Travel marketing budgets were among the first to crash when COVID-19 reared its head. A Skift survey of 756 companies found 90% cut their marketing investments, and an Ad Age analysis found travel ad spending fell 60% in 2020.
But travel is slowly coming back – delta variant notwithstanding – along with adjacent categories like hospitality, entertainment and leisure.
This week on AdExchanger Talks, Justin Scarborough, senior director of programmatic at Fort Worth, Texas-based digital agency PMG, discusses the crash in travel marketing and how the surgical precision enabled by programmatic has assisted with the category’s calculated return to advertising.
In the early stage of the pandemic, he says, some clients were completely shut down (think luxury resorts) and hence suspended all advertising. Others maintained a baseline investment to reach those who still needed to travel – such as small business executives.
“It was about finding the pockets of demand that existed,” Scarborough says. “That’s why programmatic was very well suited to navigate the fluidity of the situation. Programmatic lets you isolate audiences.”
Then, throughout the second half of 2020, regional differences in mobility created a dynamic situation that programmatic buying was well equipped to support.
“Every single day we were evaluating where we’re running, what types of media we’re running in those markets and what is the efficacy of our efforts,” he says.
For instance, PMG worked with a digital out-of-home provider that was able to report on real-time movement around digital billboards that aided buying decisions. In the South, people were still out and about, whereas in the Northeast people were still hunkered down and DOOH “avails” were down 50% or more.
While the delta variant remains a wild card, consumers and travel marketers are for the moment raring to go.
“It’s been a pretty swift push, and a pretty wide-ranging push,” Scarborough says. “Everything from driving brand and awareness to demand capture. There’s just an overall feeling from a lot of our customers that we’ve got to make up for lost time.”