Travel advertising: the good the bad and the ugly

Travel advertising: the good the bad and the ugly
By admin

Around $520 million is spent on travel advertising in Australia each year, making it a hugely lucrative industry. But the average Joe is bombarded with around 3000 ads each day, making it tough to get a clear message across to the consumer.

Blank space is a taboo in the world of advertising – a lost opportunity to distract consumers and lure them into taking the bait. Whether you love it or hate it, advertising is omnipresent; it's on the bus, park benches, and hiding behind closed doors. For a global industry that topped $586 billion this year alone, it's clear that convincing people of the merits of a product or service is big business. And the travel industry is certainly no exception.

Qantas and Virgin Australia have both stepped up to the plate, revealing multi-million dollar campaigns in recent months. Qantas was first out of the blocks, launching its You're the reason we fly campaign in June. Rolled out in two phases, the first saw 20,000 Australians submit photos to have their name plastered on the side of a plane. The television ad was quick to follow; it featured an aerial tour of Aussies going about their daily activities, backed with music by Daniel Johns.

Virgin Australia followed suit three months later with a 60 second TV commercial showcasing its staff and new airline experience on the salt plains of Western Australia. Featuring an upbeat rendition of the S'Wonderful jazz classic by Aussie vocalist Megan Washington, the commercial was rolled out across several online platforms with the promise of Bringing the romance back into flying.

To get a feel for their effectiveness you really need to head online and compare them for yourself. But the consensus is that Virgin's campaign has trumped Qantas's pitch – by a long shot.

Advertising guru Ben Colman from Sydney advertising agency Colman Rasic said Virgin has taken out top honours with a modern, evocative campaign that fulfils the airline's promise to put the romance back into flying. It's sleek, stylish, and encapsulates everything that Virgin has been doing over the past 12 months to get customers onboard. 

Qantas, however, has "completely missed the mark" by embracing a tag line that Aussies "don't give a stuff about". Rather than outlining why the airline is better, Colman says Qantas has taken a clunky, ham-fisted approach to suggest customers are why Qantas is in the business. The net result, he says, is an "infinitely forgettable campaign that is a big yawn for customers".

Douglas Nichols from advertising firm The Works echoed Colman's views, noting that it all went downhill when Qantas gave away the Spirit of Australia tagline. 

As the only airline to legitimately hold the claim as Australia's national carrier, he said giving up the beating heart of the brand was essentially handing its patriotic stamp to Virgin. And at a time when Qantas should be desperately trying to win customers back after stranding 80,000 passengers last year, Nichols said the campaign only plays into the hands of Virgin. "We're seeing a trading of places between Virgin and Qantas. While Virgin are going from cheap to sophisticated, Qantas are desperately trying to be cooler and urban, but have instead lost their identity," he said. "Overall, Virgin is the standout winner."


Of course, Qantas and Virgin aren't the only travel groups to throw their hats into the advertising ring. But as Jules Hall from Sydney ad agency The Hallway explains, the trick is to make it catchy and get consumers on side. 
It sounds simple, but striking the balance isn't easy. Each ad has to have a unique hook that lures in consumers and engages them with the product. It's got to be captivating and memorable without being patronising or irritating. And most importantly, it's got to make them buy the product. There is no way to guarantee success, but there are plenty of travel campaigns that have hit the mark.

Hall named Zuji's 2009 Helping holidays happen campaign as a top contender. To jog your memory, Zuji created its own brand of baked beans and sold each tin for 10 cents at growers markets all over Australia as well as three specially leased shops in Sydnewy and Melbourne. The idea was that customers could then save more money for their holidays – a concept which was flagged in print, online and radio channels to get people talking. It might sound like a lot of effort and expense, but as Hall explained, each tin was packaged as an advertisement, meaning customers were actually paying for Zuji ads by the thousand. What's more, the first major shipment of beans sold out in the first month, and Zuji's website traffic spiked 38% in a matter of weeks. 

Colman, meanwhile, pointed to Victoria Tourism's Play Melbourne campaign as a successful example within the travel industry. On paper, the concept is simple – a group of youngsters playing games around the city. And yet, Colman insisted, it is one of the few campaigns that really hits home. "This campaign does everything it should; it evokes a feel, understands the product, and pledges to deliver on its promises," he said. "It truly stands out as one of the most effective, ongoing and enduring campaigns we've seen over the last decade." 


But with every winning advertisement come plenty of flops. Our expert panel named Webjet's Experience the Wonder campaign and Tourism Australia's Where the bloody hell are you? slogan as campaigns which failed from a consumer's perspective. Qantas also received a dishonourable mention for its You're the reason we fly campaign. 

While the panel agreed that Qantas's pitch fell short, Coleman was less reserved in his comments, saying it was the "worst campaign ever". 

Describing it as a generic failure, he said the advertising industry is struggling to understand how Qantas could produce such a lacklustre campaign. "Any airline can say 'You're the reason we fly', just like any car manufacturer can say 'You're the reason we make cars' and any toaster manufacturer can say 'You're the reason we make toasters'," he said. "It's generic, weak and just bad marketing… Qantas would have been better off spending the advertising money on improving their service."


There are plenty of campaigns that have performed badly, but only a handful that have wound up in the firing line. It doesn't happen often, but it certainly makes headlines when it does. The South Australian Tourism Commission (SATC) is one of the latest victims following the Kangaroo Island debacle back in April.  

The campaign itself was branded a roaring success, but the wind quickly came out of the SATC's sails when it was later revealed that the tourism board had handed wads of cash to celebrities in return for them tweeting about the destination. The commission was quick to defend the strategy as a "legitimate marketing tool", but the appeal was lost to many consumers, who saw it as a deceptive scandal. 

Qantas also succumbed to a marketing hiccup last year after launching a luxury competition on Twitter only days after grounding its entire fleet. The timing was all wrong, resulting in a fiery backlash from customers who posted sarcastic responses about the airline. After being stranded for days in airports across Australia, customers posted responses such as "At this rate our #QantasLuxury competition is going to take years to judge" and "Breaking News: Qantas introduce #QantasLuxury class. Same as standard class, but the plane leaves the ground".

Nichols explained that poor marketing strategies and lack of transparency often land corporate campaigns in the dog house. But he admitted there's no way to know how a campaign will play out in the media, and even some of the strongest campaigns come to grief. The best strategy in his opinion is to "toughen up", in which case Qantas must be tough as nails by now.

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