Sunwing taps Wattpad to reach young travellers

The travel brand is working with the platform on a writing contest whose winning entry will be turned into a short-film video.
Palm tree leaning over beach on the Samana peninsula.

A version of this story originally appeared in strategy.

Over the last year and half, Sunwing has been working to evolve its marketing strategy with a focus on getting closer to the customer and communicating throughout the customer journey – from encouraging travellers to dream about future vacations (even during lockdowns) through to providing post-trip customer service.

It’s with that goal in mind that the Toronto-based, North American travel company has inked a deal with Wattpad on a first-of-its-kind partnership under the global multi-platform entertainment company’s new Wattpad Brand Originals offering.

From now through Aug. 24, Sunwing is hosting a “#MissedMilestones” writing contest on Wattpad through which it will curate a collection of 500-word personal stories from customers featuring travel moments and milestones they missed out on during the pandemic. Writers will post their stories to their Wattpad profile using the “#MissedMilestones” hashtag, and a panel of judges will select ten finalists before the end of the month.

The brand will then work with Wattpad’s brand partnerships division to adapt the winning story into a short film or video to be distributed across both companies’ YouTube and social channels, with the winning author receiving an all-inclusive vacation for two to the Royalton Punta Cana Resort & Casino.

“Leveraging first-hand stories from our customers enables us to get closer to the moments Canadians missed out on during the pandemic and help make up for them in a bigger, better way,” Sunwing CMO Samantha Taylor said in an email to strategy. “We have long tapped into our influencer network to leverage inspiring content that resonates with our customers, and are looking forward to expanding further into the realm of user-generated content.”

While Wattpad has worked with many brands on writing contests and other campaign formats through its brand partnerships business, it’s the first time a brand will leverage the platform’s ability to transform written content into a short film.

Prior to the official launch of Wattpad Brand Originals, the company worked with Shaw Rocket Fund, which invests in Canadian children?s media, and production company Shaftesbury on a writing contest and narrative podcast project. But it was forced to pivot the project as a result of COVID-19 and is now creating a 10-part podcast series, according to Chris Stefanyk, Wattpad’s head of brand partnerships.

“The younger generation’s attention is moving away from traditional broadcast TV. They’re spending most of their time in either streaming services or platforms like Wattpad,” he says. “And because Wattpad essentially has the world’s largest online library of content or IP, there was a very natural [opportunity] to essentially let brands be in the producer’s chair with us as we create content, whether that’s short-film, a series, podcasts, or whatever it may be.”

In a March campaign for E.l.f cosmetics, marking International Women’s Day, the brand and platform ran a #EyesLipsFierce write-a-thon, with story submissions benefitting girls advocacy organization Girls Inc. As part of the campaign, E.l.f. worked with three top Wattpad writers on branded content, and New York Magazine writer Tembe Denton-Hurst was brought on to select five winning stories, helping the effort achieve 10,451 entries and over 45 million impressions.

“This younger generation, they want to be part of the content creation process,” says Stefanyk of what the company has learned through its brand partnerships business. “They often don’t want to just be spoken to. They want to be a part of the conversation – they’re very open and happy to co-create with brands.”

Working in a literary environment, as opposed to more visually engaging platforms like Instagram and YouTube, allows brands to get a longer message across and to reach marginalized voices that are often shut-out from online spaces, he says.

“Travel is such a personal experience and we have missed that aspect more than anything since the start of the pandemic,” says Taylor. “Your best vacations are the ones you are dreaming about now. We want to read about those missed travel experiences from our customers’ own perspectives and voices, then unpack those ideas to find innovative, eye catching ways to visually bring them to life.”