Tourism Whistler: Integrated Marketing Communications Campaign

The following integrated marketing communications campaign are excerpts taken from an assignment for my Advertising & Communications course at York University, where I led a team of five in developing a strategic IMC plan for Tourism Whistler.


The Client.

Whistler, British Columbia has been voted the #1 overall ski destination in North America for the second time in three years, attracting the most extreme skiers and avid snowboarders globally.

Why Does Whistler Exist?

To create memories as the best mountain experience again and again.

The Challenge.

The business objectives include increasing overnight visitation, accelerate website traffic on to drive more online hits, achieve more accommodation bookings through Whistler’s reservations system, and pull in more travelers from Ontario. Essentially, the campaign wants to increase purchase intentions of Whistler as the destination of choice for the 2015 winter season.

Who Is The Target?


Sean is a young urban professional who is 35-years-old, married with no kids, earning a $120K salary, and lives in downtown Toronto. He is affluent, highly educated, and has the discretionary income to pursue active social lives, as well as shopping for the latest fashions and electronics. Not only is he outgoing, adventurous, and a trendsetter, but he has a desire for self-expression. As an avid snowboarder, he enjoys staying active and conquering new challenges, and – more importantly – he needs to be seen by his peers doing it.

Based on our research, the most important attitude of Sean is how he like activities which push my mental and physical limits. He wants to challenge himself to the top, to the peak, and to his very best. What’s important to Sean when booking a winter vacation is, of course, a great skiing/snowboarding experience, but also the fact that someone they trusted them to go.

What’s Getting In The Way?

While the Toronto target audience knows that Whistler has the very best slopes in North America, they tend to view it in their mind as an out-of-reach luxury that is difficult and complicated to access. They’d much rather go to closer alternatives such as Blue Mountain and Mont Tremblant – these seem easier to book and less of a hassle.

The Insight.

Not only is Whistler seen as being physically far away, but it is mentally far away. Out of reach, out of mind.

The Positioning.



Thus, the campaign must tap into Sean’s transformational motives for skiing/snowboarding, specifically his longing for self-improvement and challenging himself. By doing so, Whistler will be positioned in Sean’s mind as the ultimate place to “elevate‟ himself: to higher peaks, to higher challenges, and to a higher version of himself. An experience of this “height‟ cannot be found in Blue Mountain, Mont Tremblant, or Lake Louise. This experience only lives in the breath-taking wonders atop Whistler.

Creative Strategy.

Thus, this campaign has been designed for the challengers of the norm, defiers of the average, and conquerers of the top: those who best embody the core values of Whistler. Using a creative theme of positioning by user, the campaign promises the benefit that Whistler is the destination of choice meant only for the best and most avid of skier/snowboarders. Getting to the top is only a moment away.

Enter the “Moments from the Top” campaign.

Bringing Moments from Whistler to Toronto.

This innovative integrated campaign taps into the target’s transformational motives in an authentic way and shift their perceptions that a trip to Whistler is closer than they think. It leverages experiential and word-of-mouth tactics to convince them that Whistler is the perfect destination for a thrilling winter adventure, meant only for those daring enough to conquer new heights. More importantly, this approach sparks an urge to book by emphasizing that booking is only a “moment away”.

The campaign will achieve the objectives by playing with the idea that Sean is moments away from reaching the top of all winter resorts (i.e. Whistler) using the support of the one-stop-shop website, and he is also moments away from elevating himself to the top of his game – particularly, his hunger for the next big challenge. It communicates what this “moment of being on top” feels like, and the fact that these moments live only in Whistler.



The first phase will be a teaser to the campaign and will launch towards the beginning of September, where the target audience is winding down from summer and thinking about their next big adventure. The aim is to create interest in the upcoming winter season and to generate buzz for the campaign. Minimal imagery will be used at this point in order to spark curiosity. CTAs for each element will lead to a teaser microsite:


Several place-based touchpoints will be set up in key locations in downtown Toronto that hit the target audience during their commute. The goal with OOH is to generate curiosity and interest in the touch points by visually capturing a ‘moment’ from Whistler and bringing it to Toronto, thus letting the target audience experience how ‘close’ Whistler (and winter) feels.

Whistler_Phase1_Subway Whistler_Phase1_Garage Whistler_Phase1_BusTop SONY DSC

Event Sponsorship:

Whistler will also provide sponsorship to the 2015 Tough Mudder Toronto through a branded obstacle. This event is an ideal platform to provide exposure to the target audience and will contribute to Whistler associating itself with the image of being a brand for ‘challengers’.



