Virtual Camps Are The Hottest Marketing Trend of the Summer

Jul 30 2020

These brands’ virtual summer camps are lessons in positive COVID marketing…

Ahead of the summer months, Millennial parents scrambled to find ways to keep their kids busy—and they’ve been spending to make it work. Our summer plans survey found that 79% of 13-39-year-olds have changed their summer plans due to COVID-19, and 79% of Millennial parents said they need ways to occupy and entertain their kids during the summer because of Coronavirus. As a result, they’ve been spending more time outside and getting creative by transforming their backyards. WSJ reports that outdoor spaces are being used for “ambitious” gardens, outdoor kitchens, movie theaters, and are even being turned into “water parks” with giant slides. NPD Group reports that sales of outdoor and sports toys like inflatable pools, water blasters, and playground equipment, reached $656.2 million—up 51% from last year. Sales of grills grew 46% reaching $146.4 million, while sales at garden centers rose 30.3% compared to last year. 

However, the rite of summer camps is more difficult to replace. Unfortunately, the pandemic forced 62% of camps to close this year leading to a revenue loss of $16 billion, according to CNBC. With camp cancelled, brands have stepped up to fill the void, and virtual camps have become one of the hottest youth marketing trends of the season. As more brands join in the trend, virtual camps as marketing and content could potentially live on beyond the pandemic. After all, though it’s uniquely intensified this year, parents are always looking for ways to keep kids occupied while school is out—and many don’t have access to camps in the first place. But the trend also shows how brands are using positivity to fill the gap for consumers who are missing out on big milestones and traditions. Going forward into the year, continuing to help Gen Z and Millennials experience a little bit of the moments they’ve lost will be a vital way to reach them. Here’s how five brands are doing that with virtual camps, and what you can learn: 

Camp YouTube

Gen Z has already been growing up on YouTubeand it’s the top social platform young users have turned to during the pandemic, with 71% of 13-39-year-olds currently using it. Our exclusive COVID research found YouTube videos are the top type of content they’ve been watching while in quarantine. According to Google, when they saw that searches for “virtual summer camps” had spiked in the first few weeks of June, they were inspired to launch “Camp YouTube,” a content series that released 1,200 videos over two weeks, with new content rolling out daily. Parents and kids can choose from four different “camp” categories: arts, adventure, sports, or STEM. A “campfire talks” section is dedicated to conversations on race, “break time” clips with snack recipes and quick crafting tips, and VR field trips. To track their “camping” experience, parents can print PDF bingo cards for kids to fill out. The featured channels include Explore.org, The Brain Scoop, the American Museum of Natural History, Kidz Bop, and Jr. NBA for young sports fans, and includes a special section for kids under 13-years-old. The Camp content lives on the platform’s Learn@Home hub, an educational landing page that was created during the pandemic due to school closures. YouTube has a unique pulse on the kind of content that young viewers are craving, but all brands can tap into the opportunity to create trusted and engaging educational content that parents are especially interested in right now—and could want even more of when remote learning starts again. 

Amazon’s Camp Prime

For “Camp Prime,” Amazon partnered with the Boys & Girls Club of America to give families access to their free program, and the Camp Prime handbook, a digital guide featuring activities on how to use items from around the house to build a classic “flameless” campfire, transform the kitchen into a “camp canteen” full of health snacks, and garden with an upcycled box. Along with the handbook, the company is updating its corporate blog with weekly how-to videos from experts to show families how their summer activities can be “enhanced” with Amazon devices, featuring activities like building sailboats from pool noodles, meditation, storytime, beatboxing, and dance classes. The Amazon Music arm is also unveiling music playlists for families to listen to during their at-home “camping” trips, while Prime Video has a special section highlighting family-oriented TV series. As part of the campaign, Amazon is donating $500,000 to Boys & Girls Clubs, which will be used to create camp kits that kids and parents can pick up at select locations. While YouTube (naturally) focused on content, Amazon’s camp is activity-oriented, but importantly keeps things fairly accessible and DIY. Providing inspiration for reusing what families already have on hand could be important going forward as some watch their budgets, but still want to be entertained. 

