Google Puts Out Welcome Mat for Co-Op Advertisers

Tourism marketers have long relied on the “co-op” buy to promote themselves and local partners. California runs an ad campaign, for example, and Knots Berry Farm gets to slap its logo on the ads (along with Disneyland and some local restaurants), in exchange for a contribution.

The idea is that together, they can afford better ads than they could on their own.

Co-op ads have largely been confined to print media. The problem is that the majority of travel planning now happens online, meaning a lot of those dollars are being misspent.

Google is hoping to change that by making it easier for tourism marketers to spend their co-op dollars with the Mountain View, Calif. company.

“Cooperative marketing as is exists today has really not come into the digital age,” said Sarah Travis, head of travel for Google online sales. “It’s absolutely behind the curve in terms of what consumers are actually doing.” According to a poll commissioned by Google, 25 percent of consumers use print media to plan travel, whereas 85 percent use the Internet.

Visit Florida, a statewide public-private marketing partnership that promotes tourism, is launching the first large-scale co-op buy with Google this week. In exchange for spending its co-op dollars with Google, Visit Florida’s ads will receive premium placements on Google’s ad network, YouTube and AdMob, targeted at people who are most likely to visit Florida.

For its maiden campaign, Visit Florida will work with five partners, all local tourism boards from within the state (Visit Orlando, Miami Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau, etc.). As with traditional advertising co-op deals, VisitFlorida will match every marketing dollar that one of these partners puts toward the campaign.

But instead of buying a single print ad that combines every partner’s logo and contact information—”logo soup,” as Will Seccombe, CMO for Visit Florida, referred to it—Visit Florida will place banner and video ads throughout Google’s network advertising specific partners. When a user clicks on an ad, he will be taken to a landing page on specifically for that destination.

“These are premium placements that, without that Visit Florida match, a lot of those smaller partners wouldn’t naturally be able to afford,” said Travis.

For Visit Florida, the buy represents an opportunity to shift some of its co-op spending online, where it can be better tracked and managed. “The industry has really had a hard time developing a successful online co-op marketing model,” said Seccombe. “Here we have the opportunity to participate in a program that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford or necessarily manage.”

While Google is not offering any new product or capability – there is technically nothing stopping co-op advertisers from simply pooling their money and buying more ads on Ad Sense – the company is making it easier for co-ops like Visit Florida to buy and oversee their campaigns. By designing the media buys specifically for the co-op advertisers, Google is ensuring that their ads don’t compete against each other for the same space. Google will also provide separate reports measuring the performance of each partner across each platform.

The hope is that other co-ops will follow in Visit Florida’s footsteps.

“We see this as them paving the way for other destinations,” said Travis. “we believe that in 2012 that we’ll see other destinations bringing their programs online.”

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