As mentioned above, all elements lead to a teaser microsite. The site will feature three key elements: 1) countdown to Whistler opening day launch (November 27, 2015); 2) “Moments From The Top Series” teaser trailer; 3) “Your Moment from the Top” contest submission form.



The second phase will be the full launch of the campaign, launching towards the beginning of October until the beginning of December. Given that booking season is around October to December and most of the traffic happens during this time, the CTA for all elements should now lead to, in order to remove the mystery and clearly communicate and create the urge that it is time to book their winter vacation at Whistler. This phase continues to deepen the Whistler experience and aims to further drive positive conversation about the campaign.


The microsite will launch the “Moments From The Top” Video Series. Filmed during the 2014 winter season, the series will comprise of three short films (4-7 minutes) featuring three individuals, representative of the Toronto target audience: The Defier, The Fearless, and The Challenger. The videos will feature them sharing their ‘moments from the top’ by telling stories about their experiences at Whistler, as well showcasing footage of them on the slopes.



Online promotions will be complemented by full-page print ads in select magazines related to the target audience’s interests: Men’s Fashion, Hockey News, and Canadian Geographic Traveler. Again, imagery would highlight both usage and user, with each version featuring the individuals from the short-film series.

Whistler_Phase2_MagazineA Whistler_Phase2_MagazineB Whistler_Phase2_MagazineC


The OOH media will continue to utilize subways, subway station domination, and elevators – all effective contact points of our target audience, either during their commute or their work day.



The final phase of the campaign will take place from December to the end of the ski season in February, which is the height of the ski season, when it is busiest in Whistler. It will capitalize on the word-of-mouth and the online conversation during this time coming from skiers/snowboarders currently at Whistler, in order to continue to drive enhanced perceptions back in Toronto.



Media Plan.

Type, Class, Vehicle


Advertising Budget


Projected Reach and Frequency



Due to its nature of seasonality, Whistler’s campaign will use a flighting scheduling. Advertising for the winter campaign will not occur during the late spring to early summer months (April-July) , but will take full effect beginning in late August to the beginning of February. This allows the campaign to be more cost efficient and only present during the time where consumers are likely to purchase travel packages.


There you have it, folks! By delivering experiences from Whistler all the way to Toronto in unique ways, the “Moments from the Top” integrated campaign will improve perceptions of Whistler, create preference over closer resorts and, most importantly, ignite an urge in the target audience that will drive online purchase intention of Whistler for the 2015 winter season.



Brand Diagnostic: McDonald’s (U.S.) – “Signs” Spot

The following brand diagnostic was taken from an assignment for my brand management course.


Earlier in 2015, McDonald’s launched an ad during the Super Bowl and the Golden Globes which was called “Signs” (Beltrone, 2015). The American spot, which was produced by Leo Burnett, focused on how McDonald’s franchises in various communities have used their roadside signs to support, celebrate, or acknowledge local and national events; ranging from the 9/11 tragedy, to the Boston bombing, to the 30th wedding anniversary of a loyal customer. The purpose of highlighting the signs was to show how McDonald’s continues to play an important role in the local communities it serves in America. It is also part of a broader brand rejuvenation through a platform that refreshes its long-running “I’m lovin’ it” tagline by putting more emphasis on the “lovin'” aspect; this is all during a time of steep sales declines caused by cluttered and unpopular menus, as well as perceptions of poor quality. All of these factors make it difficult for the brand to appeal to the health-conscious consumer who is gravitating towards healthier, more socially responsible, fast casual companies such as Chipotle.


Based on the “Signs” spot – which places little focus on individual products and sub-brands – it is clear that McDonald’s wants to build its corporate brand equity on the dimensions of corporate credibility, specifically trustworthiness. According to U.S. CMO Deborah Wahl (Morrison, 2015), McDonald’s intends to become a more modern, consumer-centric company in an effort to combat current negative evaluations. The broader “Choose Lovin'” platform in America echoes its recent transparency push in Canada (i.e. as shown by the “Our Food. Your Questions.” campaign, or its animated “Archenemies” spot), which makes it evident that McDonald’s is using “transparency” as a means to achieve a point-of-parity with its perceivably more “trustworthy” competitors such as Chipotle; all of whom are fighting for the health-conscious consumer’s share of heart and wallet. Through this ad, it seeks to position itself as a trustworthy restaurant (POP) that is the only one to have been firmly embedded, present, and supportive of American communities through all of their happiest and darkest moments (POD). By attempting to build a positive image of the corporate brand through its marketing communications, McDonald’s hopes that it will elicit favorable attitudes and evaluations that will positively influence consumer associations with the brand – which, right now, appear to be “cheap” and “unhealthy”.

