Friday, 7 December 2012

The Travel Agent is Dead: Long Live Travel… Curator?

Ask a discerning young traveller what they think about travel agents and package holidays - and prepare to be rebuffed. High street travel agencies and large buses lead by ex-pat guides have little relevance to them. Baby boomers used to rely on the likes of Thomas Cook for recommendations, assurance and contacts. Yet now there is little they can offer that cannot be done online with a little help from Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet.

Yet recently a new wave of travel services has been emerging aimed precisely at the younger holidaymaker. Consider Festicket, the one-stop shop for festival fans offering packages of flights, transport, accommodation and the festival ticket. Trips to foreign festivals are a nightmare to organize because the quantity of logistical options takes days to sieve through to get the best price. Critically, Festicket - like Expediasearches the web to find the best deal amongst all suppliers rather than merely selling their partners’ offers.

Young holidaymakers are independent and comfortable exploring new places without any handholding, but do appreciate tips from locals who share their interests. This has spurred on new players such as the budget Couchsurfing as well as Valet and Lime&Tonic at the luxury end of the market. Many of these premium brands term themselves ‘curators,’ thus communicating their function as selectors of the best amongst the best as well as differentiating themselves from the stuffy ‘travel agent’ category.

There is clearly still a place for the ‘traditional’ agent model amongst more mature customers. But when it comes to younger travellers we are seeing a radical shift in the types of benefits that an intermediary can offer. Firstly, information ‘filtering’ or ‘curating’ is far more important than information access. But most importantly – all of these new travel service brands allow the customer to remain in control and make use of many suppliers, rather than locking them in with one brand and its associated partners.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Asda’s Christmas Ad Controversy: Sexism in Advertising

Asda’s Christmas 2012 ad has caused quite a stir. Instead the of the usual romanticized images of fluffy snow, velvety red cushions and relaxed happy family Saatchi & Saatchi chose a ‘realistic’ portrayal of the festive season. For most mums – and it is still mainly mums – it’s possibly the busiest and most stressful time of year. 

At the time of writing, ASA has received more than 160 complaints regarding this ad on the grounds of sexism. From women’s point of view, it portrays an old-fashioned family dynamic where domestic responsibility falls exclusively on mothers, while men feel that the fathers’ role is ignored or belittled. Notably, there are also plenty of mums who like the ad and happily admit that it is indeed the way the preparations and celebrations happen in their household.

First things first. Asda should be commended for breaking with the tradition of idealized, otherworldly Christmas.  Much as I enjoy the John Lewis ads, it’s refreshing to see a new approach that seeks to appeal to portray and appeal to real people rather than selling dreams (not a million miles off from  Tesco Mobile's 'no nonsense' campaigns which I equally admire.)

That said I sympathize with those who find Asda’s ad offensive. The fact that this role assignment is still prevalent does not mean it is right, and as cultural influencers brands have responsibility to not promote values that our society wishes to move on from. The fact that sexism was rife in 1950s did not make these Mad Men era comms ok.

But if sexism is going to be addressed, it needs to be done indiscriminately. The vast majority of FMCG and grocery brands target mums, and there has not yet been uproar about ‘That's why mums go to Iceland’ or P&G’s ‘proud sponsor of mums.’ What’s more, ASDA is not the first retailer to focus their Christmas campaign on mums – remember the Littlewoods 2011 Christmas ad?
Unless the Asda ad leads to a wider debate about sexism in other brands, the case risks becoming a scapegoat. Perhaps they should have cut the ‘what’s for tea love’ line after all.