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Conan O'Brien Flies High with Foursquare Blimp and Badges
On the afternoon of January 12, 2010, Conan O'Brien began winning the hearts and minds of the social web with his announcement to the "people of earth" that he would resign as host of The Tonight Show if it were moved to a later time slot. In the ongoing saga revolving around NBC's late night lineup, O'Brien's heart-felt message said (in part) that, "My staff and I have worked unbelievably hard and we are very proud of our contribution to the legacy of The Tonight Show. But I cannot participate in what I honestly believe is its destruction." The transparency and sincerity of his statement resonated with the Twitterverse. When his statement hit the top of Twitter's trending topics, it caused an enormous spike in tweets using #teamconan, and the responses were overwhelmingly positive.
This massive response by Twitterers alerted O'Brien and Team Conan to the potential opportunity of promoting his new talk show on TBS by reaching out to mobile mass influencers. On February 4, 2010, O'Brien, a.k.a. Coco, officially joined the Twitterverse with the Twitter account @conanobrien. O'Brien's next move was to court the Mass Mavens of Twitter by dropping in on Twitter HQ and entertaining the movers and shakers, less than two months after joining Twitter. In an obvious strategy to draw further attention of mass influencers, O'Brien visited and entertained other mega-Web players, such as Google (Conan visits GooglePlex). By the end of 2010, he had amassed over 1.8 million Twitter followers.
Conan O'Brien is a TV show host, comedian, writer, producer, and performer. He is currently the host of Conan , a late-night talk show that airs on TBS. From 1993 to 2009, Conan was the host of Late Night with Conan O'Brien.
In 2004 when O'Brien negotiated his contract with NBC, it was agreed that he would take over The Tonight Show from Jay Leno in 2009. In January 2010 NBC executive Jeff Zucker met with Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien and proposed moving O'Brien's The Tonight Show to a later time slot to accommodate an earlier time slot for Jay Leno. O'Brien was unhappy with the new arrangement and negotiated a deal to leave The Tonight Show and begin working for another network.
The conflict over the timing of The Tonight Show and moving Conan's time slot back to give Leno a better time resulted in a public outcry and public demonstrations. People began sharing their support for Team Coco (Conan O'Brien) or Leno. In April 2010 O'Brien announced that he would host a new show on TBS.
While there was significant support on social media for Conan during the dispute with NBC, Conan had to build awareness and viewership for his new show on TBS. TBS was a smaller network than NBC, and despite initial support for O'Brien, mainstream networks still owned the late-night television show audience.
When the Conan show was set to launch on TBS, an innovative marketing solution was needed to break through the clutter of TV commercials. TBS is not a major network, so making the public aware of the show would normally take a lot of advertising dollars. By leveraging social media, however, TBS and Conan could rely on social spread to help the message go further.
To generate buzz and connect with influencers through mobile, Conan O'Brien launched the Conan Blimp, which even has its own website (www.blimp.teamcoco.com). The website for the blimp included a live map and a livecam with which users can track the exact location of the blimp at any time. The Conan Blimp was launched in partnership with AT T to fly over select locations on the east coast.
Conan and AT T worked together to promote the launch of the blimp. The blimp launch included a series of commercials that were repurposed for YouTube and posted as high-resolution images on Flickr. In addition, fans used the hashtags on Twitter (#TheConanBlimp) to talk about the blimp and share spottings.
The most powerful part of the blimp strategy was the use of Foursquare to connect with audiences. During the tour of the blimp in October of 2010, users could check in to the blimp on Foursquare when they saw it flying overhead. Upon checking in to the Conan Blimp, users earned their Conan Blimpspotter badge, which was displayed on their profile. When the badge was unlocked, the user received a message that read "You've spotted The Conan Blimp! A big orange bag of slow moving gas has never looked so pretty. Visit www.teamcoco.com for more Conan!"
In addition to the use of the blimp and Foursquare, Conan also leveraged mobile applications by creating his own mobile app, which included the latest photos, videos, and more from the cast and crew of the show. The idea was to leverage the large mobile fan base and to build a stronger relationship with those fans.
The Conan Blimp received over 21,000 check-ins and over a hundred comments on Foursquare for the duration of the promotion (the blimp is no longer in the air, and the location is closed). The Conan Blimp also received considerable attention in the media, and it was a finalist for Location of the Year in the Shorty Awards. There is also a general Conan check-in on Foursquare for Team Coco that has over 1,500 check-ins, and "Team Coco" is followed by over 51,000 people on Foursquare.
The blimp promotion on Foursquare shows how location, check-ins, and entertainment marketing can work together. The check-ins on the blimp were distributed across the social web to spread the message, in addition to the value of the physical impressions of the blimp.
Review Questions for Conan O'Brien Case Study
1. How did the blimp drive additional support for the new show on TBS?
2. Why were Foursquare and social media an appropriate choice for Conan and TBS?
3. How did a badge and social gaming make the Conan Blimp more successful?
4. What other mobile marketing tools could have made the Conan Blimp more successful?