Great advertising from Westjet

Having worked with hoteliers for more than 30 years, I have heard every excuse as to why their guests are either A) unlike the rest of the world and totally immune to the influences of advertising, or B) would not make a decision to select a property based solely upon an advertisement.

The fact remains that advertising has influenced buying decisions since the beginning of commerce (in one form or another). Who would make a decision between Coke or Pepsi on pure taste preference? I worked the “Pepsi Taste Challenge” as a product manager many years ago and know that it has to be more than the product that built market share.

But it is interesting. Of the entire travel industry, only hotels seem to shy away from aggressively advertising their products. Airlines, car rentals, travel agencies (primarily the online ones nowadays) and tourism destinations all seem to spend more on advertising — at least on television, long considered the primary communications vehicle for brand recognition.

But just as the Internet is changing the way we make hotel bookings, so too is it changing the way we communicate and influence consumers. The old model of advertising comprised two components: creative development and media placement. The new model substitutes the Internet for paid media placement, and since media was the primary cost component, advertising now becomes an even more viable option for hoteliers to consider.

The challenge with the new advertising model is that unlike television, the Internet is not scheduled. To get visitors, you likely have to create a viral campaign — that is, get the world to experience your media for you and do your push or share for you. This means your advertising has to be all the more exceptional.

In Canada, Westjet Airlines is a strong runner-up carrier to Air Canada. Positioned as an airline for the people in its television communications, Westjet took an extraordinarily bold approach to its traditional Christmas campaign. The ad, which runs solely on YouTube (at more than 5 minutes in length!), has more than 25 million views at the time of writing this blog post. Given that there are roughly only 35 million Canadian residents, I dare say this is a higher penetration than the average advertising media buy.

The implication for hoteliers is simple: It’s time to think outside the box. Get your agency to dust off its ideas and spin the Internet wheel. Remember that safe and generic are boring; often when you try to appeal to everyone, you end up appealing to no one. Don’t scurry away from bold, racy and risky visions. It isn’t easy to embrace these tough pills, but I am confident that with enough time and sweat you can pull it off.