ANALYSIS: Thomson: truth and daring

Public cynicism about the travel and banking industries is being countered by straightforward, honest tactics. Julian Lee reports

Public cynicism about the travel and banking industries is being

countered by straightforward, honest tactics. Julian Lee reports

Each day, every day, a consumer is told any number of things about a

product by its manufacturers. They are told that it will enhance their

looks, revolutionise their love life or simply save time.

But they are rarely told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the


So it was with much trepidation that Thomson, the UK’s largest tour

operator, decided that honesty really is the best policy.

Last week, the company published its flagship Summer Sun brochure

complete with a ‘warts and all’ rundown of its resorts.

Musical youth

Punters looking to book next year’s summer holiday at the popular

Sandals Hotel in Montego Bay, for example, are warned: ‘Be prepared for

some aircraft noise’.

The Hotel Pueblo in Benidorm, on the other hand, has a disco that

‘attracts a lot of young Spanish guests. This is not the hotel for a

particularly quiet holiday.’

Thomson is putting pounds 4.5m into an ad campaign to promote its

‘tells-it-like-it-is’ stance.

It’s a risk, but if anyone can afford to take it then it is Thomson. Of

the 8.5 million Brits who buy packaged holidays, more than 30% go with


Last week’s move, though, was no corporate whim but the result of a

year-long study of its customers. Thomson analysed the three million

response forms that customers fill in on their return from holiday and

deduced that travel agents come perilously close to estate agents in the

honesty league tables.

‘Research showed that customers were asking for more information,’ says

Thomson’s Russell Ameresaka. ‘We decided to go one step further and take

the plunge. It’s a brave move but it is a long-term one.’

Thomson is endowing its brand with the virtue of trust and at the same

time creating a point of difference in a market place that, as industry

observers will testify, is devoid of distinct identities.

It was a similar scenario that faced NatWest Bank in 1994, and one that

forced it to take the honest route.

Emotional investment

Like the travel sector, high street banks have struggled to strike a

chord with the consumer. And, like holidays, money is an emotive subject

for many people.

The constant failure on the bank’s behalf to deliver its promises led

NatWest to change in strategy. In the early 90s, its line ‘We’re here to

make life easier’, became tainted with irony as banks became synonymous

with bad service and harsh treatment of their more impecunious


To instill more trust in its customers, NatWest decided to focus on

marketing what it could deliver - its products.

Out went the service-with-a- smile philosophy and in came the ‘More than

just a bank’ line, emphasising the breadth of services on offer.

NatWest was finally being honest about what it could deliver, says

NatWest’s head of brand communications Ian Schoolar.

‘Trust is the key word in financial services. It is an important part of

people’s lives. It is such a difficult thing to build - but so easy to