McDonald’s: Archenemies

McDonald’s: Our Food. Your Questions. (U.S.)


In diagnosing the problem, the development of this communications campaign simply exacerbated the problem of a lack of trustworthiness and transparency, with 59% of readers viewing the spot as “crass” (Spary, 2015), and an arguably “insincere” point-of-differentiation. While there may be discrepancies in evaluations of the ad across geographies (i.e. UK vs. Canada vs. US), the campaign essentially fails to build the consumer confidence it intended. It attempts to convince people to move away from negative associations and instead associate the Golden Arches with the big four-letter word: “love”. The “Signs” spot, specifically, extended this overarching theme by attempting to evoke a sense of “patriotism” – both through its choice of song and recognizing a sense of community for the McDonald’s brand across all of America.

The issue, however, is that these associations fail to effectively form a positive image for the corporation. The values that McDonald’s wants to convey through the ad are conflicting with deeply-held associations with the brand that have been formed over a long period of direct experiences and word-of-mouth. As John Oliver effectively summarizes, current consumer associations of McDonald’s are typically “the makers of the world’s most affordable heart disease”. Trying to alter these through indirect means (i.e. advertising) only results in weak and unfavorable associations, which consequently have a negative impact on McDonald’s positioning. The campaign’s attempt to strengthen and enhance a corporate image of “we care” has a negative correlation with current nodes such as “high calories”, “obesity”, “minimum wage”, not to mention the damaging link that this spot creates with “national tragedies”; all of which seem to contradict the intended image of a “loving” brand. Speaking of “love”, it is also difficult for McDonald’s to uniquely own the “love” platform in a credible and trustworthy way, especially in the midst of countless brands tugging at the same heartstrings (e.g. Coca Cola #MakeItHappy, Dove #SpeakBeauty), which again, weakens the campaign’s effectiveness. All of these factors contribute to McDonald’s failure in convincing consumers to buy into any of its reasons-to-believe in its attempt to redeem the brand’s image.

Testing: ZMET

Ways of conducting further research and testing this hypothesis (i.e. the effectiveness of the “Signs” spot) would involve utilizing the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique (ZMET) to uncover potentially hidden thoughts and feelings towards McDonald’s. The test could be conducted with two separate groups of consumers – one that has been exposed to the “Signs” spot and one that has not – and instructing them to collect images and photos that indicate what McDonald’s as a company means to them. After having respondents sort their images into meaningful piles, the test would ideally focus on constructs which are linked to the brand’s imagery (i.e. personality, values, and perceived user profile). ZMET would test the exposed group for originator constructs and determine whether they are congruent with McDonald’s intended communications of a sincere, honest, and warm personality. The metaphors to be tested are that of a “patriotic, local community leader” (originator), and determine if this is indeed leading to a connector construct of “being cared for” or “being listened to”, which ultimately arrive at McDonald’s intended destination construct: “feeling loved”. These results would be compared to the non-exposed group, who may have potentially collected more negative images such as an “obese American” (typical user) or an “old white man in a suit” (corporate personality) – of course, this is in addition to the more likely photos of “golden arches”, “fries”, or “hamburgers”. If the test reveals a discrepancy between the two groups, then there may be enough evidence to infer that McDonald’s new “Choose Lovin'” platform (via their “Signs” spot) is indeed having a positive effect on consumer associations with the company.


