A few months ago, a client sent me a link to the video below with the question, "Jeez, who wrote that cheesy copy? It sounds like a bad romance novel."
I had to admit: "I did."
In my snobbier-but-less-effective youth, I would have lied. Hell, I would have fought to create an elegant story worthy of an Oscar.
But that was then. I'm a better marketer now and I know that my personal preferences amount to a hill of beans. What matters – always comes first – are the preferences of the target audience.
Who is Sandals' audience?
Cheesy marketing can be great marketing if it directs the right message to the right audience. The right message is whatever fits in with what that audience hopes to gain by buying the product.
Lower middle income couples
Sandals targets lower middle income American and UK heterosexual couples. UK couples are important because they have long holidays. American couples are important because they make up the lion's share of guests. Of course, it varies by resort, but you get the general idea.
They want over-the-top luxury
A Sandals all-inclusive vacation is not cheap. It is a significant investment for most Sandals guests. Currently, low season rates are about $880 a night for a lower tier room in an average Sandals resort – or $6160 for a seven-day stay, excluding airfare. If guests choose an upper category butler suite, they may spend double that.
Given the expense, guests want an over-the-top experience that fits in with how they imagine the 1% lives. Their definition of luxury is "extravagant," not "understated service." Think "Real Housewives of New Jersey" crossed with "Keeping Up With the Kardashians."
So, in its marketing, Sandals places heavy emphasis on the rooms (although it heavily emphasizes everything in its massive brochures and media campaigns). It bills itself as the "World's Only 5-Star Luxury Included Resorts," which is a fabrication akin to my saying I am the world's only five star copywriter.
Conservative and traditionally minded
Of course, income doesn't really describe how people think. Most Americans describe themselves as middle class, but their political and religious views vary widely.
The typical Sandals guest is traditionally minded. They believe in things like marriage, family, and apple pie. This makes sense because a huge chunk of Sandal's business is destination weddings and honeymoons.
Pew Research states that marriage is most common among white adults over 25 with a college education. Nonetheless, overall, only half of U.S. adults are married. People are waiting longer to marry or are remaining single.
Destination weddings comprise one-fourth of all marriages, or 340,000 weddings.
Trip Savvy reports that Las Vegas is by far the #1 destination wedding choice, with 80,000 weddings annually. Most of these couples have been married before and pay for their wedding themselves.
International locales make up 40% of destination weddings. Destination honeymoons cost one-third more than traditional honeymoons, while destination weddings cost only $7000 less than a traditional wedding. This is probably because couples defray travel expenses for some guests.
Other stats include:
- Today's median age for brides is 29 years. For grooms, it's 31 years.
- The median age for remarriage is 34 for brides and 37 for grooms.
The Sandals guest profile
- In late 20s or early 30s
You can confirm this, except for education level, by looking at the Sandals website. It is short on ethnic diversity.
They want a beach not a destination
Sandals' guests are similar to cruise ship passengers. They want to see the major local sights without digging too deep into the authentic culture. They come for the beach and the Sandals brand, not the destination. While the character of each resort is informed by the local culture, Sandals isolates guests from the outside world. This practice began with the first Sandals resort, which opened in Jamaica during a period when crime and political unrest were high. It continues today, although it is not an overt feature of a Sandals stay.
According to Forbes, women make 80% of vacation decisions. They also do most of the wedding planning, although they assign tasks to their future spouses. And, despite the fact that 42% of first marriages end in divorce, they believe their union will be the exception.
According to a survey conducted by dating site Match.com, 90% of single women across America believe you can stay married to the same person forever. Nearly as many men (88%) believe the same thing. But only 56% of single women and less than half of single men believe in the concept of "till death do us part."
Pew Research has found that both men and women give love as their most important reason for marriage. But, according to a study in Psychology Today, only half are certain their current relationship will be permanent.
Men and women both desire eternal love, but doubt their chances of achieving it. When it does come time to marry, one study found that men outscore women on the Romantic Beliefs Scale. Women tend to be more pragmatic and cautious when choosing a mate. This may go back to evolutionary biology, when the male was responsible for supporting the family.
But what does romance mean? For men, it's more likely to be based on visual cues. Men fall in love more quickly and more often, generally based on looks. They are more likely to report falling in love at first sight.
A study of 3 million phone subscribers found that women are more inclined to invest heavily in creating and nurturing a "pair bond." Professor Robin Dunbar of Oxford University states:
This is the first really strong evidence that romantic relationships are driven by women...Men’s relationships are too casual. They often function at a high level in a political sense, of course, but at the end of the day, the structure of the society is driven by women, which is exactly what we see in the primates.Dr. Robin Dunbar
Women need longevity in their relationships because they remain largely dependent on men to help maintain the financial stability of the household. As the controversial conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation, put it:
Child poverty is an ongoing national concern, but few are aware that its principal cause is the absence of married fathers in the home. Marriage remains America’s strongest anti-poverty weapon, yet it continues to decline.Dr. Robert Rector
So what does this have to do with an extravagance-stuffed Sandals vacation?
Weddings predict the future
Every culture has elaborate weddings that indicate the binding together of fortunes and futures. The same holds true in America and the UK, regardless of how sophisticated we think we have become. It is far easier to elope, so why do couples marry at all?
Weddings are ceremonies. Ceremonies are rituals that have an underlying social purpose. Weddings indicate social status and prestige not just in Western cultures, but globally.
At a wedding held in a five-star New Delhi hotel last winter, the groom stepped out of a two-door BMW sports car, specially flown in from Europe for the occasion. Spanish flamenco dancers, fresh orchids from Thailand, ice sculptures, even second-tier Bollywood stars paid to mingle – all are just some of the flourishes seen at recent Indian weddings. Forget to be down-to-earth. The trend is to stage the whole shebang on pontoons, putting family and friends on a veritable flotilla of flaunted wealth.Manisha, Your Dost
The assumption is that the wedding is like a crystal ball. Have a lavish one, and your future together will be prosperous and fruitful. This is an archetype that transcends rational thought. Its power drives the entire wedding industry.
As pragmatic as women are in the real-world romantic choices, they are also hungry for the iconic knight on a white horse. One could argue that a rich fantasy life makes it possible for women to be pragmatic. So, going back to the idea that this video seems like a bad romance novel....
Yep, it does.
Romance novels make up one-third of the fiction market. And, surprise surprise, the biggest readers of romance novels fit the profile of the typical Sandals decision-maker:
- Female (84%)
- White (81%)
- Age 18 to 44 (53%)
- (Source: NielsenBookScan)
Why do women love romance novels?
Let's let someone who actually reads them answer this question:
Women read romances because romance is the most optimistic, hopeful genre in the market, to the point where its insistence on happy endings frequently needs to be defended from people who think cynicism is the same as realism.Jessica Avery
In other words, romance novels provide a fantasy escape. They paint a Disney-esque view of love and romance. And Sandals uses the same playbook. Sandals is all about escaping reality and living the life of a romance heroine and hero, if only for a week or two.
So, yeah, the video is cheesy and over-the-top. It sounds like a romance novel. And, as far as Sandals goes, it is spot on.