Thomas Cook’s marketing boss believes his attempt to better blend media planning and creative execution are predicated on how well he understands media rather than joining the throng of advertisers rushing to recruit a specialist.
Despite a wave of advertisers – including Aribnb, P&G and most recently Tesco – hiring someone to the ‘chief media officer’ role, Thomas Cook’s group marketing director Jamie Queen believes it’s a discipline that should remain within his remit.
Like many travel brands, Thomas Cook invests heavily in digital with paid-search and more recently Facebook commanding large swathes of its marketing budget.
But, over the past six months marketers with such heavy investment in digital channels have been faced with questions around their efficacy after Facebook admitted metric discrepancies on video and media giant Dentsu Japan had revealed errors in its reporting of clients' digital performance.
It’s for this reason, and a damning ANA report in the US, that the industry has witnessed the rise of ‘head of media’ or ‘chief media officer’. But Queen is insistent that building his own media knowledge and evolving the metrics that the travel company measures success against is crucial, coupled with the acceptance that comparing traditional media with digital is a fruitless exercise.
“We have lots of different KPIs for measuring success in digital and those KPIs are evolving frequently and we will continue to challenge, question and understand what the best metrics are for success,” Queen said.
“But digital is much more transparent than analogue channels, purely because the data exits. The level of data I can get on digital far increases its transparency over traditional channels. There’s not a single final solution for measuring digital, it’s evolving over time.”
To ensure this knowledge is being shared across its global teams – which operate in some 15 markets - Thomas Cook has put in place a framework for media planning and buying.
“Media is becoming more and more complex and difficult to plan channels. What you’re seeing [with the rise of the ’head of media’] is brands making sure they have a consistent planning approach across all channels and targeting the right audience. We’ve put in place a lot of activity to improve media planning, on and offline. We recognise the challenge,” explained Queen.
“We’ve developed our own internal approach and shared that with all of our markets to make sure they understand how to plan media in a much more complex world than the one we’ve traditionally been in. I can’t share a huge amount but we have developed a media buying and planning framework to be used across all markets.”
All of this has been underpinned by the merger of its digital and marketing teams which saw Queen take on an expanded remit.
But beyond just making sure its marketers around the globe are planning and scrutinising media spend in sync, Thomas Cook also faces a challenge that every global advertiser can sympathise with - ensuring its creative efforts are fit for purpose.
And so alongside the new media framework sits a platform specially built by London-agency KBS Albion to allow marketers in different markets to access, create and design assets to be used across any medium.
“The requirements we have for different creative had grown hugely. We’ve now got a requirement for different video across Facebook, YouTube, Video on Demand, traditional TV, out of home, press, DM. There’s a huge range required,” said Queen.
“We realised we weren’t providing a range of assets in a way that markets could access them. So we needed to create more of a modular system so that we can get a five second version of a piece of video.”
The “modular system” is relatively simple. Brand and agency-side marketers can access it online, look at best practice and then build whatever kind of content they need from a bank of different assets. Where this content appears is left up to the regional marketer, but overarching guidelines dictate the best way to post and messages that would work based on whatever campaign is running at that time.
It’s not a revolutionary system but it is one that's giving Thomas Cook a flexibility with its creative output that it’s never had before.
“The feedback from the markets using the system has been great and media owners have been positive in that they’re happy with how flexible we’re able to be with what we’re delivering and working with lots of different formats than we’d have done one 30-second spot,,” he said.
“What it gives us is a more consistent strategic oversight to the way we deliver marketing.”
This way of operating was first pushed in Thomas Cook's 'You Want, We Do' campaign which was created using a series of gifs, cartoons and shot footage, which included images of same-sex couples and parents. There were multiple variations of the ad for TV but then each market could custom build their own version for online video as well as pull images and clips.
As Queen said at the time, "individuality is at the heart of the campaign" and so it was important for each market to be able to accurately represent their own population.
Writing for City AM, YouGov co-founder Stephan Shakespeare singled out Thomas Cook as an "example of the advertising industry attempting to reflect the world around them" and revealed that it's been rewarded by a surge in its brand awareness.