If McDonald’s wants to build a destination construct of “feeling loved”, then it needs to show that they are really listening to their customers through actions, not words. In other words, it should remedy these associations not through marketing communications, but through the customer experience at the restaurant. The core issue is that judgments of McDonald’s quality – in terms of food, wages, service – is low; and no amount of communications will alter evaluations of products which remain unchanged. McDonald’s should instead focus efforts on enhancing their offerings and their processes. First, appeal to the health-conscious customer through less-fatty, less-oily cooking processes, or – similar to Chipotle – give the option for customers to customize burgers with locally-sourced, high-quality, fresh ingredients. Second, uphold tactics that stay true to one of McDonald’s strongest and favorable associations: convenience; this could be done by simplifying their menu to remove complex items or even implementing mobile ordering to speed up in-store lines. The third – which may be a stretch for the global giant – is to disassociate the corporation with “minimum wage” by simply paying higher wage rates to employees. Again, these are actions (not words) that build consumer confidence in the brand by creating positive associations to “freshness”, “high-quality”, “innovative”, or even “fair wages”. Ultimately, it is through positive direct experiences that McDonald’s will create the trust and transparency that it aims to achieve in order to create the image that of a truly “lovin'” brand.


3 Building Blocks of Marketing – Part 2: Strategic

Okay, we’re back!

The following post is a continuation of my previous post in this three-part series where I just wanted to share my personal brand mantra and why I believe that “creativity”, “strategy”, and “curiosity” should be the foundations of any budding marketing student.

So where were we?

2. Strategic

To me, strategic-thinking, is what sets apart a great marketer from just a “creative” marketer. Whatever the campaign may be, there’s always an objective – whether it’s communications (e.g. awareness, preference) or behavioral (e.g. trial, conversion), or the underlying marketing objective (e.g. market share, volume). And whatever that objective may be, there needs to be a strategy – the means to achieve that objective.

While there’s a million and a half approaches to marketing strategy, if there is one rule that I’ve learned in my four years studying and doing internships in marketing, it is the “bullsh*t test”: will your audience call “bullsh*t” on you?

What this really means is that for every “crazy creative” tactic and execution in your strategy, you need to ask yourself: Is everything we’re doing aligned with our target? Is this what they really want? Is this what they like? Is this where they will be looking?

Perfect example! Does anyone remember when Chevrolet threw a car out of a plane?

In 2011, Chevrolet launched their new Chevy Sonic, which was tailored towards the 18- to 30-year-old target segment.

The Objective?

Build awareness and consideration for the Chevy Sonic amongst millennials.

The Barrier?

Milliennials such as myself, who are first-time car buyers, looked at Chevy and just thought King of the Hill-billy. To us,  it was a brand synonymous with “gas-guzzling trucks, irrelevant and out of touch”. How could you possibly change that perception?

The Strategy?

Leverage the insight that for people our age, everything to us is a “first” right now: from first time moving out, first condo, first girlfriend, first B A+* in university, and of course, first car. Show how the Chevy Sonic is the vehicle for trying new things for the “first” time.

(* my mom likes to read my blog sometimes.)

The Creative?

The Chevrolet Sonic ‘Firsts’ Campaign: Let’s Do This (developed by Goodby Silverstein & Partners)

Why Did It Work?

Not only did this multi-phased campaign increase brand lift and consideration, but Chevrolet went on to make a Super Bowl commercial out of it. It truly shifted perceptions. As Tomorrow Awards puts it, “How do you go from “Not for me” to “F—k I want one!”?

There are several reasons why this campaign worked for me; from well-targeted media strategy to just insane creative that hit home with the target. However, at the end of the day, it is our (millennial’s) passion for first adventures that gets us excited. Keep your content true to that passion, keep it relevant to what we like, and you’ll truly engage us in an authentic way (and not just another “bullsh*t” car commercial). If you can do that in a believable way like how Chevy Sonic managed to do it, you can be sure we’ll be talking about it and spreading your message like wildfire.

So whether it was skydiving a Sonic for the first time, streaming that skydive stunt as in-stream ads during the Red Bull “Stratos” jump, or even literally letting the Internet launch the Sonic – the campaign’s seemingly random string of “crazy creative” stunts does an effective job of falling back to a single strategy that is, not only original, but well-aligned with the target.

And that, my friends, is the second reason and foundation for my passion for marketing.

Strategy gives discipline to creative ideas. Without a guiding strategy, creativity is a loose cannon. Of course, there’s other parts that go into strategy – but above all, a marketing campaign needs to make sense for who it’s meant for. Especially in this age of “Big Data”, marketers now have a plethora of tools to really understand people’s habits, interests, and activities; which makes it even more important to ensure that your “creative” is strategically aligned with your audience. What would we like and where would we want to see it?

For me, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that while creativity will always be a part of marketing, at the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves: “Did we solve the problem?”

A “yes” to that means you have a solid strategy.

“Creative. Strategic. (Stay tuned for Part 3).”