The idea that getting away from it all can be as stressful as what you’re getting away from is one that has gained traction.
“Customers just really want a break,” said Mariano Dima, global chief marketing officer for HomeAway, the home-rental site.
HomeAway recently reprised a campaign it began a year ago that featured travelers in unpleasant or awkward situations on vacation — tweaking traditional hotels and, with its depictions of partly clothed and poorly groomed hosts, its rival Airbnb.
Hilton Hotels & Resorts began a campaign last year that centered on the catchphrase “Stop clicking around.” Ads showed people frustrated as they pecked away online, looking for the best price. (Hilton, like other hotel companies, would prefer to have guests book their rooms through its own site to avoid paying commissions to third-party sites and to maintain customer loyalty.)
Although it might seem counterintuitive, acknowledging negativity can make a brand seem more credible.
“It can actually be a strategy to disarm consumers,” said Derek Rucker, a professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “When you represent some of the potential negatives of a product or service, that actually makes me feel as if I’m better informed.”
An October telephone survey commissioned by Westin found that while people planned to take more trips this year, a greater number found vacations more of a burden than business trips.
“I think there’s a pressure on vacation that you’re going to maximize every minute,” said Brian Povinelli, senior vice president and global brand leader for Westin, a Marriott International brand.
HomeAway’s Mr. Dima said a nod to the stress that many people felt about having the perfect getaway was a tactic that seemed to resonate these days.
“When you really take time off on your vacation, there’s a lot of pressure to make sure you maximize your time,” he said.
The Oregon Tourism Commission addressed this feeling last year with a campaign that heralded the state’s outdoors activities — and then reminded visitors that just relaxing is O.K., too. Video clips carried assurances like “There are all kinds of things you can do in Oregon, but you don’t have to do any of them” and “Looking at things is an activity.”
Beyond the pressure people put on themselves, there is the stress caused by fellow travelers.
“Whether it’s the train or on the roads or airplanes — it’s just the volume,” Mr. Povinelli said. “Everybody’s gotten better about maximizing inventory. It’s very rare when most of the seats aren’t filled.”
Like HomeAway’s, other campaigns have capitalized on the idea that close quarters make for uncomfortable experiences.
The app Hotel Tonight ran a holiday ad campaign with the tag line “Visit, don’t stay.” It featured socially awkward, annoying relatives, including a neon track-suited grandmother and an eye-rolling teenage cousin.
And air travel is a perennially easy target for marketers trying to connect with people who feel they have lost control once they hit the airport.
“The airlines are certainly doing a lot to enhance the experience, especially if you’re flying business class,” Mr. Povinelli said. “But at the end of the day, there’s still a seat at the back of the plane.”
Some airlines acknowledge they aren’t exactly the most eagerly anticipated part of a trip, in effect pleading with passengers to be more understanding. American Airlines dispensed advice on how to be the “world’s greatest flyers,” such as “They like babies but bring noise-canceling headphones.”
JetBlue also addressed the crying baby issue, with a bit of good-natured bribery in a Mother’s Day promotion that promised passengers on a cross-country flight discounts every time an infant wailed. In a blog post about the promotion, JetBlue also prodded passengers to smile instead of scowl at their fellow travelers.
Negative advertising needs to be used with a light touch, Mr. Rucker warned, especially if it is not tempered by more positive messages.
“If you give me something too negative, that can completely backfire,” he said. “If your tone is too aggressive, too antagonistic, consumers may revolt.”
Mr. McGinness said it was important for Westin’s new campaign to strike that balance.
“Travel is amazing,” he said. “It’s not about the fact that travel is bad, it’s just that it can be disrupting to your routine. I think in a lot of ways, it’s about balance.”
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