Think, for a moment, about how you behave on vacation: You're relaxed, you're open to trying new things, and you're spending freely. In other words, as more marketers are realizing, you are in an ideal state of mind to absorb marketing messages. "There's no question that reaching people on vacation can be incredibly powerful," says Tim Calkins, clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management.
Marketing to people on vacation used to be limited to promotions at theme parks and banners towed by biplanes. But today, a growing number of companies are marketing to vacationers in a more systematic and sophisticated way. Marketers also appreciate that tourists can be easily segmented by age, income level, and interests: A $17,070 full page ad in Hamptons magazine, for example, will reach rich New Yorkers, while a spring break promotion at South Padre Island is sure to be seen by college students.
Viking Range, which manufactures expensive cooking appliances in Greenwood, Mississippi, put together an extensive vacation marketing campaign this year. The company partners with the Ritz-Carlton Cancun and the Silversea cruise line to offer cooking classes to vacationers in kitchens outfitted with Viking appliances. In these exotic settings, Viking has the chance to showcase its stoves in front of its ideal consumer—an affluent person who enjoys cooking. What's more, since these people have registered for the classes, they have in essence given the company the green light to cultivate them as customers. Though it's still early, Viking has been pleased with the results and will expand the program. "We're bombarded today with commercial messages," says Bill Andrews, who runs Viking's marketing communications. "To be able to have someone experience the Viking products on their time, and in an instance where they've given permission to experience it, is really the best of all marketing."
Lara Merriken of Larabar, a $20 million energy bar company based in Denver, will conduct free-sample programs this summer in a dozen getaway locales from Malibu and Catalina Island in California to South Beach in Miami and Newport, Rhode Island. With so many energy bars on the market, Merriken says, "a lot of our marketing is that there's a story behind our product." The company finds that vacationers have time to listen to the full Larabar pitch.
Richard Demb, a co-founder of Dale and Thomas Popcorn, describes a vacation destination as "the perfect setting to capture a consumer." To reach tourists, his Englewood, New Jersey, company—which will triple in size in 2007 to $50 million in sales—negotiates with hotel hospitality managers to feature his popcorn in their minibars and elsewhere on the property. Working with 100 different hotels, however, including the Wynn (NASDAQ:WYNN) Las Vegas and the Biltmore in Coral Gables, Florida, can be a logistical hassle. To accommodate different situations, Demb must manufacture many special package sizes, and because hotel managers have a habit of placing last-minute orders, he often finds himself scrambling to ship items in time. Still, the program runs at a decent profit and, in Demb's view, does wonders for the brand. Consumers get to discover the product in "a happy environment" surrounded by their families. "Plus, they're sexy programs," he adds. "To say I'm in the Four Seasons—the cost is worth it."
Some companies are able to quantify the effect of a vacation marketing campaign more directly. When Cold-fx, a small Canadian company that makes a dietary supplement meant to prevent colds, entered the U.S. market late last year, it created an advertisement that came in the form of a board game attached to tray tables on airplanes. As passengers played the game, they learned about the product. The ad appeared over the course of eight weeks in a hundred USAir and America West planes.
To calculate the effect of the ads, Cold-fx worked with a research firm to survey 400 passengers from those flights at baggage claim within the hour after the flight had landed. Only 7 percent of participants said they had heard of Cold-fx prior to seeing the ad. Eighty-one percent said they had used their tray table during the flight. Almost all of those people saw the ad, recalled the name of the product, and could accurately describe it. When asked whether they intended to buy the product in the future, 40 percent of passengers said yes. This "was remarkable and statistically well above the norm," the researchers wrote.
Cold-fx augmented the pitch with related ads in in-flight magazines and on in-flight networks and with sampling programs at popular winter resorts. "People are looking for anything to reduce the boredom when they're on a plane," says John Rea, Cold-fx's vice president of marketing. This campaign, he says, was a way "to get the information out through an entertainment vehicle." (Though the campaign worked well, the company's reputation took a hit in May when it had to restate revenue.)
As these examples suggest, vacation marketing programs often depend on collaborating successfully with a gatekeeper, such as an airline, a resort property manager, a park superintendent, or a cruise director. Agencies can help a company manage these relationships (see "Snapshots of Vacation Marketing Agencies"). The key to a sound partnership is balancing the competing priorities of delivering a pointed commercial message and not trampling on a guest's experience.
"People are very protective of leisure time," says Mike Konzen, a vice president at PGAV Destination Consulting, a St. Louis company that advises resorts on how to implement vacation marketing programs. "When you're in that highly protected zone, you tend to try to filter out things that are overtly commercial. So when we see consumer products companies getting involved in destinations, we tell them to be more creative about how they're doing it."
To that end, Viking doesn't overtly pitch cookware to those who attend its sun-drenched cooking classes. Instead, at the end of each session, a company representative asks participants to fill out information cards. Viking follows up with them a few weeks later.
Vacation marketing isn't ideal for every situation, of course. It is not well suited to functional items such as vacuums or insurance. And sending staff to resorts during peak season can break your travel budget. Larabar's Merriken generally keeps costs down to $150 a day by setting up sampling programs only at those resorts that are within driving distance of a staff member's home.
Even if you have little cash to spend, however, you can reach the vacation market by thinking creatively. Eli Gurock, the co-founder of Magic Beans, a store in Brookline, Massachusetts, that sells toys and baby products, distributed coupons to concierges at top Boston-area hotels. Whether the concierge actually handed them out to guests wasn't really the point. Gurock just wanted to ensure that when a vacationer asked for a toy store recommendation, Magic Beans would leap to mind.
As a result of the coupons, the Four Seasons bought a stroller from Magic Beans to lend to its guests. Gurock embroidered it with his business's phone number and Web address. He's now trying to expand the loaner-stroller program to other Boston hotels. "I'm putting a stroller in the hands of someone with an actual baby, in the Four Seasons, no less," says Gurock. "It couldn't get more targeted than that."
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