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CANBERRA (Reuters) - A British charity fundraiser won the "best job in the world" Wednesday -- caretaker of an Australian tropical island -- after an innovative marketing campaign that highlighted the power of social media.
Ben Southall, 34, was picked from 16 finalists in a highly publicized contest by Tourism Queensland which attracted nearly 34,700 video entries from almost 200 countries and surpassed all expectations in promoting tourism in the Australian state.
The job description? Explore the islands of the Great Barrier Reef for six months and report back to Tourism Queensland and the world via blogs, a photo diary, video updates and interviews.
Also, if you feel like it, feed the fish, collect the mail and clean the pool -- and earn A$150,000 ($110,000) for your efforts.
"To go away now as the island caretaker for Tourism Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef is an extreme honor," Southall said on live television from Hamilton Island after being named the winner.
"I hope I can fill the boots as much as everybody is expecting, my swimming hopefully is up to standard and I look forward to all of the new roles and the responsibilities that the task involves," he said, adding he would soon be joined by his Canadian girlfriend on the island.
While the job itself attracted global attention, so did the campaign by state-run Tourism Queensland as it highlighted the marketing potential of websites such as YouTube and Facebook.
"This is probably the first time that a campaign has achieved this sort of reach with so little advertising spend other than a few strategically placed job ads around the world," said Australian marketing analyst Tim Burrowes, editor of media and marketing website Mumbrella.
"This has all been about the power of people passing things on, largely through YouTube. The main lesson to be learned here is that if you have an original, exciting idea that gets people talking you don't need to spend huge on advertising."
The "Best Job in the World" campaign began in January with Tourism Queensland launching an advertising campaign centered around the lure of a job that is more like a paid holiday.
Within days, the campaign was one of the most popular items on the web, as applicants from all over the world sent in 60-second video applications and news of the contest spread on social networking sites.
The number of applicants was cut to a top 50 who competed to develop online followers, holding stunts to promote themselves that included scuba diving in a tank in an Amsterdam square and riding the London Tube in scuba gear.
The final 16 contestants, from 15 countries, included students, journalists, TV presenters, photographers, a receptionist, radio DJ, teacher and an actress.
They also came from countries where Australia is pushing itself as a tourist destination including China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, India, France, Britain, the United States, Singapore and Germany.
The candidates were flown to Hamilton Island last weekend and tested on a range of personal, communication and other skills with a panel of four appointed to decide the winner.
Tourism Queensland has hailed the advertising campaign as an enormous success, calculating the $1.7 million spent had reaped an estimated $110 million in global publicity.
"The worldwide response to Tourism Queensland's "Best Job in the World" campaign has been nothing short of phenomenal," said Tourism Queensland's CEO Anthony Hayes.
"The key now however is to convert the global interest raised by "The Best Job in the World" into visitors to Queensland -- to bring more tourist dollars into Queensland's economy, protect existing tourism jobs and hopefully create new ones."
Burrowes said the announcement of the winner, who starts work on July 1, would not end the publicity.
"They will have months of coverage where this person who already has a connection with the outside world will start to write blogs and be an ambassador of the islands," he said.
"The chances are this could become an annual event."
Editing by Miral Fahmy and Dean Yates