Toby Horry TUI

Most Creative Marketers

Most Creative Marketers: Toby Horry

Tui’s global marketing director on why both - the power of marketing fundamentals and big-bang firework campaigns - have a role to play in a brand’s playbook

By Jennifer Small

Think of Tui, and you’d be forgiven for imagining the classic sun-sea-sand package, but the tour operator wants more; so Toby Horry is on a mission to change perceptions.

Tui is on a voyage from its roots as a renowned package operator to a leisure experience brand, where it’s possible to buy everything from a package holiday, flights-only, or London west end theatre tickets, a ski holiday, or a cruise.

“We're on that journey where we're trying to expand people's horizons as to what Tui is,” says Horry.

The forerunner to diversification has been product development work, technology upgrades and web apps. Although most of this has taken place outside the marketing function, Horry’s team has played a big role in ensuring the brand has the right communication platform from which to showcase its new products.

David Ogilvy’s famous rule: “great marketing only makes a bad product fail faster,” has been front-of-mind for Horry as he has endeavoured to make sure the timing was right before shouting about any new Tui offering.

The need to rebuild

Covid lockdowns hit the travel and tourism sector hard. In 2020 alone, it faced global losses of $4.5 trillion and 62 million jobs. The same year, Tui reported a £2.7bn loss, with revenues of £7.2bn, a slide of 58 per cent on the previous year, after the pandemic halted most international travel.

“Covid was obviously pretty terrible for the travel industry, so there was a large element of needing to rebuild following the pandemic,” says Horry, who joined Tui in 2018 as UK brand and content director, after three years as part of Tesco’s turn-around team.

While Horry’s day-to-day role is to deliver marketing strategy and assets that help drive the business towards its daily, weekly, and monthly sales targets, he’s also got an eye on the future, getting the business set for success in three years’ or five years’ time.

“During Covid, everything became super short-term, it was ridiculous. We didn't know on any given day where we could fly people to next week, let alone booking media advertising,” says Horry.

But at the same time, the team knew Covid would come to an end at some point, so Horry led a lot of behind-the-scenes work on the brand.

“We knew we needed to set ourselves up for success when it came to an end, to set the brand up in people's minds to be successful.”

Tui’s advertising pitch in summer 2021 was an opportunity to completely revamp its brand identity. Its first campaign through Leo Burnett – as part of the new “Live Happy” platform – launched in October 2021, unveiled a fresh brand identity against a backdrop of travel restrictions easing. The Europe-wide campaign was designed to showcase Tui’s breadth of offer – from beach trips to exploring far-flung islands by canoe, and day trips around a Moroccan souk.

It was a toe-in-the-water approach to create a brand bedrock, rather than a firework moment, followed by a campaign focused on Tui Blue hotels, a campaign focusing on city breaks, and then also for river cruises and cruises. The brand was gradually trying help its audience get a perception of Tui as a destination for all leisure experience requirements, “rather than just for that very narrow package holiday requirement.”

“If we’d come out of the blocks with firework advertising in a time when people were still quite nervous about travel, and not sure whether they wanted to go away, I'm not sure that would have played particularly well,” says Horry. “Our bedrock of brand advertising is demonstrating the breadth of offer and the emotional benefit that being on holiday, or having a leisure experience with Tui, brings.”

Beyond the heartland

As Tui diversifies its product offering, the type of customer it appeals to is growing. While its “heartland customers” are package regulars who understand and value that experience, its future audience might be more used to booking component-based travel, or different sorts of holiday experience. The general demographic is expanding from what it was five years ago, says Horry, who points out that his marketing team is often found booking Tui trips – both as paying customers and for insight, as they work closely with the customer experience team.

The allure of a new and more adventurous audience contributed to the launch of Tui’s World Cook series, streamed on Amazon Prime Video. The competitive international cooking series is presented by celebrity maître d’ Fred Sirieix and TV presenter, Emma Willis. Chefs from different nations face country-specific challenges in six locations (including the Amalfi Coast and Mexico), and are judged by food heavyweights including Jay Rayner, Marcus Wareing and Grace Dent.

“We wanted to take food into a travel environment – they go together – and show Tui in a more content-based environment rather than an advertising-based environment. The first series was very successful, so we went ahead with a second series,” says Horry.

The series led to a 77 per cent increase in search volume for locations featured in the show, and a 10 per cent increase in purchase intent, according to EssenceMediacom.

Meanwhile, the brand launched a partnership with Photobox, so Tui customers receive a voucher for a free photo book on their return, as a reminder of the holiday they’ve had, and Horry hopes, a prompt to book further time away.

“We've had amazing customer feedback from that initiative,” says Horry. “Creativity, when it works best, is looking at all different touchpoints and aspects of the customer journey. All the way from the big TV ads to a treat when someone has come back from holiday – there's still something creative you can do at that point.”

All I want for Christmas…

Having prepared the ground, Horry was ready for some creative fireworks. In summer 2023, Leo Burnett pitched six ideas for the first-ever Tui Christmas campaign, which would be timed to build brand metrics in the run up to the Boxing Day holiday-booking spike.

