Picking an Advertising Agency
by Tom Dougherty
Who decides what constitutes a great destination and tourism advertising strategy? Is it the destination brand or tourism brand that pays for it, the agency that creates it, the panel that judges it, or the travel market that buys into it? Of course, the answer is the destination and tourism market, but you’d be surprised how few in the advertising industry actually create destination and tourism advertising for the buying public.
It is paramount to understand that it is the traveler that renders the most decisive judgment about what constitutes great destination branding and tourism advertising especially if the goal is to steal share from other destination brands.
How can a destination brand steal share unless there is a focused advertising campaign aimed at the audience? The traveler’s dollars IS the share we are trying to steal. However, it is our destination and tourism experience at Stealing Share® that most destination advertising is aimed at everyone but the traveler.
Ads are often created to catch the eyes of potential awards show judges, for example, or to impress the internal audience of the destination brand’s constituents, employees, citizens, or to boost the agency’s own self-esteem. When brands perform internally, they go nowhere. Agencies need to focus on the traveling public when creating destination advertising.
Types of Advertising Agencies
This is true even if they “specialize” in destination clients. Many advertising agencies will take great pains to discuss the target audience. They will even nail the characteristics and personality of that audience. Most often, however, the actual execution of their insights will miss the mark. The destination brands, or more accurately the tourism brand managers, will get the blame. They will watch their destination suffer and actually lose market share. We at Stealing Share tell our clients to choose an Ad agency differently. Think of the types of ad agencies in these four camps:
- Type 1 Ad Agency – The Safe Agency. They usually say the right things and keep clients for years on end. The target audience they serve is not the traveler, rather it is you, the destination brand manager. They work to please one person. These agencies keep clients for a long time simply because they never challenge tourism clients to know the actual audience as well as they know themselves.
- Type 2 Ad Agency – The Of-The-Moment Agency. This agency wins all of the destination and tourism creative awards. Their work is flashy, fun and memorable. You know their names from the pages of ADWEEK and AdAge. They talk the talk about the destination target audience but create advertising for themselves (the ad agency) and their peers. They are only inspired by advertising that is different rather than different, better and targeted toward the minds of the traveling public. This is the agency that produces the spot that makes you go, “Wow,” but doesn’t make the customer commit or REALLY go.
- Type 3 Ad Agency – The Big Agency. Think Camp 1, only larger in size. This agency pays homage to the “creative process” because they once believed in it. They even have an impressive TV reel to prove prior loyalty, but they have become so big that they now attract huge clients who feel their brand is already complete. It’s finished. These destination brands do not need new thinking. They just need the agency with its own brand name to complete the picture. This agency has long ago abandoned considering the traveler consumer. It thinks of its own brand and VIP client list.
- Type 4 Ad Agency – The Thinking Agency. Here’s the agency that destination and tourism brands want to seek, and they are out there in good number. They are agencies that tell tourism brands the truth and get permission from the brand to create advertising that is different, better and strategic. They are closer to Camp 2 than Camp 1 because they do value creativity as an important element in successful messaging. This firm differs in that they truly focus on the traveling consumer and never confuse their agency or the destination with the traveler. Their work is varied. It is not all funny, all testimonial or all serious. Their work changes to reflect the most strategic way to influence the destination target audience by thinking of why the traveler chooses.
They will not use industry awards as a proof of their success. They want to influence and change behavior. If your destination and tourism advertising is designed to steal market share, then it needs to acknowledge the basic beliefs of the traveling audience that create brand loyalty. We call those beliefs “precepts.”
It needs to be about the traveler and not about your marketing department or the creative director who conceived of it. We know from experience that purchase decisions are not cognitive; they are emotional. Emotional decisions are more difficult to understand but easier to change. You need to demand that your advertising leverages the “precepts” that govern the lives of your target audience and gives your visitor a reason to choose your destination brand.
The target audience needs to see that your advertising speaks only to them, and that the call to action is not about buying the destination category, but about buying (being) the destination brand. Where do you and your agency fit into all this? That evaluation is the first step in beating your competitors. If you really want to win, then you need to clear all of the big egos out of the room — even your own. (Read our market study on the destination category here)