Why Ads Are More Effective When We Travel

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Every brand manager on the planet today, whether working to acquire new customers incrementally or introduce an entirely new brand to market, knows that the hardest part of the job involves reaching audiences in moments when they’re receptive to something new.  Traditional marketing principles suggest that brand preferences often change during key life stages of heightened awareness — like moving to a new city, getting married, or having a baby. We should also expand this list to include: while traveling. Whether for business or leisure, it is this temporary state of intentionally altering one’s normal flow that leads to new reflections, new insights, new choices.

Case in point: just a few weeks ago, hundreds of thousands of talented media buyers, ad execs, tech wizards, and creatives all descended on New York for Advertising Week. We blocked off our calendars, set our out-of-office reminders, and gulped extra helpings of coffee to make sure our minds were fresh and ready to soak up new ideas. Unlike our everyday schedules at home, which usually involve rushing through morning routines, optimizing work commutes, speeding through inboxes, and otherwise being on high-efficiency auto-pilot — at Advertising Week, we very deliberately slowed down to take pause and tune into our surroundings.

Traditional marketing principles suggest that brand preferences often change during key life stages of heightened awareness.

And why do we make these investments in changing our surroundings so dramatically to spark new insights? We do this because we know, intrinsically, that our brains aren’t receptive to new perspective when we’re stressed with repetitive tasks and plowing through a frequently trodden routine. As Brent Crane explains in For A More Creative Brain, Travel, “Neural pathways are influenced by environment and habit. New sounds, smells, language, tastes, sensations, and sights spark different synapses in the brain and… can revitalize the mind.”

One of the most memorable brand moments I experienced during Advertising Week was backstage while in the speaker’s lounge. I walked in with my team amidst the heightened blood pressure of navigating an unfamiliar location, reviewing talking points, and nervously checking the clock with an hour to spare. Almost simultaneously we all noticed a clever brand takeover surrounded us — a luxury chocolate bar infused with THC was sponsoring the ‘green room’. The novelty of the execution served as a welcome distraction as we spent the next 20 minutes captivated by the live brand ambassador’s talk. It’s the same reason why advertising in airports is so effective — you’re reaching affluent, influential travelers and early product adopters, at a moment when they’re seeking distraction and uniquely receptive to a well-placed message. According to the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority, 85% of passengers are open to finding out about new products and services while at the airport.

Despite a climate of geopolitical uncertainty, the human desire to travel remains strong.

Travelers are similarly open to new brands, even before embarking on their trip, during the dreaming and planning phases of travel. Google reports that 72% of travelers with smartphones agree that when researching travel on their mobile devices, they look for the most relevant information regardless of which company provides it. This is a secret the travel industry has known for a long time — and it’s not just during the trip that consumers are receptive to messaging. During the research and planning stages, destination and hospitality marketers are using real-time advertising to target audiences with aspirational content across YouTube, Facebook, and native placements to put their brand in the consideration set. During booking, hotel brands like Marriott and Accor are going well beyond room upgrades and spa offers, making big investments in concierge services to arrange local experiences. While in-destination, luxury retailers look to take part in the $64B market for duty-free shopping as well as tailored in-store brand experiences.

And despite a climate of geopolitical uncertainty, the human desire to travel remains strong. A record 3.7B passengers took to the skies last year, and travel & tourism are expected to outperform the global economy over the next decade. At the same time, consumers are more distracted than ever and difficult to reach during their daily routines. So for brands looking to cut through the clutter and truly reach a receptive audience, this untapped market of travelers may be just the ticket for growth.

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