Tourism New Zealand finds itself in the unique position of marketing something distinctly Kiwi to everyone but Kiwis. The organisation’s entire budget is spent on convincing foreigners to visit the nation to experience the beauty that has become a familiar backdrop—and favourite advertising trope—to Kiwis.
And, if the numbers are anything to go by, TNZ seems to be doing a pretty good job of getting tourists to select Aotearoa as their destination of choice. Data from May this year showed that international tourism spend in New Zealand surpassed $10 billion for the first time in a 12-month period for the year ending March 2016, driven by a 15.5 percent year-on-year increase in holiday arrivals.
Due to the value of this revenue to the New Zealand economy, the government recently pledged a further $8 million to TNZ over next next four years to target key growth markets.
But with that kind of money comes a high level responsibility. Tourism New Zealand is held accountable to the government—and by proxy to taxpayers—and must ensure that the money is spent in the best possible way, so that it drives impact and leads to further growth in the tourism industry. If you’re playing with the people’s money, you’d better get some decent results.
One of the most important mandates the government organisation has had over the past 18 months has been to increase the number of visitors New Zealand receives during off-peak periods, the so-called shoulder seasons.
“For a lot of our market, New Zealand seems a long way away,” says TNZ director of marketing Andrew Fraser, in explaining why it’s difficult to convince someone to hop onto what could be a 12- or 14-hour flight when they might not have that much vacation time.
Further compounding this problem was the fact that the traditional marketing approach in tourism focuses on blasting advertising during peak periods—a trend still evident in the local market in the ad spend spike among travel companies during winter.
If TNZ had an infinite budget, it could have simply increased the frequency of its above-the-line campaigns, ensuring that its brand was visible for the whole year. However, as is the case with any business (particularly those active in number of international markets), budgets are always limited, meaning TNZ had to innovate its approach.
Migrating ad spend
Over the past five years, TNZ has been shifting an ever-increasing percentage of its ad spend to digital to the extent that over 80 percent of its budget is now spent on the channel. But moving coins from one bag to another isn’t innovation in itself.
As Visa’s global head of digital and marketing transformation Shiv Singh recently told Digiday: “Shifting money from TV to digital is a cliché. It’s really funny, because we as marketers went through a phase over the last five years where every marketer would say, ‘I’ve shifted 25 percent of my budget to digital’. And the next marketer would say, ‘I’m better than you, I’ve shifted 35 percent’. And the third would say, ‘I’ve shifted 80 percent. The point is that none of that matters.”
Singh’s argument is that for a shift in spend to be truly innovative, it must drive results. And this insight also resonates with Fraser, who, during a recent interview with StopPress, reiterated time and time again how important results are to his marketing approach, regardless of the channel.
To ensure his digital strategy rendered the best results, Fraser penned a partnership with Facebook around a year and half ago, giving TNZ access to both the Facebook creative and strategic teams.
Paul McCrory, head of travel at Facebook Australia and New Zealand, says this partnership has been particularly well timed given the recent, very well reported, shift in media consumption habits.
“Creatively, when you think about tourist organisations, they have been quite traditional in their approach, but the global trend has seen consumer behaviour shift dramatically,” McCrory says.
“In the US recently, the amount of time spent consuming digital content overtook the amount of time spent consuming TV. The reason why this is important is because it’s the biggest change to have happened in a 50-year period. The last time it happened was when television overtook radio.”
McCrory says that because of this change, it would’ve been very difficult for TNZ to fill its shoulder season in a traditional way.
After striking the partnership, Fraser says it didn’t take long for him to realise a major opportunity lay in the pockets of consumers, particularly those in emerging markets.
“[The partnership], has accelerated us onto mobile rapidly,” he says.
And because TNZ entered this space with very little experience, Fraser understood from the beginning there would be a few mistakes along the way.
“We have also shifted to a test to learn culture. It’s really agile. If we want to learn something, we have to test it and see what happens. And with the power of the platform, we’ve got insights that we couldn’t have achieved through traditional research.”
Fraser says that given the importance of those glowing pocket rectangles, his aim is to make TNZ “the best mobile storyteller in the world”.
But rather than being driven by aesthetic reasons, Fraser says the reason for this objective is because creativity on mobile has driven good results for TNZ.
To back this claim, Fraser points to the ‘Kombi Diaries’ campaign released last year, which he says reached over 30 million people in the US alone and resulted in a 26 percent year-on-year increase in visitors during the first month of the autumn shoulder season (March).
As an interesting aside, this campaign was developed in conjunction with the Facebook Creative Shop team rather than through a traditional agency. And While Creative Shop doesn't charge for its services, Tom Hyde, Facebook’s creative partner across Australia and New Zealand, recently told StopPress that the company was investing in talent to better equip the organisation to collaborate with creative agencies and clients on creative ideas.*
“When something needs to be changed at Facebook, they change it,” Hyde said. “And one thing that they recognised needed to be changed was that they were a media company full of media people. And they realised that brand is the biggest opportunity for the company, because that’s where the vast majority of money is spent in advertising. So they went about employing the best people from creative agencies.”
What this means is that words ‘creative shop’ are likely to become more common in the credit lists of campaigns in the near future. Or maybe not. Because as McCrory explains, sometimes Facebook plays more of a strategic role, providing advice and guiding the client in terms of the best way to achieve the desired result.
“We will prioritise the best possible measurement icons, we will allocate creative resources to support mobile, and we’ll make sure that New Zealand is at the front of all the new technological developments,” McCrory says.
“We don’t provide all of that to everybody, but when we have a partnership like this whereby Andrew and his team shares with us his business problem and gives us the challenge, then off the back of that it’s an interesting project for us because we will place a priority on Tourism New Zealand not only as a local, but as a global client.”
McCrory says Facebook aims to share all its innovations with its global partners, so that they can be the first to experiment with them. However, Fraser says that being first isn’t always the best approach when it comes to digital, pointing to the recent launch of Canvas as an example.
“When Canvas launched, we didn’t want to be first,” he says. “We wanted to be next. We first wanted to look across the globe at what had been done, and find the best. And then we based ours on that. That’s what the value of the partnership is. Facebook hasn’t published findings on creating microsites, but they will capture and apply it to our executions. As a marketer, that’s fascinating. You’re learning through doing.”
Fraser has also tried his hand at marketing on Instagram, with last year’s launch of the #NZMustDo campaign (by Contagion), which led to over 15,000 tourists contributing to New Zealand’s presence on the social channel.
And Fraser isn’t stopping there. He says he's also becoming increasingly interested in using influencers to reach audiences in emerging markets, such as the US, China and India (wedding photos in a glowworm cave also help this cause).
This has already been seen earlier this year with TNZ bringing over Chinese influencer Huang Lei over the Chinese New Year celebrations, and Fraser says he expects influencers to play a more important role as he continues to evolve TNZ’s marketing strategy.
And as the nation steps further from the glow of Tolkien, the effectiveness of this strategy will play an increasingly important role in determining whether the nation’s green hills continue to attract tourists.
*Correction: this story previously incorrectly stated that Creative Shop charges for its creative services.