BITE Focus

“It’s not about selling flights; it’s about being the light at the end of the runway.”

Brave and Flight Centre deliver a masterclass in marketing travel in a lockdown.

Nicola Kemp

Managing Editor, BITE

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How do you market travel when the world is closed? As marketing challenges go, few are as multifaceted and challenging. Yet it is a challenge that Flight Centre’s latest campaign, created by Brave, tackles head on.

For amidst the economic challenges impacting the travel industry, a fundamental shift in marketing is afoot. For what will a holiday mean to consumers in the future? In a post lockdown world, the attitudes and anticipation surrounding travel will likely change irrevocably. For travel-starved consumers, their next holiday will be more hotly anticipated, more richly deserved and more meaningful than ever. 

In the lexicon of experiences that lockdown has shown consumers previously have collectively taken for granted, freedom to travel across the globe is perhaps one of the biggest. A life changing experience, which has so quickly become an expectation, is now being collectively mourned by grounded travellers.

Yet while the coronavirus pandemic means consumers can no longer simply jump on a plane, it doesn’t mean travel brands can afford to stand still. For, despite the economic turmoil facing the industry at large, there is no question that consumer attitudes towards travel will not remain static. For just as it was unthinkable to conceive just a few weeks ago that a travel brand would embrace a stay at home marketing message, perhaps it will be equally foolish to assume that travel marketing will simply pick up where it left off post lockdown. 

In months to come, when the world re-opens, travel will become more precious than ever.

Caroline Paris

The danger of going dark

Every marketer worth their salt will be well aware of the plethora of evidence that continuing to invest in marketing is vital to long-term brand building. In short, the brands that will emerge from this crisis stronger are the ones who double-down on investing in their brand. Yvonne Hobden, Head of Marketing at Flight Centre, believes in this strategy and the need to invest in the long term “100%”.

As the brand’s recent campaign underlines, these are not simply empty words. The ‘Open up the world’ campaign succeeds in finding the words and tone to navigate the new normal travellers are facing, with the reassuring words ‘rest assured we will fly again’ offered at a time when many brands in the sector are saying little of note.

As creative challenges go, this was a meaty one. With Flight Centre’s brand ethos being ‘Open up the world for those who want to see it’ finding a new direction when the world is essentially closed is vital. As Caroline Paris, Creative Director at Brave explains, the team knew it had to create something quickly that would do two distinct jobs. Firstly, give hope and look to the future of travel and secondly take on the responsibility of communicating the key message of staying home, for now. 

According to Paris, the idea was to create a positive story around staying home and demonstrate empathy for those affected by the pandemic; empathy for those whose once-in-a-lifetime trips have been put on hold and empathy for those who could no longer get to their loved ones living abroad. As she explains, “Right now, we know it’s not about selling flights; it’s about being the light at the end of the runway.

It is a strategy which Hobden believes is already paying off, as she explains, “we needed to ensure we got the tone of our content right and work with our partners to organically seed this content in the right places to resonate. We definitely hit the spot on this and have seen thousands of organic hits on the videos to date.”

Brand reassurance 

In the midst of the economic turmoil the travel sector is facing, all too many brands have ‘gone dark’, simply cutting off marketing communications in this crisis. Hobden is clear on the danger of this approach. As she says, “We need to ensure we continue to build memory structures with our customers. When business picks back up, we need to be at the front of our customers minds when they can travel again.”

It’s a strategy that means the brand has put empathy at the heart of its campaign message; a spot which is at its core akin to a reassuring hug. It might seem obvious that we will fly again but it is a statement which brings comfort to consumers and was therefore core to the campaign. “We needed to acknowledge and be pragmatic about the fact people can’t travel right now and we played that out within this content. This statement was a key one customers latched on to. It’s the moment within the film that brings hope that this will be over soon and that definitely pulled on people’s heart strings,” explains Hobden.

Due to the global pandemic, the travel sector has been virtually wiped out overnight. Yet as Brave’s Paris notes travel still remains a highly emotional and powerful subject for many. “Whilst our lives may not depend on taking trips away, they are the moments we worked for, the journeys that bring us closer together and experiences that fill us with joy,” she explains.

It is a situation which arguably makes travel marketing more important than ever. She says, “Showing empathy for how the current situation has affected lives makes work feel more relevant to real people. It’s about finding a common ground in a time of crisis and showing the world that we are too, just a group of people working from home, who share your love for going places.”

You want to be the brand that does the right thing, not the brand that’s being opportunistic.

Caroline Paris

Overcoming the fear factor

Unprecedented may be one of the most overused words to describe the current landscape but it is nonetheless an accurate one. A consumer landscape which risks brands which are unsure of what to say, end up saying nothing at all. With this in mind, Brave’s Paris is laser focused on the learnings from this campaign.

“You have to be reactive, quick and agile, but you also have to make sure your super-speedy solution is not only right and sensitive to an ever-changing situation, but feels fresh and original,” she explains. In practice this means you have to think differently and within a new set of limitations. “You want to be the brand that does the right thing, not the brand that’s being opportunistic,” she adds.

This means that the most important thing in a situation like this is to be true to what it is your brand stands for. A fact which meant the creative team focused on what Flight Centre does, because that is what it has licence to talk about. Paris explains, “As we know, the travel sector has been hugely hit and our ability to travel is off limits for now, so this story had to be our focus.”

The future of travel

This is a campaign which hits all the right notes at a time when it is all too easy to get it wrong; even Hobden admits that the spot chokes her up every time she watches it. Yet, even for the beleaguered travel sector there is no question that silver-linings lie ahead. Not just in terms of demand but when it comes to a reappraisal of the role of travel in consumers’ lives.

As Brave’s Paris explains, “Holidays and travel are not life or death, but we know that for many, it’s a chance of escapism, to break free from normality and experience something new. We also know that in months to come, when the world re-opens, travel will become more precious than ever. So, communicating the positives of that and offering a message of hope felt like the right thing to do.” 

It's a sentiment which Hobden shares: “We are ‘resting our wings’ right now and the appetite for travel out of the other side of this is going to be huge.” Post the crisis Hobden expects to see international travel to pick up. She predicts it will feel like a big spike as everyone crams travel in when borders are safe to cross again, but she does not expect the travel to be at the same levels as normal until 2021. She adds, “Some will miss those holidays they were going to take, but others will cram more in; I know I’ll be doing that.”

This campaign is powerful because it gives emotion the same respect as economics. For while much of the travel industry is on hold, it recognises that consumer’s dreams and desire for holidays are anything but. As Hobden explains, “People dream and look forward to holidays. It’s an end point that breaks normality up. People are still dreaming now, and we are seeing that in our web stats; people are spending more time on the inspirational content on our site.”

When those dreams of travel become reality, it will be the brands that recognise, hear and support their customers that will truly thrive. For while planes maybe grounded right now, consumers travel plans continue to soar.

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