What does crisis management usually bring to mind? Press conferences, interviews with the CEO, full-page ads in newspapers.
But online advertising on travel sites?
A year ago, Japan was devastated by the tsunami and its nuclear risk aftermath. Not surprisingly, tourism rates dropped from 25% above the average global rate in February 2011 to 189% below the average rate in March 2011.
The Japanese National Tourism Organization (JNTO) called on Expedia Media Solutions, Expedia’s advertising arm, with which it had a longterm relationship on more mundane issues – promoting special deals, etc. “They wanted us to work collaboratively on a short campaign that would not so much deal with the crisis but would highlight what makes Japan unique,” said Noah Tratt, global vice president for Expedia Media Solutions.
Within a short time, Expedia Media came up with a campaign targeting the U.K. market that used Japanese-style anime images – and built the JNTO landing pages with deeper content. The campaign only ran on U.K. points of sale because it was felt that would be the best approach given its length and budget.
While the U.K. represents only 10% of the Japan tourism market and Expedia.co.uk sells 9-10% of overall traffic into Japan, previous studies had shown that Expedia campaigns drive traffic on and off the Expedia site.
The integration of social networks allowed the tourist office’s active online community – including many American expats -- to discuss what life was like on the ground. In addition, this was Expedia Media’s second campaign ever where a Facebook widget was “stitched into” the microsite; Tratt said that approach is “more engaging” than the basic “like” button.
At the same time, Expedia reached out to industry partners like hotels to generate “great offers” that would be included on the landing pages. There was tremendous response.
“This was an aggressive investment,” said Tratt. “We pulled out all the stops from a content and social media perspective, and offered the best deals out there. There was a sense of urgency.”
The payoff was substantial. From the week that the earthquake struck through the week of July 25, tourism dropped to 73% below the previous year’s average -- a total drop of 97%. Once the campaign began, the average rose from 73% below to just 30% below the average in eight weeks – a 40% gain.
And it had legs: In January 2012, there were 685,000 foreign visitors to Japan compared to 714,000 in January 2011, almost a full recovery.
While it’s not possible to determine how much of that improvement was due to the Expedia Media campaign, the JNTO was certainly impressed. “Never before had Japan suffered such a massive drop in visitor numbers,” said Kylie Clark, head of public relations and marketing for the JNTO. “We wanted to get visitors back to Japan as quickly as possible as Japan needs international tourists to return, not only for those who depend on tourism for their livelihoods (hoteliers, family-run ryokan inns, tour guides, restaurants, cafes, shops, museums, etc.), but even more importantly to help bring a sense of normality back to Japan.
“In the end, we were extremely pleased with everything about the campaign. Never before had we had so many people say to us, ‘Your current campaign looks great’ and name where they saw it and why they liked it,” said Clark. “We even had competitors of Expedia highly praise the campaign!”
This was not the first time Expedia Media Solutions had responded to a disaster. It waged a campaign after the BP oil spill as well. “We had great success,” said Tratt, “in reminding people what a great destination New Orleans is rather than taking a crisis-response perspective. Media is a great way to remind people of what’s great about a place.”
Following on the New Orleans campaign, the city’s unaided brand awareness rose from 8% to 14%; New Orleans as a considered destination went from 31% to 41%; and likelihood to visit went from 2% to 5%.
Presidential candidates notwithstanding – a positive – well-executed --message can work wonders – even in the face of catastrophe.