Published November 2016
San Francisco is one of the world's most beautiful cities, and the job of the San Francisco Travel Association is to bring more visitors to its golden gates. Specifically, San Francisco Travel aims to reach leisure travelers who are thinking about a trip to the city and drive them to book a stay of three nights or more.
The association wanted to reach those not-quite-committed travelers with stories like Best Areas to Stay in San Francisco on its website, SFTravel.com. They needed direct response ads that could engage a super-qualified audience at profitable CPAs. So in the summer of 2016, they turned to Sojern and native advertising from DoubleClick.
Reaching the right travelers
"Some people have a bit of a money hump about San Francisco; they're eager to visit, but they worry it might be expensive," says Karen Lau, Manager of Digital Marketing for San Francisco Travel. Her team wanted to create conversations with a content-forward approach that drove users to their popular articles instead of directly to the bookings page.
Sojern, a leading performance marketing platform for travel brands, suggested a new solution: reach US traveler audiences with Sojern's advanced technology, then reach them with programmatic native ads in DoubleClick.
Sojern's platform suite is built on finding highly-relevant audience segments who have shown interest in travel to a destination, and then serving them personalized ads, says Jackie Lamping, VP of Marketing for Sojern. "For example, using Sojern’s historical data on search and booking trends, we found that users who were searching for travel around the Labor Day or Columbus Day weekends had a strong propensity to book."
In the past, San Francisco Travel had utilized native ads for branding initiatives, but now wanted to test whether native could also drive direct response bookings in a cost-efficient manner.
With native ads in DoubleClick, there's no need to design and resize thousands of ad variations by hand. The advertiser provides the components ― headlines, logo, image and call to action ― and DoubleClick combines them automatically to fit the format of the site where the ad is published.
"With normal display ads, we would have had to build templates and go through a more structured internal creative review process for each piece," says Karen Lau. "With native ads we just provided copy, image and a link, so we were able to bypass that review process and be more nimble and flexible."
The component-based nature of native ads makes it easy to change messages and A/B test headlines, text and images. The campaign began with the eight creatives, two each for four different stories about places to stay in San Francisco. DoubleClick campaign reports showed the teams which creative performed best for each piece of content. They then worked together to optimize the campaign toward the four highest-engagement creatives.
"It was so easy to measure and make changes," says Karen Lau. "It helped us align our goals and our brand messaging in ways that would have been much harder with display ads."
Getting to 'Yes'
The combination of Sojern's rich traveler targeting and DoubleClick’s image-driven native ads was a major success. When compared to San Francisco Travel’s previous direct response campaign, the new ads led to:
● A 1662% rise in hotel bookings: 16X their previous campaign
● A remarkable 92% drop in cost per acquisition
The higher booking rates were a big win, and the lower CPAs were "a really great surprise," according to Lau. "The native ads were much more efficient than our previous direct marketing programs, with CPAs closer to what we wanted to see. It’s absolutely a more efficient use of our funds."
"Thanks to our work with the San Francisco Travel team and Google, programmatic native ads in DoubleClick are now a proven method for driving direct bookings," says Jackie Lamping. "We’ve since expanded this opportunity and made it available to all of Sojern’s clients."
Native ads brought San Francisco Travel what it wanted: reaching the right travelers who had a good chance of converting, with the right message. "We were able to see what resonates best with potential visitors and serve up content that’s meaningful to them as they make their travel decisions," says Lau. "That's helping us turn 'maybe' into 'yes.'"