Ask the right questions

Lee's Summit JournalOctober 2, 2013 

Our Los Angeles ad-agency was invited to present an advertising campaign for one of the world’s most prestigious tourism accounts, The Islands of Tahiti. The Tahiti Tourism Board was searching for a new advertising agency to address their stagnant tourism numbers, and low hotel occupancy rates. Four of our most senior creative teams (teams are made up of a copywriter and an art director) had been working for weeks on initial concepts. Their executions ran the gambit from “The Most Beautiful Place On Earth” to “Captain James Cook Discovery of Paradise”

(featuring a historic replica of his own personal journal). The creative concepts were amazingly beautiful, but predictable. And when you’re competing against five national powerhouse agencies, being predictable isn't going to get you or your agency across the finish line ahead of the competition.

So here we were, just days away from our appointed presentation date and time, and my gut was telling me that as beautiful as our work was, we still didn't have “the nugget” that would differentiate us from the other agencies. Two days before our final presentation we took our creative concepts before a series of focus groups. Group No. 1 would be comprised of individuals who had taken a vacation, outside the U.S. within the past year. Group No. 2 represented individuals who were planning to take a vacation outside the US within the next twelve months. As part of the participant screening process we knew which individuals within the groups, preferred “sun & sand” destinations including; Hawaii, Caribbean or Mexico.

Sometime during the first focus group, after listening to an exchange between the moderator and several focus-group participants, something made me sit up and take notice. I immediately sent a note into the focus group moderator. The note read…“Please ask them if they can tell you where Tahiti is and approximately how far it is from Los Angeles?”

Bingo! Yes, most everyone had seen pictures of Tahiti and all used descriptors such as; “beautiful,” “paradise,” “unspoiled” and “romantic.” However, as hard as they tried they couldn’t begin to tell us where Tahiti was located, nor could they tell us… approximately how far Tahiti was in relationship to Los Angeles. This was noteworthy because a vast number of Los Angeles residents (in fact most Californians) had visited Hawaii and planned to return.

Armed with this new information we revised our creative to speak directly to Tahiti’s strength (unspoiled beauty) while putting Tahiti’s location into proper perspective. Our recommended positioning…Tahiti, 2 ½ Hours Beyond Hawaii and 50 years Behind. We won the business and within days we were winging our way to Tahiti as guests of the French government.

James Thurber was right when he said, “It’s better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.”


James McKenna is the branding manager for the City of Lee’s Summit. Reach him at

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