Tui doubles down on its brand advertising after Thomas Cook collapse

'Strong' Tui brand survives travel 'headwinds' and gears up for 2020 'experience' marketing push

A "strong" brand is one of the factors that has helped Tui forge a path through the travel industry “headwinds” that toppled rival Thomas Cook earlier this year says Toby Horry, head of brand and content at Tui UK ahead of a major campaign launch.

It has been a tough year for Tui. About a tenth of its fleet was grounded due to a fault in the Boeing 737 Max, while UK heatwaves and Brexit also took a bite of revenue. However, it survives Thomas Cook, which slipped into the abyss just in September. Horry puts its resilience down to the strength of the brand and so it’s now investing in a multimillion-pound marketing campaign to secure its place as the UK’s go-to travel provider.

Horry said: “One reason to build a strong brand is that when there are headwinds you are more likely to succeed than compared those who don't. It is not the only factor but it is incredibly helpful. People go to brands they trust to provide services.”

Two years ago, Thomson rebranded as Tui, with a winking logo and the catchy ‘We cross the ‘T’s, dot the ‘I’s and put ‘U’ in the middle’ strapline. It was a bold leap for Thomson, founded in the 60s, after building an empire on the tailwind of the commercial air travel industry.

Despite the undeniable legacy, Horry claimed that brand awareness for Tui is now higher than it ever was for Thomson in just less than two years. According to internal research, it hit a 40% prompted awareness target by April 2018. Most recently its unprompted awareness is at 50%.

“That is a testament to a really thorough plan and a consistent application of good brand thinking,” Horry explains.

Minus one competitor, albeit in a still-fiercely competitive travel sector, Tui UK and Ireland boasts more than 10,000 employees and serves more than six million customers a year. But rather than selling more flights in the turbulent airline business, the company is keen to have a more active role curating customer holidays. In addition to taking customers from A to B and putting them up in a hotel, it is looking to capture spend at the destination.

Reflecting this, the tour company is repositioning to deliver ‘experiences’, which is reflected in its latest ad campaign that drops this weekend. The work from VMLY&R and Forsman and Boden features four ads. One shows a grandmother and granddaughter bonding in crystal blue waters and hiking in unspoiled landscapes. Another shows a little sister and big brother sweep through a waterpark. Meanwhile, a mixed gender couple enjoys yoga lesson and a same sex couple learns new recipes in a local cuisine cooking class. These build upon the cinematic style ‘Tui presents’ ads it has been delivering over the last few years.

Horry said: “We are a travel brand that is increasingly about the experiences we provide as much as the physical nuts and bolts of travel. The experiences you can get on a Tui holiday are the point of difference.” This is starting to be evidenced in its ad campaign.

Highlighting the experiences on offer, the ads will show a bit more than the pool lounging, cocktail sipping spots you’d expect. "We’re showing things like cookery classes, wine tasting, and yoga”.

Media Plan

TV will snap up a large portion of the ad budget. “We still have a strong belief in above the line advertising," said Horry. “We know it is really efficient for us and helps drive that brand strength.”

While TV starts the conversation with mass audiences, addressable TV then delivers targetted spots to the right audience (family spots to known families for example). Meanwhile trimmed versions are pushed on social media and digital leading to sites where customers can learn more about the experiences and push further towards a purchase. By playing in this space, Tui is facing off against new Olympics sponsor Airbnb that is making a big deal of its experiences and adventures too.

With January and February vital holiday booking times, Tui is coming to TV early. There are a few reasons for this. “We want to build the brand in advance of that period, people's perceptions of the brand are not formed overnight.”

At the start of 2020, the drive will be overlaid with commercial and product offers once the brand storytelling is complete through Christmas.

If operating through a Brexit negotiation and UK general election was a concern, Horry hid it.

He concluded: “It’ll be business as usual. It is the same for [all brands], we just need to continue what we are doing, and we will adjust when necessary. We can't do anything else but continue to do a good job for the brand."

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