Bolder Thinking Blog

[Guest post]: Top brands celebrating summer with digital ads

June 18th, 2019 | William Merchan

In the fall, retail brands compete for parents’ back-to-school budgets. Come winter, the auto industry is wheeling and dealing at New Year’s and President’s Day dealership events. As the nation thaws in spring, gardening companies target green thumbs itching to get their lawns back in shape.

Summer, though, is for travelers. Once Memorial Day hits and school graduations pass, families often take off for a Disney World vacation, cruise, or Mediterranean getaway. Brands with excellent digital advertising strategies take advantage of the summer rush to tout affordable hotel, airfare, and other travel needs with bold ad campaigns.

Pathmatics data show that trends like these appear daily, and we’re keeping a close eye on the top brands celebrating summer with effective digital strategies and tactics.

Airbnb seeks hosts for busy season

Airbnb has earned its reputation for well-executed marketing campaigns, like its 2015 Thames River boat house. This year, the company has brought the same creativity to its digital ad campaigns to entice new hosts as they enter travel season. In fact, 96 percent of Airbnb’s total ad spend went to Facebook in May totaling $2.1MM, according to Pathmatics Explorer data.

One reason for this shift towards Facebook could be that Airbnb wants to entice users to open their homes as hosts to fund their own summer spending habits. Using its signature red-pink and a few summer-themed complementary colors, Airbnb targets potential hosts in a variety of geo-based ads in metro areas like Denver, New York and San Francisco. Given these are highly frequented US cities for vacation, Airbnb’s ad targeting strategy here makes sense.

US cities need more than lights to attract visitors

While Airbnb has built its brand into a household name nearly overnight, US cities like Cleveland, OH, and Portland, OR are turning to digital advertising to appeal to US vacation-goers.

Destination Cleveland: Expect the Unexpected

Destination Cleveland, the city’s visitor bureau, has invested heavily in digital ads. In May alone, the company spent $1MM in desktop display ads for its new campaign, Expect the Unexpected. The campaign also features several desktop video ads (spend totaling $1.5MM), which highlight Cleveland’s best – from art to food, music, and Lake Erie.

Considering Cleveland has been stringing together record-breaking years for tourism, the city can continue to expect its unexpected campaign to pay dividends in returns.

Travel Oregon: Only Slightly Exaggerated

In comparison, Travel Oregon describes its Only Slightly Exaggerated campaign as a cinematic animation of Oregon’s majestic and diverse natural features and range of outdoor adventures — from mountain biking the North Umpqua Trail to swimming at Trillium Lake to hot air ballooning over Willamette Valley wine country.

In March, Travel Oregon’s digital advertising spend topped out at $3.4K. This figure then rose to $240K in May – that’s an almost 7,000 percent increase. The travel bureau has a healthy mix of social, desktop display, and desktop video advertising, each comprising roughly one-third of its total digital ad spend. Travel Oregon shows that digital ad budgets are crucial, especially at the state tourism level.

Battle on the seas: Carnival Cruise Lines or Disney?

Summer cruises are the vacation of choice for many young families. In fact, an estimated 27.2MM cruised globally in 2018 – a five percent increase from 2017. It’s no surprise, then, Disney and Carnival’s digital ads specifically target families with young children.

While desktop ads are popular with both companies, Carnival opts to spend more on desktop display ads (spending $662K in May to Disney’s $170K), whereas Disney employs more video (spending $267K to Carnival’s $29K during the same time). The difference is clear when we take a look at each company’s creatives.

Carnival’s display ads focus on the beach getaway theme for affordable family fun –with one of its ads even encouraging viewers to “find your most fun self.” Similarly, Disney’s video ads feature tweens and kids having fun aboard the cruise with Marvel characters. While both companies’ primary audience is families, they engage in vastly different ad tactics to attract new vacationers.

It’s always sunny in travel companies’ digital ads

It’s clear that in the race to grab summer travel dollars, brands have a diverse set of options in their marketing mix to choose from. Namely, travel companies are leveraging Facebook and desktop ads to reach US families and travelers. While we have the entire summer to see how these digital ad strategies will play out, trends from previous years tell us that playing into the summer hype will pay dividends for the travel industry.

William Merchan

William Merchan

William Merchan is a data science, marketing analytics, advertising technology and startup veteran. He currently serves as chief revenue officer at marketing intelligence company Pathmatics, where he is responsible for brand growth and awareness. Previously, William built products and grew teams at, MarketShare and Yahoo!. He holds a BS in Business from the University of California Berkeley and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern.