Humor me for a minute. I seldom use the Brand Insight Blog to critique ads. It’s just too easy to just snipe about details like an idiotic headline or the lazy use of stock photography. But I recently ran across an ad for Wales that’s simply too bad to pass up.
It’s a perfect example of what’s missing from most brand messages and a relevant case study of what NOT to do in travel industry advertising.
First, a little background on golfers and golf travel. Golfers spend a lot of money supporting their habit. We buy $400 drivers and travel great distances to play exceptional golf courses. But we’re not stupid. We shop around just like anyone else and make darn sure we’re getting the best experience possible when booking a trip.
For Americans, a trip to Wales is a tough sell. Let’s face it… Scotland, the Holy Land of golf, is right next door and Ireland is just a ferry ride away. Wales isn’t even on our radar.
Here’s another important fact the Welch tourism office didn’t consider: Golfers have a phobic aversion to certain numbers. We hate 6s and 7s! An 8 on the scorecard is known as a snowman, and is more dreaded than an STD. Nines and 10’s aren’t even spoken of, much less, featured prominently in the headline of an ad.
Every industry has its advertising conventions — required elements, if you will. In golf advertising it’s the pretty picture. Just show the beauty shot of the course with sunlight streaming across the fairway. It’s the price of admission in the category… if you don’t have good photography, don’t even play.
So it’s not surprising that all golf travel ads look alike. The “creative” part of the assignment usually goes like this: “Just figure out where we should run this pretty picture of our golf course.” There’s no story telling. No relevant message that’ll connect with anyone on an emotional level. And there’s very little differentiation.
Same goes for travel industry advertising in general. It’s almost always just a pretty picture and a few throw-away words.
Which brings us to the ad in question. It was a full page in Golf Digest, retail value; $88,000. There’s a mediocre aerial photo of a costal golf course on a dramatic spit of land, with a big headline that reads:
6,7,5,6,7,7,9,7,5,6,6,7,8,6,7,8,5, but happy.
Huh???? That’s the most blatantly false headline I’ve ever seen in travel industry marketing. There’s no way a traveling golfer is going to be happy with a scorecard like that. And the cliché-ridden body copy does little to relive my discomfort with the whole idea:
“We all get those days. Where you seriously consider packing it all in and taking up darts or something. But even a bad round here has its positives. Stunning championship courses. Reasonable green fees. No pretentious nonsense. A good walk through our beautiful countryside. And best of all, in Wales tomorrow’s always another day.”
Tomorrow’s also a fine day to fire your copywriter.
Apparently, the message is: Travel all the way to Wales and magically, somehow, you’ll feel good about all those 7s and 8s and 9s on the scorecard. Talk about a disconnect! 7s 8s and 9s are even more depressing at a seaside course in Wales than they are back home. It’s every golfer’s worst nightmare… travel 6,000 miles to an epic destination and then stink up the place.
Been there, done that. (Okay not that bad, but bad enough to leave a scar.)
So here you have an ad that doesn’t just lie flat on the page, unnoticed and ineffective. It screams bad experience! It conjures up memories that are emotionally scarring to me, and now I associate Wales with that negative experience.
You won’t convince golfers that a terrible round will be more palatable in Wales, and you shouldn’t even try. It’s an unbelievable, irrelevant message that misses the target audience by a mile. (People who shoot 118 don’t travel to obscure oversees destinations to play golf. They ride busses from one tourist trap to the next.)
But let’s be fair. The Wales Tourism Board isn’t the only organization that misses the mark when it comes to strategic message development. Most companies have at least of half-dozen messages they could use for their advertising. The problem is, they’ve never spent the time to figure out which of the six will really resonate.
If you’re faced with that message development problem, here are some guidelines that’ll help:
1. Assess each possible message on a credibility scale. Turn the BS meter to full volume and honestly decide which statements are believable and which ones sound like marketing hype?
2. Identify the hottest pain point for your best customers, and work from there. Big numbers are definitely a pain point for golfers. Unfortunately, Wales can’t promise to solve that problem.
3. Identify the messages that are in line with your core brand concept and move those to the top of the list. Don’t deviate.
4. Beware of plagiarism. If your message sounds a lot like your competitor’s message, throw it out. In that Golf Digest Ad, Wales uses the tagline “Golf as it should be.” A blatant rip-off of the phrase coined by Bandon Dunes Golf Resort: “Golf as it was meant to be.”
5. Get some professional help. You’re too close to it to make sound judgment on what will resonate, and what won’t. Time after time, our market research proves this point. Travel industry advertising has the potential to be truly great. Don’t waste that opportunity by running mediocre ads.
6. Know your market and subject. Do the research. It’s pretty obvious that whoever did the ad for Wales had no experience with, or knowledge of, golf industry advertising.
Would you like to learn more about how to develop a message that will really resonate with your target audience? Read this post.
Want to see some of travel industry advertising I’ve done? Click here.