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. We’ll drop $250 to play a truly exceptional golf course, 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. The higher the numbers on the score card, the LESS likely we are to travel for golf.
Every industry has its advertising conventions — required elements, if you will. In golf advertising it’s the pretty picture. And more specifically, the pretty drone shot. 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. Most courses don’t even take time to vett their photos very well.
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.
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 3,000 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 some travel industry advertising 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 in their travel industry ads. Most companies have at least of half-dozen messages they could use for their advertising. The problem is, they never spend 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? Being happy with snowmen on the scorecard definitely falls into the unbelievable marketing hype category.
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. This goes to messaging strategy… Wales has a lot of competition in the golf travel category. Their golf courses are not as great as Scotland’s, so they have to come up with a different angle of attack. A different strategy altogether.
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. Oh, if you don’t have any core brand concepts nailed down, we can help you with that.
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 Bandon Dunes Golf Resort tagline: “Golf as it was meant to be.”
On a side-note… When I was working on Bandon Dunes advertising I coined the phrase “Unconditional Love.” The visual was just the opposite of the usual pretty picture… a lone player, braced against the elements, carrying his bag up a rise to a flagstick bent by the wind, rain in his face, ocean waves heaving in the background.
It was a great ad, that didn’t run for long because it didn’t include the conventional pretty picture.
To this day, Bandon Dunes will not publish anything that involves the true weather conditions there. Every single social media post is a pretty picture that’s, quite frankly, not authentic to the Oregon Coast experience.
The chances of getting a perfectly calm day at Bandon Dunes, like in this photo, are very rare. But that’s okay.
For me, and for thousands of other Bandonistas, windy days and a little bit of rain is part of the appeal.
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 the subject matter. Do the research. It’s pretty obvious that whoever did the ad for Wales had no experience with, or knowledge of, golf travel.
Would you like to learn more about how to develop a message that will really resonate with your target audience? Read this post.
Here are some better examples of travel industry advertising.