Expedia brings ‘test and learn’ ethos to emotional documentary-style ad campaign

Expedia

Expedia has shifted tactics and is eschewing the usual service or price focused ads in favour of a series of emotional documentaries featuring real people and the stories of why they travel.

On the outside this might look like the travel giant – which owns Hotels.com, Trivago and HomeAway – is not straying far from traditional ATL advertising but its senior marketer has told The Drum that it has very much taken the ‘test and learn’ approach that its fellow data-reliant departments have long used to shape its marketing plans for the coming year.

Next month, the first of six three minute documentaries will quietly launch online. Each shows a real-life person who has, what looks to be on the surface, an unexpected hobby or reason for traveling. For example, one film features a truck driver from Midlands who loves opera and travels to Madrid fto see a live performance.

The response to the online films will determine which of the six are then are cut down and run as TV ads across Europe in the New Year.

“I don’t talk in terms of campaigns anymore,” said Andrew Cocker, senior marketing director at Expedia. “It’s a state of always on, improvement and letting the data decide where we go. So, we’ll keep looking at the performance and see what the data says [in terms of when, where and for how long the work will run].”

Getting more for less

This way of working is a relatively new one for Expedia. At its heart, the company is led by what data it is getting back but the marketing team has, Cocker said, always taken a traditional approach to advertising.

Demand for more creative which can be used across a myriad of platforms is growing whilst Expedia's production budgets have remained stagnant. As such, its been forced to take a hard look at the processes it inherently uses and ask if there’s a better way of doing it.

“We’re working within the same means as before but trying something new and bringing the test and learn process to our filmmaking. Test and learn is a mantra, it’s how we operate the business. The scientific method is the number one part of the culture. We test something and then let the data decide, moving as quickly as we can.”

This move has seen it ditch the traditional advertising shoot which would take place with a cast of actors in a studio and instead spend a week in a new location with an individual filming their day-to-day experience.

So, rather than one 60-second ad that will be chopped up in a vain attempt to suit the different platforms Expedia spends with, the marketing team in theory will have a raft of content at its disposal and can be guided by the best practice for the likes of Facebook, Instagram and others as to what should run where.

“It’s about creating something that’s cost effective and can be as localised as possible to each channel,” continued Cocker.

“We need to ensure that we create a strategy that fits in with where digital and publishing industry is taking us. We’ve always approached our digital advertising with the mindset of testing multiple iterations and optimizing to the best performing, so it’s a natural evolution for us to test this methodology within our film making. It’s a more flexible, productive and cost effective way to approach the opportunities that lie ahead."

Bringing emotion back to advertising

All of this has been underpinned by Cocker's belief that, currently, the travel sector is failing to appreciate that people take travel seriously. Expedia, then, is trying to strike a balance between being empathetic to how important travel is, but also being able to emotionally connect with people.

“When you look across the categories there’s a lot of humour and irreverence,” he said. “There’s a lot of [travel brands] focusing on trying to make themselves stand out but they’re doing it in a category that’s begging to be treated seriously. To people, travel is such an important thing.”

The work was created by Fallon, which was recently appointed to the creative account, and media agency PHD.

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