Why Some Marketers Are Betting on Chatroulette


With its mixture of voyeurism, sex and technology, it’s easy to understand Chatroulette’s appeal to young men, but are marketers jazzed about it too? For the most part, no, but in its short life, the platform has attracted at least three high-profile brands: French Connection, Burger King and Travelocity.

The social media world’s latest shiny object is the brainchild of 17-year-old Moscow high school student Andrey Ternovskiy, who reportedly built it in two days and operates it out of his bedroom. Six months later, it now has 10 million monthly users, up from the 500 visitors it initially attracted.
In Twitter’s nascent days, it was hard to imagine the marketing potential of 140 characters, so marketers are eyeing the new technology closely. While few have experimented with it, those who have say they are enthusiastic about the results of its real-time interaction with consumers. BK and Travelocity found a surprising reception to their commercial icons. Chat partners asked Travelocity’s spokesgnome about being electrocuted or eaten by piranhas, episodes from commercials that are nearly six years old. With BK, The King’s screen pals tried to take a virtual bite of the burger on offer.

As part of BK’s Steakhouse XT giveaway promotion this spring, Crispin Porter + Bogusky thought about putting The King on Manhattan streets to hand out coupons. Instead, in late March they put him on Chatroulette, with a link to a coupon site.

“People are using Chatroulette as another screen, another TV channel,” said Jason Marks, CP+B interactive creative director. “We entered their screens the way commercials enter TV. This is their own live, personal TV commercial they take part in. It was totally unfiltered, not like an ad buy. It was real-time interaction in a completely new way.”

As for the unfiltered part and Chatroulette’s reputation for attracting lewd activity, Marks—like others interviewed for this story—said as soon as anything untoward appeared, staffers used the site’s “next” option to move on. He said The King “nexted” more than he was dropped as a partner, with chats lasting, on average, about 60 seconds. “Our goal was not the number of coupons we gave out,” Marks said. “It was to create a very personal interaction with the brand.”

Travelocity’s gnome has been on Chatroulette for more than two weeks and is still there, generating around 100,000 impressions and more than 300 partner “conversations,” with some lasting as long as three to five minutes. The gnome send-ups the site’s screen-addicted fans holding signs that say things like, “This would be more fun if we were in Rio.”

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