Tui’s surprise finding by testing: people don’t always like to see people in ads

Sometimes less is more when it comes to people in ads

Happy people enjoying a product is a standard in advertising. So, it came as a surprise to travel company Tui when reducing its focus on people in a recent campaign increased its performance.

With the summer season approaching, Tui wanted to find a better way to promote its holiday offers, such as early booking offers and advantages, to its clients in Belgium and the Netherlands. To do so, the travel company enlisted the help of Smartly.io to take a more test-and-learn approach to selecting the right creative.

“It’s important for us to know what our clients are expecting from us, so we can give them the perfect experience that matches that expectation,” said Nicolas Elshout, the head of programmatic media buying at Tui Benelux. Tui comprises 1,600 travel agencies and online portals, six airlines with about 150 aircraft, over 380 hotels, and 17 cruise ships, according to its website.

“We have a very broad definition of our audience, as we have a very broad range of products. We tend to say that whatever type of holiday you are looking for, we have it,” Elshout said. “In our online campaigns, we don’t like to segment too much on audience demographics, but instead look at available intent data or other signals that show that someone has a high chance to be in the market for a holiday with Tui.”

Going into the project, the creatives at Tui had had two testing methods: a split A/B/C test and a factorial test design, otherwise known as the creative modular approach. The former offered stable ground for the campaign but was time-consuming when it came to collecting data for all the variations, which is why Tui instead ran with Smartly.io’s creative modular approach to optimizing the campaign.

Smartly.io’s creative modular approach is designed to enable brands to test and learn from the creative elements in videos that they’re using in ad campaigns. Creative modular operates through a series of algorithms that determine the best video combinations and assets such as call-to-action and other content. Users can optimize their content using variations and tailored content for individual groups.

“This approach supports the ‘create and learn’ mindset used by top advertisers,” said Jose Sanchez, head of creative studio at Smartly.io. “You test what works and learn from these insights to improve the next batch of creative.” The approach helps brands identify which messaging resonates best, he added.

“We create video ads as if they were pieces of a puzzle; the elements work together to address multiple locations, languages and personas…,” Sanchez said, adding that most effective way to approach modular creative production is to incorporate it into campaign planning. “Once you have the footage and raw materials, you can easily divide them into multiple shots for mixing and matching. The final output is not a single video file, but a set of iterative asset modules you can put to work and test.”

Less isn’t always more

The first ad that Tui produced was six seconds long, opening on a shot of five people sitting on a dock, followed by a scene of three more people lying on the beach. The travel company had followed its own mantra to “keep videos as short as possible, as long as [they] are able to tell the story,” Elshout said. But the ad had not yielded the expected results.

To attack this problem, Tui then released the second ad, which was just four seconds longer and was focused more on nature – and when people were introduced later in the ad, they were interacting with their settings whether by paddling or swimming. Results of this edit showed 72% lower cost per initiated checkout and a 36% lower cost per purchase.

“We are a very performance-oriented and data-driven company, as margins and competition in the travel sector is very fierce. That’s why, in everything we do, we try to test and learn what works and improve our impact and efficiency in digital media buying,” Elshout said. “Not only for performance, but also to understand what our clients like in order to communicate to them in the best possible way…

“Because of the results we are now getting from our video campaigns, by being able to make these optimizations, means that we are now assigning a more important role for video in our online marketing mix.”

After seeing the results of this strategy, Elshout and the other creatives at Tui are more eager to adopt new methods of advertising, especially video.

“We feel this should be the new ‘normal’ for a marketer working in a data-driven environment,” he said. “We, in past, we used to create some ‘perfect’ ads that would need to be signed off on from the beginning of the campaign; we are now able to have a more agile approach to video. You could almost say that instead of getting feedback from our CMO, we are now getting feedback from our clients.”

Elshout added that the insights from this testing are being taken into consideration for Tui’s ‘offline’ ads — audio-visual ads aired on free or subscription TV stations. “Which means we’ll probably get a better performance marketing strategy overall,” he said.

This can help Tui achieve customer engagement beyond its summer promotion.

“Producing video ads in a modular manner helps marketers understand the link between creative and performance,” Sanchez said. “Incorporating a modular approach to their online advertising [helps] find the most effective way to communicate and convert audiences.”

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