Innovative tourism communication? Viral marketing and Karen from Denmark

Innovative tourism communication? Viral marketing and Karen from Denmark

On Thursday September 10th a video was posted on In the video, a pretty blonde woman named Karen is searching for the father to her baby August sitting on her arm. In the 2 minute long video Karen recalls an evening in Copenhagen where she met Augusts father and decided to show him what the concept of hygge (similar to cozy) is all about. Nine months later August was born, but Karen has no recollection of the father’s name and nationality let alone place of residence. This is how she explains her somewhat unusual enquiry on YouTube.

Within a few days, the video was circulated in 153 countries. By September 13th it had been seen by 773.00 people on YouTube and had received 1.9 million hits on Google. 83.000 websites had a link to the story. The controversial spot was reported in Danish national TV and discussed in the press and on news internet sites (source, Politiken 13/9 2009).

A day later, it was announced that the video poster was in fact a hoax, a viral marketing stunt planted on Youtube by VisitDenmark, Denmark’s national tourism organization. This generated a maelstrom of mainly negative comments from politicians, gender researchers, conservative American news hosts and common citizens. As a consequence of the public stir, VisitDenmark decided to remove the video from YouTube. By then, a good many videos flourished on the internet ingeniously referring to the ‘Karen’s baby’ video. On September 25th Dorte Kiilerich gave notice as CEO of VisitDenmark, probably as a consequence of the massive critique of the video.

Question is how we should evaluate this communication attempt and the chain of events that followed. Is the Karen video a classic communication flop ultimately demanding that the CEO of VisitDenmark resigned? Is it a case of ‘all news is good news’? Or may it perhaps be seen as an attempt to  innovate usually highly traditional channels and messages of destination marketing which successfully succeeded in breaking the global stream of information such as it was mentioned on the English BBC News, in Dutch national TV, in the New York Times and in on the Lonely Planet homepage?

No finite answer may be given to how this video and the decisions that preceded its uploading to Youtube are to be interpreted. However, the case addresses the difficulty of implementing innovative communication strategies and displays that communication in tourism is a highly complex and uncontrollable process. A crucial issue is that the messenger – VisitDenmark – was not provided in the Video, a highly questionable decision. Lastly, the case highlights how cultural and moral values are important parts in the process of communication in tourism and should be carefully be considered when setting free a tourism message on the social media sites of the world wide web.

One thought on “Innovative tourism communication? Viral marketing and Karen from Denmark

  1. On September 6, 2013 Karen reappeared!
    An evaluation of Danish marketing impacts in the period 2007-2012 assessed the value of the viral marketing effort by VisitDenmark to 8.1 million Danish Kroner, or 1.08 million Euros. The former CEO of VisitDenmark, who lost her job following the national tourism agency’s first viral marketing approach, is “happily surprised to see the documented effect of the video”, adding that “those who shun away from new and different marketing approaches shold take due note of this success” (Source: C. Kloster, MetroXpress Sep 6, 2013: 13).

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