Based on the previous case study where I analyzed my newsfeed, we learned that the majority of ads are retargeting.
Facebook ads are becoming so popular that to keep performance high we need to dive deep into just one industry and learn the ins and outs.
I’m obsessed with travel, had my first Facebook training in the travel industry so what better industry to dive into than that?
Social media and particularly Facebook is popular and well fitting for the industry so if you’re working for a travel/tourism related business, you’re going to like this.
I’ve used Adespresso’s brilliant ad gallery for the research.
I would have liked to feature dark posts (unpublished ads) as there a lot more campaigns being run but unfortunately, the gallery doesn’t capture those and as far as I know, there isn’t any way to collect dark post ads from Facebook except manually.
Dark posts are the best way to split test ads, so in this case study, I won’t expect a lot of split tests from the data – who would publish several almost identical ads on their brand’s page?
The best practices are to first test different ad versions using dark posts before publishing the best performing one, and I’m sure the majority of the social media teams are aware of that.
Let’s dive in!
Lat’s start from the end: The Results
The ads were based on the following companies. The majority was by far airlines which I imagine is because they have a significantly higher budget.
I divided travel agents and tour agents into two different groups: one specifically for tours and experiences:
and the other more focused on flight/hotel aggregators (e.g. Kayak.com):
Since previous studies show that many hotel bookers look for a place to stay last minute it logically makes more sense for hotels to be active on search as it’s intent based.
It surprised me that they are as active as the tour- and travel agencies, as I’d expect those to be much more active on social media. In my experience, the bookings can take up to 3-6 months and are a bit less price sensitive.
Content and topics
Most ads had a very general message, which is the opposite of what I usually recommend.
More often than not I see better results from a very specific message delivered to highly targeted customers. The more personalized it is, the better the response.
I divided the ads into destination specific, those that focus on a particular experience (e.g. a particular safari trip or spa) and more generalized ads such as branding.
I’m not surprised that the majority is generalized ads as there are plenty of bigger brands involved in this study which focuses on branding. It’s a shame for the target audiences though as they are getting a worse experience which is almost always shown in the performance.
By sub-segmenting and personalizing the ads to specific target audiences, the brands will usually get more bang for their buck and the audience will be more interested in the ads.
Of course, the bigger brands might not be as serious about social media as smaller companies that heavily rely on return on ad budget to grow.
Next, I looked at whether the ads used images, carousel images or video.
I’m not surprised that most use images as they are a lot cheaper, faster, easier and requires less commitment to produce than video. However, video appears to be performing a lot better and fits perfectly with displaying destinations and experiences.
Just look at travel video blogger Lost Leblanc, who skyrocketed his Youtube channel through posting videos every day for about 9 months in 2016.
As mentioned before most ads are general branding related but as I looked deeper into what they were offering, it turns out that almost half of those were specific promotion campaigns, sales or special deals.
I have no way of knowing how they targeted the audiences but based on the generic ad copy it’s fair to assume that the targeting was broad which is fine if you are doing branded campaigns but by targeting more specific they would be able to improve performance quite a bit.
Almost ⅔ of the ads were offering a discount which gives the impression that they were just looking to boost the reach of an existing campaign – it wasn’t a Facebook or social media-native campaign.
Similarities across the different travel businesses
Not surprisingly hotels are focusing a lot more on destinations and experiences rather than branding compared to airlines.
What’s interesting is that hotels are using sales and special deals with discounts a lot more in their facebook ads compared to airlines that focus more on branding.
Ironically since they are using a lot less video to show their experiences compared to airlines but that is most likely because their budget is a lower.
One of the findings that surprise me the most is that tour agents focus mostly on general ads rather than selling the experience.
I find it odd as they are using more video and articles which are suitable for what they do. In fact, they use articles a lot more than the rest of the companies.
Compared, travel agents push mostly sales with discounts to destinations.
They are the only type of company really using carousels of images.
Another thing that I noticed is that the vast majority of the images used were stock photos. Previous tests I’ve been part of internally has shown that stock photos generally still perform better than more authentic ones.
Something else that I didn’t notice other companies do is sell both their home base both as a tourist destination but also as a great place to live and work for the company as it’s the case with Emirates in some of their ads.
One thing to keep in mind is that many ads contain text. It might be because a bit older, the marketers didn’t know about the updated policy or they felt/tested it was worth the penalty (limited reach).
Analysis of results
What I’m particularly missing is using ads as part of a longer funnel or specific lead generation as we see it from other industries.
The cost of most of the bookings made is a significant amount of money to the guests, so generally, they take more convincing and longer time to book – hence the need for travel consultants at tour agencies.
Most if not all of these ads take you to either a great piece of content that doesn’t take the buyer any further (just click, read and close), or directly to the booking page which is too fast (that’s great for the buying intent you get through Google), or simply straight to the website frontpage as general branding.
It’s unfortunate because there is so much opportunity to drive bookings through Facebook – and with a number of users they have it’s highly scalable – but with a different strategy which is a topic for another blog post.
I divided the data into the following categories based on my previous experience with advertising in the field:
#1 – Copy
I didn’t look for trends in the copy. It’s too different and impossible to compare properly. Instead, I looked at the offer as an indication of the purpose of the ad.
- Destination or route (e.g. from London to New York)
- General (e.g. branding)
- Experience (e.g. a spa or a safari experience)
- Sale or particular deal
- Tour agent
- Travel agent
I wasn’t able to dig up an equal amount of ads for all type of company, so the results could be slightly skewed in some cases. I only looked at ads that were placed in the desktop newsfeed as that was 99% of the database. Also, ads had to be in English or directly translated.
This is not a scientific study so don’t take it as such. It is an experiment – a deep dive into ads from the travel industry to get an idea of what’s going on there.
My aim was to study how different travel businesses handle their advertising on Facebook. I’m looking for similarities and ways to improve the experience for both advertisers and consumers at the same time.
Closing thoughts and conclusion
I do see an opportunity for improvement for most of the travel companies in this study. Based on the content, it looks like they are treating Facebook as a way to boost generic campaigns rather than utilizing the power of targeting that Facebook ads have to offer.
By using Facebook’s targeting options further and tailoring the ads to fit, it should be a lot easier to capture the interest of you target audiences.
Hey! I’m Aske Christiansen and I write about how online coaches and teachers can grow their email list with Facebook ads at Scaling Your Business. I’ll show you how getting cheap email subscribers with Facebook ads can be uncomplicated, easy to use and even fun! It’s all about focusing on the big wins”.