Mike Fromowitz
Jan 24, 2012

The travel & hospitality industry has some of the biggest budgets, and the worst ads.

If the single purpose of a travel or hospitality advertisement or website is to get you to spend your money, then why is so much of it dull, boring, and regurgitated pap? The travel industry ...

The travel & hospitality industry has some of the biggest budgets, and the worst ads.

If the single purpose of a travel or hospitality advertisement or website is to get you to spend your money, then why is so much of it dull, boring, and regurgitated pap? The travel industry attempts to thrill you with pretty imagery and seductive copy, but most of it looks and sounds the same. One beach looks like another beach.  In their desperation to drum up business, marketers somehow manage to bore lots of potential customers. There are several reasons for this.

Many major national, regional or international travel and hospitality organizations employ their own marketing specialists. They work in sales, sales promotion, public relations and advertising. Sometimes, in their desperation to drum up business, they will create their own ad campaign ideas and promotions without consulting a professional ad agency to provide a sound communications strategy.  Many fumble and manage to tick off lots of customers. There’s a big difference between a strategy that works and a strategy that gets attention, and smart marketers know the difference.

In some cases, these marketing specialists also have to work with external advertising, public relations and design agencies in several countries. With so many marketing communication specialists working on a range of campaigns to deliver the global company’s branded message, it is easy to see why it is difficult to maintain a consistent message.

Why do all the ads look the same?

Almost every magazine these days features a travel ad or two for hotels, resorts, destinations and airlines. When you look at travel ads from around Asia, a question comes up. Why have these clients and their agencies produced such mediocre work?

Before writing this article, I went out and did some research. I made some phone calls to some of the agencies that did some of the ‘better’ travel ads. I also called up the client marketing directors and creative directors who are behind these ads. I figured, if they know how to make good travel ads, we can all learn from their expertise. So let me begin by stating the first self-evident truth about travel advertising (or any advertising for that matter):

If nobody notices your advertising, you’ve wasted your money.

Listen to consumers in research sessions, trying to remember the advertising they saw on TV last night, or the ads they read in the morning papers. It’s a humbling experience.  This is what makes advertising so difficult for ad agencies and so expensive for clients. People discriminate over ads and brands the same way they do people. They either like them or they don’t.

Whatever your product’s appeal, be it rational, emotional or sensual, it must be distinctive. The challenge is to get noticed. How much truly distinctive work do you see for hotels, resorts or travel destinations these days? Not much I’m afraid.

We are in an age of information overload.

We’ve got to find new ways to break through the defensive screens of a consumer bombarded by over 3000 ad messages a day. The consumer has become cynical, hardened after years of ad abuse. Consumers have a built-in radar screen, which they use to shoot down a lot of bad advertising that intrudes their lives.  We no longer need a remote control to zap away TV ads. We do it mentally, with our own radar.  The same holds true with pop-up ads on our computer screens.  Many of us just turn the page. We know they’re there, but we choose not to see them. Can you remember a travel or hospitality ad that stopped you, got your attention so you could take action?

The old methods of reaching the consumer have become ineffective.

Years ago, one of my former ad agencies was pitching against two others for one of Hong Kong’s most prestigious accounts. The incumbent agency was thrown out in the first round. Why? Because they presented a media budget of over HK$80 million for the year. On the other hand, our media specialists showed the client a chart that proved that once a budget goes over HK$50 million, the media and the message becomes ineffective. Over-saturation can kill an ad campaign and turn consumers off. I think that holds true whether you are a marketer in Singapore or Malaysia as well, once the budgets go over SGD 50 million or MYR 50 million respectively.

We are in a “Me-Too” world.

We have moved into a world gone mad with parity products and services, and parity advertising. What may be new today is a ‘has been’ within a matter of weeks. The moment you come up with a new product idea, a new travel package or holiday destination advantage, it’s immediately copied by your competitors.

The result? Most hotels and resorts have become commodities—offering the same looking photos of beaches, pools, restaurants and the rooms. Just ask someone where he or she wants to go or stay, and most often, they’re lost for words. It’s like having to choose a restaurant for lunch in Singapore or Paris or New York City. The choices are many and with all the information on the Internet, consumers are into sheer overload.

To overcome consumer radar, you need long running ad campaigns - and the fortitude to stick with them.

Some of the smartest travel marketing campaigns are killed before they are given a chance to actually work. Some time ago, the Asian Wall Street Journal ran an editorial about brand building. Topping the Asian list was Singapore Airlines and their brand icon the Singapore Girl. From the very beginning, Singapore Airlines built up the notion of travel as romantic. As far back as 1972, their advertising showed a simple profile of the Singapore Girl with the headline,  “This girl’s in love with you.” In the 70’s, the ads were focused on her to build up her credentials.

Persistence usually gets under the consumer radar screen. It tells them that you really are serious and committed to the claims you are making in your ads.  Commitment, like the Singapore Air campaign, is a wonderful weapon in which to combat consumer cynicism.

What really enables something different to happen is ‘creativity’.

The travel and tourism world is one of hyper-competition. So we can no longer use the same old recipes. As a marketer, you must abandon your old habits and stop being afraid of taking risks. Stop being afraid of change and start banking on creativity. Creativity is the tool for change.

Why is it in this day and age, when it is so obviously important to breathe fresh life into brands and services, that we fear taking risks?  Tom Peters, author of several books on the subject of management says, “People get fired for not making mistakes.”  It’s a wonderful comment, because risk taking implies accepting the possibility of failure. It’s that freedom that can turn an ad campaign into a great, memorable campaign. To remain relevant in today’s marketplace, a brand or product must constantly take risks. Creativity is a risky business.

A word to travel marketers: Involve fewer people in the approval process.

Having layers and layers of people not only makes for worse advertising, but it diverts the agency’s time into negotiating the maze of approvals, rather than the agency working on big ideas. Funny thing is, today’s bigger agencies also have their own layers of approval processes. Trust me, too many layers can kill good work.

And, don’t compromise. Expect great work. Tell the agency you want showcase work and that you want to be a showcase account. Then set out to discover how you can achieve that end. Agencies will bust a gut to deliver for you.

Don’t feel afraid to say ‘no’.

The biggest waste of time is to be afraid of hurting the agency’s feelings and keep saying ‘maybe’. If you don’t like the work you see, better to say ‘NO’, kill the idea and go on to find another one. It is the unpredictable client, the unfocussed client, who above all else, destroys the agency’s moral. The net result is terrible, terrible advertising.

So do yourself a big favour. Take the high road. Or take a new road. It’s the only route that will lead you to advertising that will win you customers and loyalty. Of course, there’s more to producing effective travel and tourism advertising than merely following some of these guidelines.

However, if you consider these golden nuggets I’ve noted above, and you put them to good use, your travel and tourism campaigns stand a very good chance of being brilliant.

More likely than not, you will increase the effectiveness of your advertising.

Mike Fromowitz

OCTANE

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