Camp by Walmart

But of course, Amazon isn’t the only ecommerce giant hosting a virtual camp this year. During the pandemic, Walmart has seen a surge in business in its ecommerce sales among young consumers. While Amazon has still been in the lead, big box brands like Walmart have been slowly and closely catching up—and they’ve been finding ways to creatively market to young consumers and families. Along with their socially distanced drive-in movie theaters, they launched “Camp by Walmart,” a “new kind of family camp, designed for the internet” on their mobile app. The effort is a partnership with the family retailer Camp—which was forced to shutter their stores during the pandemic. They helped create the hub, which includes video sessions that teach performance skills, arts and crafts, fitness, and musical Mad Libs featuring celebrity “camp counselors” like LeBron James, Idina Menzel, Neil Patrick Harris, and Drew Barrymore. New content is added to the app, weekly, and the interactive shows allow kids to “decide what happens next”—but it’s also shoppable. According to Camp’s founder, “We seamlessly integrated play moments with products. All the relevant merchandise pops up directly next to the content. You can easily add it to your cart. The content is built for families to enjoy together, but it’s a retail platform.” By partnering with a creative brand that needed a financial boost to make a project come to life, Walmart harnessed the bright ideas of an upstart to bring to their own consumers—and do something they might not have on their own.

Shack Camp

Retailers and tech companies aren’t the only ones hosting summer camps this year, food brands are getting in on the trend too. Earlier this month, Shake Shack announced the launch of  “Shake Camp,” a six-week “at-home camp experience” program for kids and adults that comes in a box of activities and supplies to recreates the “rituals” of the summertime—like lemonade stands, ice cream sundaes, crafts, campfire materials, and water balloons. The $79 kits also come with discounts on Shake Shack food and UberEats offers. Each week is scheduled with a unique activity like campfire stories and field day, but in light of Black Lives Matter, week 3 is focused on helping kids become a “Shacktivist” and become more “socially conscious” when it comes to racial justice. To promote their program and boxes, Shake Shack has been sharing videos on their Facebook and Instagram accounts with most of the interest coming from their “strongest markets” like New York, Washington D.C., Florida, Texas, and Chicago. Throughout the pandemic, they’ve launched several ecommerce initiatives including a partnership with Goldbelly to send boxed sets of burgers for cooped up customers to make the chain’s popular burgers in the comfort of their own home. Shake Shack’s ecommerce experiments are pushing the brand beyond restaurants—which could be an essential move for a brand in the struggling industry. By branching into new products and marketing them to the families, they could be creating a vital new revenue source that could be repeatable over time.

The North Face Summer Base Camp

YPulse’s travel report found that 78% of young consumers are interested in getting closer to nature and the countryside especially as “isolationist” travel takes off. To safely recreate the “spirit of the outdoors,” The North Face launched “Base Camp,” a two week long program featuring both online and offline activities “for curious explorers who love a little mess” “to find adventure at home.” The outdoor recreation company teamed up with a group of athletes, like climber, photographer, and Academy Award-winning filmmaker Jimmy Chin, to create video guides for activities that families can complete together. Chin’s guide teaches “adventure photography, with a “crash course” in how to snap “epic shots” and make their own pinhole cameras while other week one sessions teach geometric designs with climber Nina Williams, or how to properly fuel themselves and pack the right snacks for climbing with Ashima Shiraishi. The second week will include similar outdoorsy activities like mapmaking, survival skills, and even skiing lessons. According to the brand, they hope their sessions will provide kids with the “wonders of explorations and offer relatable education on a diverse range of topics and skills to spark curiosity and inspire kids during challenging times.” As cooped up young consumers crave more outdoor time, The North Face’s virtual summer camp is offering families the opportunity to balance being online while also making time to step outside by mixing activities they can do on onscreen or offline.