“For me, there was one idea among the six that creatively stood out, head-and-shoulders above the rest. That's the tricky thing about creativity – sometimes it’s intangible and subjective,” says Horry.

“But creativity is often connected to simplicity, because I think this idea was very simple: when Father Christmas goes off and delivers the presents, the elves who’ve been working hard making all the presents go on holiday and have a great time with Tui. It was fun and charming.”

It also worked: tested in advance by Metrics Lab, it performed “fantastically well”. “System 1 said it was the most effective Travel and Leisure ad they'd ever tested, and it was the ninth most effective ad in all of the UK last year,” says Horry.

He points out that the “Happy Holidays” ad, part of the brand’s “Live Happy” platform, also performed well internally, with a galvanising effect. “Working in holidays and leisure should be fun and I think being part of a business that can behave in that way makes people who work here feel good. So, we were really proud of that.”

It was a success across all 13 of Tui’s markets – quite a feat considering the cultural differences.

“It’s harder to create big-bang firework moments that resonate culturally across multiple different markets. We have to consider the use of humour in advertising in different markets and how that it received; it doesn't always play out with different audiences. Trying to find universal insights that play in different markets is not easy, even when it comes to Christmas, there are so many market-specific traditions.”

Tui's festive ad, created in partnership with Leo Burnett, along with Rogue Films producing the ad and EssenceMediacom overseeing media planning and buying, entertained audiences during prime-time TV slots on ITV and Channel 4. The cheeky elves took over Tui's social channels during the holiday season, sharing “holiday elfies” from their tropical trip. Tui also ran competitions to win holidays on social media, while the “elfie AR filter” was available on IG and Facebook.

Creative and media cohesion

A former adman himself, Horry has a deep affinity to creativity, and appreciation of its commercial value. He began his career in advertising production but quickly made the move to strategy as a planner at AMV BBDO. From there he went to Dare, where he progressed to managing director, before moving client-side at Tesco in 2015.

At Tui, he sees creativity as a huge part of his role, essentially because it becomes a tool for competitive advantage.

“It’s about being creative in the advertising we produce, but also in terms of how we operate more broadly in the day-to-day. Connected to that is understanding the customer perception and need, so making sure I'm representing the voice of the customer or potential customer in the boardroom, and in conversations around where the business is headed.”

What is interesting about travel, Horry explains, is that what’s important to every customer is ever-so-slightly different, and everyone's idea of perfect is probably slightly different.

He runs frequent insight sessions with Leo Burnett and EssenceMediacom to try and capture the essence of what’s important to people in their holiday and leisure time. By having creative and media in the same room, he says, the value of the customer insight they have is increased.

After a pan-European pitch in 2023, WPP’s EssenceMediacom came on board with Tui in January 2024 to become its media agency across all markets across Europe, of which the UK was worth $60m.

“Part of the reason we did it is because I think marketing is only effective when you're considering creative and media together. So now we have a creative agency and a media agency who are tasked with making sure we're delivering the right message, to the right person, at the right time, in the right channel.”

As the agency teams start to work together on campaigns, they are often briefed at the same time. From the very beginning, says Horry, they’re not just thinking about the creative idea, but also the media deployment of it, to hit the right customers. It’s a joined-up way of thinking about communicating with customers or potential customers, rather than just thinking about creativity in isolation of media.

“Everyone can buy media to a greater or lesser extent, but it’s this holistic creativity that makes you stand out from the pack. There's nothing worse than not being noticed when you do advertising.”

Thankfully, it looks like that’s something he won’t need to worry about.

Everyone can buy media to a greater or lesser extent, but it’s this holistic creativity that makes you stand out from the pack. There's nothing worse than not being noticed when you do advertising.

Toby Horry

The world according to Toby Horry

What’s your favourite piece of creativity?

“I still go back to the ads I loved when I joined the industry, like Guinness’s 'Swim Black' or PlayStation’s 'Double Life'.”

What’s been feeding your imagination lately?

“I would say the coming of spring. I feel that it gives me a renewed burst of energy and positivity.”

What has been your boldest creative play?

“Probably our first Christmas ad in December 2023. We hadn't done a Christmas ad before so there was nervousness, but it worked brilliantly.”

And how did it pay off, and what lessons did that teach you?

“It showed that even with pre-testing and reams of rationale, sometimes you need to get people to take a leap of faith.”

What do you enjoy most about being a marketer?

“The diversity of it. No two days are the same, and there is always more to learn, especially when you work across different markets. I also have an amazing team and work with lots of brilliant people.”

What makes a good creative marketer?

“I think you need to be open to new approaches and be prepared to back the team around you to take leaps of faith.”

What makes a good creative agency partner?

“I think one that truly takes the time to understand your business and reacts accordingly.”

What frustrates you?

“I think navigating big organisations. But having said that, I went client side as I wanted to truly understand all the things you don't see when you're agency side... I guess now I know!”

What excites you about the future?

“Marketing is inherently about driving positive future outcomes so it's always exciting and TUI has big growth plans.”


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