It’s been a long summer for the social media savvy 5′ 8″ cardboard cut-out known as Luigi. His mission was to let patrons know that despite backhoes, bulldozers, and safety fencing cropping up all over Preston Street in Ottawa’s Little Italy, the neighbourhood was alive and well!

The campaign, which started in early May 2009, was an ambitious attempt by the Preston Street Business Improvement Association to try something completely new as a way to draw awareness to the businesses in the area during the street construction.

In what was expected to be a simple contest, whereby participants would follow Luigi’s clues on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and various other websites to determine what business he was visiting, turned into something considerably more exciting and far more influential than predicted.

Although hundreds of submissions were received in the Catch Luigi Contest, including countless media hits, it was the public’s unusual embrace of the Italian cartoon chef that really surprised those working on the campaign.

“By mid-summer, Luigi had really become a source of information for people interested in what was going on in Little Italy,” says Caitlin Hines, Project Manager at Marketing Breakthroughs, the marketing company responsible for the character’s success. “Ottawa spent the summer talking to Luigi online, which helped to give Luigi a life of his own.”

Hundreds of people throughout the summer would log on and ask Luigi all sorts of questions, including his favourite Preston Street restaurant, the best place to park their cars in Little Italy, and his opinions about Michael Jackson. There were very few topics not discussed. People genuinely embraced the Italian chef.

On August 31st, the contest closed with Luigi posting his last clue of the campaign. Although the total numbers have not been confirmed, Derek Smith of Marketing Breakthroughs predicts that over 400 submissions were made in the contest.

“We are thrilled with the results of the Catch Luigi Contest,” says Derek Smith, Marketing Breakthroughs Social Media Specialist and Luigi’s personal assistant. “One lucky person will be walking away with $5,000 worth of Preston Street gift certificates.”

The winner will be announced at this year’s La Vendemmia Grape Stomp taking place on Sunday, September 20th. Luigi will be in attendance to award the grand prize.

“The Luigi campaign is a perfect example of how social media is changing the way people communicate,” says Hines. “Not only did Luigi drum up much needed awareness for the Preston Street community, but he also established himself as a guide to what’s going on in Ottawa’s Little Italy.”

By Spring 2010 the Preston Street revitalization will be complete. In the meantime, Luigi would like to remind everyone in Ottawa:

“Excusa the Mess! We’re building a new Little Italy!”