Why Thomas Cook is cutting its big bounce-back TV campaign (for now)

Thomas Cook holds its debut TV campaign as travel returns to normality

Last year, The Drum flew to Tenerife to cover the filming of Thomas Cook’s first major TV campaign since relaunching as a digital start-up. With its agency Mccann Birmingham and production crew in tow, the team produced a glossy above-the-line campaign that was due to air last month and help the brand bounce-back following Covid-19. But it didn’t. Here’s what happened.

Travel has undoubtedly been the most unpredictable sector to market throughout the pandemic. Thomas Cook’s head of marketing, Ryan Cotton, has had to make tough calls on when to scale up or reign in spend while simultaneously leading the relaunch strategy to ensure the brand can grow quickly.

After the original travel company collapsed in September 2019, a group of Thomas Cook staffers came together to rebuild Thomas Cook as an online-only platform. Since then, Thomas Cook’s marketing ranks have been focused on regaining consumer trust and educating on its revised proposition.

Cotton describes it as a balancing act of deciding which bits of Thomas Cook’s legacy to lean into and which parts to reinvent. Its new owners have reclaimed Thomas Cook’s 35-year famous ‘don’t just book it… Thomas Cook it’ strapline for a new era with its refreshed marketing touting ‘love it, book it, Thomas Cook it’.

After a lot of back and forth on legacy decisions, the new strapline was created as it still has a throwback to that legacy. “A lot of our decisions were about leveraging the fame of the brand but showing we are different, a digital, modern and customer-focused,” Cotton says.

After some smaller below-the-line campaigns, Cotton was planning its biggest investment to date in a piece of work that would inspire customers to book their dream holiday. It was finally ready to get in front of a mass audience and land the message that it was back trading as a premium service – ”getting on TV is the heartland”, says Cotton.

After a day of filming and weeks of editing, the “perfect” ad was prepped and ready to go. So why haven't you seen it?

Cotton explains he has now decided to hold the work after a “staggering” uplift in sales made him cautious about growing too quickly and not being able to cater to demand.

Boxing Day through to January Thomas Cook saw a significant uplift in sales, with Cotton claiming “consumers had shrugged off” the Omicron variant by Christmas. “This made us check if we should launch a large scale above the line activity because we didn’t need to and we saw a risk of growing too quickly,” Cotton says.

Cotton adds that after spending “time and energy getting our Trust Pilot scores high and building our customer service there was a risk of going on TV too soon and creating too much demand and that needed to be balanced with covid is still ongoing.”

“We don’t want to grow too quickly and then another Covid curve ball comes later,” he continues.

“We already had that sudden surge we were expecting to see if we had run the TV campaign,” he says. “The question for us is how quickly can we grow and still maintain our level of customer service.”

The criteria needed to launch the campaign are continued growth in sales and stability in travel. “We’ve managed to deliver significant growth and the market has opened up but what we now need to see if stability in rules from the UK and destination point of view,” he says.

“You need stability because if customers book holidays and the rules change it’s not good for them but it’s not good for us, the costs associated with helping customers change.”

Until the above the line campaign drops Cotton’s strategy will focus on performance marketing including search, paid social, and affiliate activity. Parts of the creative will be used in display and social marketing. Over the next few months, Cotton will move Thomas Cook’s marketing up the funnel.

“I would love to see it on TV on a big flagship show but I need to wait and be patient,” he adds.

Shepherding Thomas Cook’s marketing team through months of Covid travel disruption is not for the faint-hearted as Cotton explains “there have been many periods of frustration”. He says his team has been learning and testing how to react to travel advice changes, like ramping up or decrease ad spend and selecting or deselecting regions to promote.

“Sometimes it’s been exciting and sometimes it’s been frustrating, but it has taught us how to be quick and nimble,” Cotton says. “It feels like we’ve got through 95% of the worst of it and now for Thomas Cook it’s all about growth and giving customers the holiday, they deserve.”