Is GoHawaii.com’s “Thousand Smiles” campaign giving more of a toothache?

GoHawaii.com - A Thousand Reasons to Smile

It just happened last week that I had the great chance to meet Nathan Kam, Vice President of Travel & Tourism at McNeil Wilson Communications, here in San Francisco during his recent trip to help promote the Hawaii Visitors & Conventions Bureau’s campaign entitled “A Thousand Reasons to Smile“. It’s a pretty good campaign that’s supposed to invite people to think warmly about the islands of Hawaii and build a community.

But what’s shocking is that not everyone is impressed by what’s going on with this campaign. You be the judge of whether this is a successful campaign or not.

And before you read any further, let me be abundantly clear. This blog post is NOT against the campaign, but rather an analysis on the campaign’s web efforts. Yes, there is a difference.

Aesthetically speaking, I’m quite pleased at how the site looks. It looks pretty clean and the navigation structure looks pretty simplistic and easy to understand. However, one thing that troubles me and possibly others is the lack of functionality. The campaign is a great way to reach out and highlight what’s going on in Hawaii and helps draw emotion and also does a great job of featuring specific bits of information, but is that all that there is to this promotion?

Why was this entire site done entirely in Flash? Flash is a great way to help promote emotion through it’s interactive and visual effects & animation, but if you’re intending on driving people to the site, perhaps using something more static/dynamic and accessible to search engines and those with disabilities may prove more welcoming? And where’s the non-flash version? Interesting to see what the browser/technology demographics that are hitting the GoHawaii.com website.

While this site is promoted to just San Francisco Bay Area residents, why hasn’t the visitors bureau decided to include a link back to the the “Thousand Smiles” microsite from their main site? Point of fact: I went to GoHawaii.com’s website and in the search field typed in “Thousand Smiles” and within the first page results of 10 listings, not one of them was for the campaign. How do you expect people to find this site?

Using a common URL that everyone could memorize and repeat would be great. I was looking at a story on the Honolulu Advertiser that had the address as gohawaii.com/lotsofsmiles versus the official URL being http://www.thousandreasonstosmile.com? I’m at a loss to remember that long of a address, especially since most publications will run with the GoHawaii.com/lostsofsmiles URL.

The graphics of the people on the website as soon as you load the page is pretty great. Everyone is smiling, but it I wasn’t paying attention, I’d feel I was looking at a dentist’s website. What am I supposed to be doing on this site? No instructions. Are you supposed to click on the photo? Okay, so I click on the site, then what? Brevity of information could be a good thing, but it seems that the point of the campaign (and I hope someone from HVCB will correct me if I’m wrong) is to drive people by showing what great experiences they could be enjoying in Hawai’i and asking them to share their time away. But I’m not seeing it from this site. Oh! And have you noticed how once you click into the site, there’s no way to get back to the homepage to check out more experiences? That’s where your biggest assets are!

Roxanne Darling of BarefeetStudios.com wrote:

Faking things up is not part of the mindset with the smart and savvy in San Francisco. Instead think living green, being politically and socially active, being at leading edge of technology, and setting the pace for change in almost every aspect of life today.

I agree with her. Because when I look at the images, there’s no background. You just see someone’s face that reads “Helen, San Francisco” and then it flips over and you read “her experience” that says “She’s sharing an unforgettable sunrise” and a picture of Haleakala on Maui. Being an expatriate of Hawai’i, I truly believe that being on Haleakala for a sunrise is phenomenal (though I have never been) and is a legit experience, but would it not be a little better to throw in some more of a background to show what other fun things went into getting to Haleakala to watch this awe-inspiring experience? And another thing, why is HVCB so quick to highlight each attraction? It makes it seem like users are being sold too quickly. Is it possible to build up to the experience and do the soft sell? The experience and emotion should do the trick.

One of the last things I’ll say about the campaign: where’s the viral promotion? By that I mean social media aspect? In this day of age, business as usual and the status quo just can’t be done anymore. Having contests to upload your smiles is great, but why not link them to Flickr and have the masses vote on their favorite. Then people will be able to leave comments and much more fan interaction? In the age of Facebook and social bookmarking, having meta-descriptions and other helpful HTML tags is especially helpful. I tried posting thousandreasonstosmile.com to Facebook and the site didn’t even have a description. I couldn’t tell people what the site was without leaving myself a comment on my post! How upsetting is that. Now I have to explain to you what it’s about and not have an image to share that could possibly be more promotion? Tag, baby, Tag!

I’m loving the share feature. Every major promotion site should have a share feature. It’s not hard to do. There are a few third-party sites that’ll let you embed their widget and people can share it on plenty of social networks, but why is there not one here? Want to “control” (and I use that word loosely) what people write about you to others on Twitter, then enable a Twitter link with a pre-populated 140 character tweet! Then people won’t worry about how to describe what the site is about and you get your points across – but make sure it sounds less PR and marketing’ish. Remember, you’re human…talk like one!

But I think that for a promotion, Thousand Reasons to Smile should be a pretty good success. Never too late to engage in new methods and tactics. A Hui Hou!

By Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a journalist fascinated with the stories of the tech industry and internet culture. He's currently the Technology Editor at Flipboard, where he observes what's happening in the space while also identifying new topics of interest. In addition, he co-hosts the weekly internet show "The Created Economy," which focuses on what's happening to creators and influencers. Previously, he was a reporter for VentureBeat and The Next Web, covering tech startups, the industry's innovations and funding. Ken also has a newsletter you should also subscribe to called "Filed."