Helsinki Airport’s ambitious marketing campaign that Jing Travel previously reported on has reached its conclusion. In the campaign, Chinese actor and key opinion leader (KOL), Ryan Zhu (朱晓辉) spent 30 days in Helsinki Airport to demonstrate airport facilities, entertainment options, and positioning Helsinki Airport as an ideal layover destination for travel between China and Europe. Zhu lived in an 86-square-foot wooden cabin inside the airport, with the campaign promoted as a “mix of a reality show and a game show” developed in collaboration with Survivor co-inventor Gary Carter.

While the initial announcement drew significant international media attention, the campaign—titled #LIFEINHEL—only saw mixed results throughout its duration. Notably, the campaign failed to go viral in China’s crowded social media space—underlining the difficulty companies face in generating “organic” marketing buzz in China.

Perhaps to the organizers’ surprise, the campaign seemed to gain more traction outside China it did in its KOL’s home country. While employing a Chinese KOL may seem like a great way to make a splash in China’s online communities, #LIFEINHEL clearly illustrates that this may be a lot more difficult than it seems.

And while it’s difficult to narrow down the exact reasons to why the campaign didn’t perform better in China, you can speculate that the Truman Show meets The Terminal is a concept quite foreign to a Chinese audience not well-versed with older Western cult classics. Of course, Chinese KOLs are also notoriously expensive with the cost of a single KOL Weibo post sometimes costing 1 million yuan ($151,000). Needless to say, hiring an A-list KOL for a 24-hour, 30-day job comes at an incredibly high cost—leaving Helsinki Airport only able to hire a KOL with a limited following in China.

Ideally, combining a lesser-known KOL with an innovative campaign would still generate impressive results—but that doesn’t seem to have happened in the case of #LIFEINHEL.

Helsinki Airport’s official Youku channel, where #LIFEINHEL episodes live, looks particularly lackluster in terms of performance. The most viewed campaign video had only received 30 views at the time of writing this piece, and a large proportion of campaign-related videos have less than a dozen views each. While not a success by any stretch of the imagination, even the Youtube channel performed better with view numbers between a few hundred to at least a few thousand per “episode.” In contrast, the campaign trailer has garnered over 500,000 views on Youtube.

Campaign success was limited on established social media platforms such as WeChat and Weibo.

Unfortunately, campaign performance on WeChat went much in the same way, and even Weibo where Zhu has a sizable following of over 180,000 fans, engagement ran low with around 100 likes per update Zhu posted about the campaign.

Campaign performance was minuscule on Youku and dwarfed even by Youtube.

Interestingly, the Chinese side of the social media campaign seems to have been the most successful in live streaming. Zhu put up three #LIFEINHEL-related videos on Chinese live streaming platform Yizhibo, where the best-performing of the three videos received close to 65,000 heart reactions from viewers. The substantial discrepancy between campaign performance between the, outside China, relatively well-known Weibo and unknown Yizhibo illustrates China’s complicated and ever-changing online landscape.

Even though Youku (“the Chinese Youtube”) may seem like the obvious fit for Zhu’s video diaries from Helsinki Airport—this is the platform where the campaign had the worst performance of all.

Of course, even though the campaign may look like a failure judging by Chinese social media metrics, the material generated throughout the campaign can certainly be repurposed down the line. Even though it may not have set Chinese social media ablaze, the campaign helps Helsinki Airport set a strong narrative with the Chinese travel industry: it’s very serious about the Chinese market.

In the end, convincing Chinese airlines to increasingly leverage Helsinki Airport as a transit hub for Europe is probably much more critical to the airport’s future than impressing Chinese social media users. And to that extent, maybe the campaign was a successful venture after all.


Travel Tech & Social Media, Travel Trends