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How Cook Islands Tourism shifted its focus from ‘fly and floppers’ to ‘soft explorers’


How Cook Islands Tourism shifted its focus from ‘fly and floppers’ to ‘soft explorers’


Cook Islands’ primary tourism customer segment was travellers who visited resorts to sunbake. A competitive tourism industry meant a new audience had to be identified and approached.

This article originally appeared in The Experience Issue, our February/March 2018 print edition of Marketing magazine.


Campaign: From ‘fly and flop’ to ‘soft explorers’

Client: Cook Islands Tourism

Agency: Sparcmedia and The Core Agency

With competition tough for tourism dollars, Cook Islands Tourism (CIT) wanted to define its market and expand its reach across Australia and New Zealand. The independent South Pacific state appeals to tourists in both countries, but their interests are diverse, with CIT estimating the Cook Islands are a new destination to the Australian market but a mature one for New Zealanders. Confirming this assumption was high on the agenda for CIT so it could develop a targeted digital marketing strategy for each market. T

ourism accounts for more than 60% of the Cook Islands’ gross domestic product. CIT wants to set the Cook Islands apart as a South Pacific destination that isn’t sleepy or soporific, but a vibrant and energetic destination that reflects the energy of its people and culture.

It was looking for messaging that reflected the Islands’ personality and opened up its shores for travellers looking for a meaningful and experiential experience.



The broad objectives were to increase brand awareness in Australia and New Zealand and to change the perception of the Cook Islands.

Building out audience insights and understanding where the Australian and New Zealand markets each were at in their awareness of the Cook Islands was integral to the campaign. Key to achieving this was researching the getaway’s customer segment. Prior to the campaign, it was too restrictive and defined as ‘fly and flop’ – people aged 30-plus who travel to sunbake at a resort. CIT chose programmatic advertising by Sparcmedia in partnership with The Core Agency to target audiences in both markets. Sparcmedia’s parent company Pureprofile used a brand impact study to provide metrics on how the advertising campaign had affected consumer sentiment regarding the Cook Islands.

The purpose of the study was twofold: to ensure ROI was tracked and achieved, and to determine who the customer segments were (with a view to use these insights as a platform to build the main digital marketing campaign). This would ensure that future marketing spend would be directed at the audience that is the best fit for the market and delivered in a way that heralds premium results. This insights-driven approach helped CIT understand how audiences related to its messaging, as well as verify preconceived notions about what each market wanted in a holiday destination.



Sparcmedia ran a month-long programmatic advertising campaign in March and April 2017, working with The Core Agency on behalf of CIT. The brand impact study was layered over the campaign to show how sophisticated insights can provide real ROI results on advertising spend. The online pre and post study measured the impact of advertising in raising the brand awareness and changing the Cook Islands’ brand perception with a representative sample of Australians and New Zealanders.

The pre-study was used to understand the current state of the Cook Islands’ brand awareness and destination perception – prior to any marketing campaign. The post-study, conducted once the one-month programmatic advertising campaign had concluded, asked the same questions to measure how effective the campaign had been in raising brand awareness, and whether the Cook Islands were now being recognised as an adventurous destination rather than a resort island.

The team hit the mark instantly with its target audience on Facebook and YouTube, but refined its search during the initial weeks of the campaign to select websites to give both high viewability and strong click- through rate (CTR). The campaign was the pre-strategy to provide the foundation for a longer three- to five-year strategy that has digital as a major component. This served CIT well as a small destination with a limited budget and low brand awareness in the Australian market. Trialling its messaging in this way to gain an understanding of how it resonated with the target audiences provided a safe way for CIT to enter the digital space with a solid sense of who its audience is and how they like to be reached.



The advertising included video, search and display ads across web and social targeting of Australians and New Zealanders across all ages and regions. In addition, custom audience segments were built in a data management platform (DMP) to reach psychographic-based consumer segments interested in adventurous travel.

With such a broad demographic, a variety of online advertising including video ads through YouTube and Facebook plus other social and display ads, such as boosted posts and canvases, were used. Benchmarks were set for viewability and click- through and most of the channels exceeded these.



The campaign clocked up 4,726,675 impressions in four weeks and achieved 126% over delivery on budget. It reached 2.5 million unique audiences with over 41,000 click-throughs. It gave CIT valuable insights into its customer segments – broadening the scope from ‘fly and flop to ‘soft explorers’ aged 25 to 34 years and seeking adventurous destinations, ultimately uncovering a whole new market segment. The advertising mix identified the different customer journeys for these two segments – fly and floppers visited the website after engaging with ads, such as video and carousel, four times. On the other hand, soft explorers visited the website after engaging with ads twice.

The insight reaped many benefits for CIT, allowing it to optimise the media strategy accordingly and save wasted ad dollars, as well as cater to soft explorers. The brand impact study revealed that, in addition to the Cook Islands being seen as an exploring destination, the perception of it as adventurous increased by 5% among New Zealanders, expanding CIT’s usual customer segment.

In Australia, brand awareness for the Cook Islands increased by 1%, brand recall increased by 5% and preparedness to visit increased by 3%. In New Zealand, post-campaign opinions of the Cook Islands being a place where you can ‘get out of the hotel/resort and do interesting things’ increased by 5%. From a tourism perspective, the programmatic campaign outlined the competitive landscape for CIT – it uncovered the advertising spend and timing of competitors such as Fiji, Hawaii and Tahiti, and identified the peak season, which in turn drove timings for CIT’s media schedule.

  • Online advertising – including social – had a brand recall of 20% among Australians and 28% among New Zealanders.
  • YouTube instream ads exceeded the 90% benchmark for 25% completion.
  • Facebook short video ads exceeded the 30% benchmark for 25% completion – 30.19% in Australia and 31.64% in New Zealand.
  • Facebook and Instagram carousel ads achieved 5845 link clicks, 79 post shares, 78 comments and 1296 post reactions (as of September 2017).
  • Facebook and Instagram boosted posts achieved 140,744 engagements.
  • Canvas ads on Facebook achieved 85,875 impressions in Australia and 72,403 in New Zealand. They clocked up a view time of 29.82 seconds.

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