Thomas Cook Tour Operations Ltd

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Thomas Cook Tour Operations Ltd

The Thomas Cook Business Park
Coningsby Road
Peterborough, PE3 8SB
United Kingdom
Telephone: 44 8702 430416
Web site:



In 2001 approximately 120,000 young European vacationers, mostly British, booked their vacations through Thomas Cook Tour Operations Ltd's Club 18-30, the United Kingdom's largest booking agency for 18- to 30-year-olds. The service offered Britons more than 14 sundrenched destinations, including Spain, Greece, the Canary Islands, Ibiza, and Turkey. The company had previously gained notoriety for its risqué advertising. In 1995 the British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) forced a Club 18-30 campaign, created by ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi and titled "Beaver España," to cease after hundreds of complaints were made regarding the campaign's sexual implications. Undeterred, in 2002 Club 18-30 released a similarly suggestive campaign titled "Perspectives" that attempted, as its executives explained, to present an "honest reflection" of what young people did on vacation.

Created in late 2001 by Saatchi & Saatchi with an estimated $1 million budget, "Perspectives" consisted of three print spots, "Pool," "Beach," and "Bar." At first look, each print ad portrayed beautiful young people engaged in normal resort activities such as throwing a Frisbee at the beach, sunbathing poolside, or socializing inside a bar. Upon closer inspection the youth in each photograph were juxtaposed to suggest various sexual acts. To avoid the backlash "Beaver España" had received from older consumers, "Perspectives" appeared only in magazines targeting young males.

The campaign helped Club 18-30 maintain its position as industry leader, but its sexual content elicited a range of negative responses from critics and advertising judges. Nancy Vonk, a judge for the International Advertising Festival in Cannes, France, said that she hated the ads. Enough festival judges in 2002 favored the ads, however, to award "Perspectives" the Grand Prix award and a Gold Lion in the poster category. Another festival judge, Olivier Altmann, told Brand Republic, "They were fresh, enjoyable and enthusiastic. You can stay in front of them for 10 minutes and have a deep relationship with each ad."


Club 18-30 had been targeting partygoers long before "Perspectives" came to fruition. Founded by David Heard in 1965, Club 18-30 first booked 580 vacationers to Costa Brava, Spain, under the tagline "Your granny wouldn't like it." In 1994 Saatchi & Saatchi won Club 18-30's advertising account and released a campaign with the tagline "Holidays your mother wouldn't like." Moray MacLennan, Saatchi & Saatchi's joint managing director, told Campaign in 1994, "Our task is to build the profile of Club 18-30, which has been out of the market for some time. The company has to make a lot of noise."

The next year Club 18-30 released its highly controversial "Beaver España" campaign, which used print and outdoor mediums. One image featured a close-up of boxer shorts with the tagline "Girls, can we interest you in a package holiday?" Another ad's copy stated, "It's not all sex, sex, sex. There's a bit of sun and sea as well." After the ASA received more than 500 complaints regarding the campaign's indecency, the advertising watchdog banned "Beaver España" billboards and posters. Much to Club 18-30's delight, the order was carried out on the exact day the campaign was scheduled to end. Saatchi & Saatchi continued to handle the company's advertising. In a 1995 television spot it created for Club 18-30, titled "Mosquito," a mosquito drank the blood from a young man's buttock. After drinking its fill of alcohol-rich blood, the intoxicated insect buzzed off and smacked into a window.

Leading up to "Perspectives," Saatchi & Saatchi wanted to release a campaign that, in the ad agency's opinion, honestly depicted what young partygoers did on vacation. James Griffiths, a director at Saatchi & Saatchi, explained to the Sunday Telegraph, "If you get a lot of young people on holiday, sex happens. It's just that nobody talks about it, and Club 18-30 are not afraid of being honest and saying, 'This is what happens; this is what we're about.'"


"Perspectives" targeted vacationing partygoers over the age of 18. Saatchi & Saatchi purposely photographed 16 models with whom its audience would hopefully identify. Club 18-30 marketing manager Clare Burns explained to the Liverpool Echo why Mark Kavanagh, one of the models featured in "Perspectives," was chosen. "He's got lovely eyes which twinkle and he's good looking with a decent body. But not so good looking that lads looking for a holiday would think he's a model, rather than someone like themselves."

The campaign's cheeky, sexual humor was something Saatchi & Saatchi believed its target would appreciate. Reuters News quoted Griffiths as explaining, "The intention was to present an honest reflection of Club 18-30 in a humorous way. People go on these holidays to have fun. And when you talk about fun for people of that age group, sex and getting drunk tend to coincide." Using sexually suggestive imagery may have effectively resonated with young consumers, but it also incited a backlash from older audiences, including advertising-festival judges and international ad critics. Kirk Carr of Advertising Age wrote, "It's been argued these ads are not offensive in the context of the media in which they ran or to the audience to which they were directed. Even so, honoring these ads as among the best that advertising has to offer is an embarrassment to the global advertising community."

Pre-campaign research conducted by Saatchi & Saatchi suggested that Britain's youth was comfortable with sexual topics that had previously been considered taboo. A Club 18-30 spokesman explained in the Sunday Telegraph, "Girls in particular are more liberated than boys were, even 20 years ago. Without a doubt the girls are more confident than before." Despite the spokesman's observation about liberated youth, much of the United Kingdom's general population was offended by such advertisements. According to a survey conducted by the ASA in July 2002, 19 percent of those surveyed were personally offended by ads they had viewed during the previous year, and 32 percent believed that ads they had witnessed would be offensive to someone they knew.


