Best campaign in the world?

Anthony Hayes calls it his "goosebumps moment".

Eighteen months ago, the Tourism Queensland boss was presented with an idea to sell the oft-forgotten islands of the Great Barrier Reef to the world: squeeze paradise into a classifieds job ad.

"I just knew, right then and there," Hayes recalled.

"It was so clever and so simple, it had to work.

"You kind of know a campaign like this only comes along once in a lifetime and it generated a lot of excitement in the office straight away.

"I don't think any of us were prepared for what happened next. It was just phenomenal."

What happened next is best reflected in the extraordinary numbers generated by the Best Job in the World campaign.

Thirty-four thousand applicants, filing video clips from more than 200 countries across the globe for a shot at a $150,000, six-month dream job as the caretaker of the Great Barrier Reef.

Within days of the first job ads appearing in the employment sections of international newspapers and online on January 12, the campaign went viral, generating thousands of news stories in newspapers, on television, radio and the internet. Blogs thrummed with anticipation.


Typing Best Job in the World into You Tube today throws up 19,000 entries. Typing it into Google nets you 182,000,000.

All this for the bargain price of $1.7 million.

"You couldn't get a decent mainstream national campaign for that amount of money, let alone a global one," said Nancy Hartley, creative director of Brisbane agency CumminsNitro, which developed the project for Tourism Queensland.

"Early on, we joked about being able to do a global campaign on a classifieds budget - well that's pretty much what happened.

"The fact that this was being picked up and run as news on CNN and BBC World - you just can't buy that sort of publicity."

Tourism Queensland admits it has kicked in an extra "two or three-hundred thousand" for media management since applications closed in January, but estimates put the value of the return at about $110 million.

That figure is expected to grow by a further $30 million by weeks' end, when the island caretaker position will no longer be vacant.

The winner will be announced at 3pm today.

Hartley believes the success of the Best Job campaign comes down to its multimedia interactivity and ability to "change someone's life unlike any other ordinary prize."

(Photos: The 16 finalists)

The offer of a six-figure salary in the lugubrious fog of a global financial crisis hasn't done it any harm, either.

"It's not that we'd want to play into that (the GFC) but the stars did kind of align.

"It was also the northern winter when we launched and we had all these lovely pictures of the Great Barrier Reef, so it would have been pretty hard to resist."

Anthony Hayes said the project had "totally consumed" the 110 Tourism Queensland staff working full-time on the Best Job search, kept under wraps for nearly a year while in development.

And while the level of interest caught them off guard - Tourism Queensland's website crashed spectacularly as applicants rushed to lodge their entries - the campaign itself hasn't been entirely without scandal.

Fake video "plants" by organisers, hoax emails and copycat campaigns were topped in March, when final 50 contender Julia Yalovitsyna was outed as an adult entertainer, with illegal porn charges levelled against her husband and an "inappropriate" video appearing on a publicly-accessible website.

"We always took the attitude that the consumer will see straight through you if you try to waffle your way through issues like that, so we always tried to be open about admitting when we stuffed up," Hayes said.

Hayes, a former marketing executive for Qantas, was central to the Best Job campaign after being frustrated for years at the international obscurity of the Great Barrier Reef's outer islands.

"I used to live in Germany and would talk to (travel) wholesalers about selling the Whitsundays and the standard response would be 'What's the Whitsundays?'

"Nobody had any idea that there were 600 exquisitely beautiful islands on the Barrier Reef. It was the best kept secret on the planet."

He approached CumminsNitro with the $1.7 million challenge. The brief was then punted on to the agency's creative trio Merrin McCormack, Ralph Barnett and Christian Staal. Hartley had an interest early on.

And while the looming advertising awards season is almost certainly paved with gold for the brains behind the Best Job, those left to deliver on its promises - Queensland's struggling tourism operators - are also expecting to reap some rewards.

After all, that was the point.

Col Adamson, who has operated Reeforest Adventure Tours in the region since 1994, said there had been plenty of talk about the Best Job in the World search, but no direct bookings as a result of it.

"We're waiting for that to happen, basically," Adamson said, describing this tourist season as "the most disastrous summer we've ever had".

"It has created a lot of interest and it does get mentioned by our domestic and international tourists, but I think the biggest buzz has been on the internet."

"I'm hoping we'll see some flow-on after the job is announced and people can actually follow the antics of the winning applicant...but anything that gets people talking about Queensland is a good thing."

Hayes tells a slightly different story - insisting bookings to the Whitsundays are up on last year - but is quick to point out that his work isn't over with the selection of the winner at 3pm today.

"All of this means absolutely nothing if it doesn't translate into people actually coming to the Great Barrier Reef," he said.

"Our focus is and has always been on protecting Queensland jobs because the tourism industry is obviously doing it really tough.

"From the very beginning, we set out to establish the Barrier Reef as a brand.

"As far as that goes, I think we can safely say mission accomplished."

Hayes said the Tourism Queensland board had already given provisional approval for another major campaign centred on another part of the sunshine state, and a decision was expected next week.

"This is going to be very hard to top, but we'll try."