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Cleartrip CMO Kunal Dubey: Metaverse can inspire travel but cannot replace it

Cleartrip's CMO Kunal Dubey shares the genesis of the 'Invest in travel' campaign, key travel trends and thoughts on Metaverse travel.

By  Saumya TewariJan 17, 2023 1:09 AM
Cleartrip CMO Kunal Dubey: Metaverse can inspire travel but cannot replace it
The campaign targets individuals with a strong intent to travel. In recent months, the number of people searching for flights and hotels on Google has seen a significant increase for both domestic and international travel. The campaign offers customers discounts on flights and hotels, as well as products such as no-cost EMI and free refunds on medical grounds to make travel more stress-free.

Flipkart owned online travel agent (OTA) Cleartrip rolled out a new campaign - 'Invest in travel'. Targetted at different kinds of customer cohorts, the three ad films address different generations and what they seek when they travel. It is a quirky take on conventional investment campaigns and ends with a witty one-liner - ‘investing in travel is not subject to market risks’.

The company says that it has recently unveiled multiple customer-centric features on the platform including special fares for students, defence personnel, and senior citizens, two Pay Later options, medi-cancel refund, and international travel insurance. Kunal Dubey, chief marketing officer of Cleartrip talks to Storyboard18 about the recent campaign, travel trends and why technology such as Metaverse can never replace travel.

Edited excerpts.

What is the insight that drove the idea of this campaign?

The insight for this campaign came from a simple observation that if sleep can be the biggest enemy for OTT platforms, then what could be the biggest enemy for travel? After a lot of internal discussion with the creative and brand teams, we stumbled upon the idea that maybe investments could be the biggest enemy of travel. This is ironic, as when one travels, they invest time with loved ones, experience something new, create memories, build bonds, and experience thrills. Thus, travel can be viewed from an investment perspective, and this investment does not come with market risk. When we did concept testing on this idea, we received a positive response.

Who are you targeting through this campaign?

The campaign targets individuals with a strong intent to travel. In recent months, the number of people searching for flights and hotels on Google has seen a significant increase for both domestic and international travel. The campaign offers customers discounts on flights and hotels, as well as products such as no-cost EMI and free refunds on medical grounds to make travel more stress-free. Additionally, the campaign also introduced special fares for students and senior citizens as a targeted segment.

How has consumer preference changed post pandemic?

As the fear of Covid-19 subsides, people are becoming more open to investing in unique travel experiences. For example, 60 percent of hotel customers are traveling outside of their home states, and the number of trips taken per year by travelers has also increased. During the December holiday period, airline capacity reached upwards of 95 percent, with seat capacity normally around 85 percent, indicating a high pent-up demand despite high prices. The demand for hill stations is also expected to rise during upcoming long weekends. Our company offers innovative products, such as Flexifly, which provides flexibility in booking modifications and cancellations, as well as quick refund resolution, and increasing affordability through options such as "travel now, pay later" and no-cost EMI. These features are now considered essential in the travel industry. The introduction of products and services, rather than discounts, will be crucial in meeting the needs of travelers moving forward. Discounts alone will not be enough, as affordability-promoting products are becoming increasingly important.

Any interesting marketing trends that you see recently?

One significant trend in marketing is the rise of creators and short-form videos, such as YouTube Shorts and Instagram Reels. This has created an ecosystem where marketers and brand managers need to find ways to leverage these platforms for maximum impact. Another trend is focusing on digital-first campaigns, rather than traditional TV and offline mediums, to drive higher effectiveness per impression. Additionally, marketers must now focus on reaching their target audience where they are, rather than relying on a single channel. This means being present on platforms such as Reels and YouTube Shorts. Another important trend is agility, as gone are the days when brands spend a lot of time coming up with insights and then testing them. Real testing happens when the work is released to users, who then provide feedback. Marketers must stop assuming and instead, look at data and let users decide the outcome.

How do you see new tech marketing avenues such as Metaverse and Web3.0?

I recently participated in a panel discussion about whether Metaverse will overtake the entire OTA and travel industry. The idea behind Metaverse is that people wouldn't have to leave their homes to travel. While there's been a lot of discussion about Metaverse, it hasn't yet reached a large scale. However, I do believe that if Metaverse reaches a certain level of popularity, it could inspire more people to travel. I don't think it will replace actual travel, but it could replace the inspiration that currently comes from YouTubers and influencers in a more immersive and engaging way. In terms of marketing channels, one that worked well for us last year and we intend to scale in the first two quarters of this year is connected TV.

What percentage of your overall budget goes into content marketing and influencer-led marketing?

Currently, influencer marketing represents less than 10 percent of our company's marketing efforts. While it is a growing trend, we believe there is still room for us to leverage this channel effectively. We have conducted a few campaigns with creators in the past, but have yet to fully understand the best practices for this type of marketing. Our company conducts sessions with creators in-house and is working to learn the best ways to operate in this space. Influencer marketing is an important channel and medium for investment. In the future, a significant portion of our marketing budget will be allocated to the creator space.

What are your thoughts the evolving agency-client relationship?

I would like to speak about the team at Talented, specifically PG Aditya and Gautam Raghunath, whom I've been working with for the past 8-9 years, since they started the Bangalore office at Webchutney. For me, it has always been about working with people who feel like family. It was a natural progression to continue working with them when they started Talented, as I believe our team works well together. We have also developed a strong in-house creative team.

The current campaign about investment was developed and executed entirely by an internal team.

As for the Big Billion Days Cleartrip ad that went viral, I'll be honest, at one point I had lost faith in the idea because it was a big investment for me. But PG Aditya came to our office, spoke with the CEO and the entire team, and convinced us that it was the right decision. This is the kind of partnership and teamwork that I value. They have access to my product managers and business heads for insights as well. This is the kind of true collaboration that I believe in.

I think that at times, marketers tend to use their advertising partners as executive arms and end up polluting the ecosystem by getting them to do what they want. I believe in taking a step back, sharing the problem statements, and allowing them to run the show. It's okay to fail sometimes, as they are experts in their field and know their job better than I do.

First Published on Jan 17, 2023 1:09 AM