In late 2001 eight young women and eight young men were photographed on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza for the controversial "Perspectives" campaign. After photographing the models on the beach, beside a pool, and inside a bar, the ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi flew the models back to London. Their photographs were later juxtaposed for three print ads titled "Pool," "Beach," and "Bar."

At first glance, the young people shown in the three ads seemed to be participating in wholesome activities. For the print ad "Pool," two young men tossed a beach ball back and forth. Upon closer inspection, however, one of the men seemed to be groping a girl standing poolside. The 16 models chosen for the shoot did not know how their images would later be used. One of the models, Mark Kavanagh, told the Liverpool Echo in October 2001, "I still haven't seen the photos and they won't tell us what the adverts will be like, so I won't see them until everyone else does."


Style Holidays, a U.K.-based vacation-booking agent, tried capturing Club 18-30's market with stylish brochures and low-priced vacation packages. Its sales for the Spanish beach areas of Costa Blanca grew 57 percent in 2001, and its bookings for Spain's island of Majorca rose 42 percent. Style Holidays' marketing manager, John Heyes, commented on the company's success in Travel Trade Gazette UK & Ireland: "It is because of the quality of our product and because we're not greedy in terms of prices. There has been very little movement—less than two percent increases." Analysts believed that the increased number of bookings may have also resulted from the strengthening British currency and a spike in youth travel.

In 2002 British travel company First Choice's youth travel brand, 2wentys, rebranded its booking service to attract the "sophisticated partygoer who wants a higher level of flexibility on holiday." The brand hired ad agency Main Artery to revamp its direct mailers, brochures, and website. Clare Tobin, the head of 2wentys, told Travel Trade Gazette UK & Ireland, "We will highlight things that differentiate us from other brands, such as our customer service." The booking service devised a three-year strategy to grow 20 percent and overtake Club 18-30's industry lead. In 2001 the booking service's sales rose 15 percent over the previous year. The company also heavily promoted its November reunion parties, which attempted to re-create the party atmosphere of summer getaways.


In late 2001 Saatchi & Saatchi selected eight females and eight males to fly to Ibiza, a Spanish island and popular vacation destination located along the Mediterranean Sea. The 16 models, chosen for their modest attractiveness, were then photographed in different island locations. Three print images, "Beach," "Pool," and "Bar," were chosen for the campaign. In the print ad "Beach" the models appeared on a sunny beach along the Mediterranean Sea. At first glance the bikini- and swim-trunk-wearing models were engaged in wholesome beach fun, such as throwing a Frisbee, playing paddleball, and lying out to sunbathe. Upon closer inspection the posture of each model intimated a different sexual act. A man preparing to swat an incoming paddleball also appeared to be spanking a bikini-clad girl. One man innocently gazed into the horizon, but his face was juxtaposed between the legs of a woman sunbathing. "Usually photographs in ads have a single point of focus," Donald Gunn, creator of the Gunn Report, an ad-industry publication, told Advertising Age. "These are like murals, or tableaux. You're likely to spend a minute with them rather than 10 seconds."

In another spot, titled "Bar," six young men and eight women were shown at a bar. The models seemed to be participating in typical bar behaviors, such as dancing, talking, and drinking beer. The models' expressions conveyed a relaxed and gregarious demeanor. When the ad was viewed more carefully, those featured could also be perceived as engaging in sexual acts ranging from groping to oral intercourse. Even though the ads' content was considered obscene by many, the ASA did not entirely ban them, allowing them to appear in magazines that targeted young males, such as Maxim and FHM. A Club 18-30 spokesman told the News of the World, "There was no intention to offend. They are tongue in cheek." The ASA did register some complaints about the campaign, but not enough to warrant its cessation. Despite criticism, Club 18-30 and its agency stood behind the campaign's message. Griffiths of Saatchi & Saatchi told the Globe and Mail, "It's honest. It doesn't try to pull the wool over anyone's eyes."

In the third print ad, "Pool," a mixture of 15 males and females were shown socializing around a luxurious swimming pool. Two males played pool at a nearby table. Everyone's expressions appeared innocent. As in the other two ads, the models' actions took on double meanings. One young man reaching for a beach ball also appeared to be groping a bikini-clad woman. Other images implied oral sex and masturbation.


Not only did "Perspectives" help Club 18-30 maintain its position as Britain's leading vacation-booking company for partygoers, it also managed to be controversial enough to generate publicity for the brand yet tame enough to escape reprimand by advertising watchdogs. At the 2002 International Advertising Festival in Cannes, France, several judges criticized the campaign for its provocative material and later lambasted the judges who awarded it the Grand Prix award. Cannes judge Nancy Vonk, cocreative director at ad agency Ogilvy & Mather in Toronto, told the Globe and Mail that she hated the campaign. She criticized her fellow judges who gave it the Grand Prix, stating, "It's like giving Austin Powers an Oscar. It's a cheap pee-pee joke." Mike Hughes, another of the festival's judges, told Adweek, "It's easy sex jokes. I'm not a PC type of guy, but I think a club that sells itself as a place to go for sex is coarse and rude." Judges who appreciated the print ads included Olivier Altmann, who explained to Adweek, "It was the most fresh and the most enjoyable. They know the purpose [of such vacations] is to have sex. It's very honest advertising."


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                                        Kevin Teague

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