly no less than 12% of users. And while these numbers give marketers an inkling of who they’re reaching, is it really worth the time and the money once the PR value of early adventurers wears off? At the moment, the site is probably best suited to marketing for the XXX industry but that said, it would be premature to rule out mainstream application in the future.

Chatroullette clone sites are starting to roll out by the dozen, including sites like that actually allow people to create a version of the platform for their own sites. In the months and years to come, expect to see specific communities develop around the Chatroulette concept that provide increased marketing potential to advertisers compared to the original. It’s also probably a matter of time before Chatroulette or a clone competitor allows people to provide some basic demographic information and to request chats with other people based on that information. Keeping the pairings random while allowing some demographic control would likely give the site broader appeal to users and marketers alike.