When employees of online travel site Travelocity expressed an interest in doing their part to counter global warming, the company created an internal task force to find ways to get involved.
Research from the Travel Industry Association suggested that 83% of US travelers wanted to support green travel companies and that both business and leisure travelers would spend 6.2% more with environmentally conscious companies.
As its contribution to the green movement, Travelocity, with the help of Vollmer Public Relations, launched Be A Hero - Go Zero, a carbon offset program designed to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.
"It was important to incorporate cause marketing initiatives that were [significant] to employees, coincided with Travelocity's business model, and connected on a personal level with customers," says Alyson Briggs, account supervisor with Vollmer.
The Go Zero program allows customers to purchase a carbon offset when they book a trip on Travelocity to reduce the carbon generated by their flight, hotel, or car usage. All proceeds go to The Conservation Fund, which plants trees to absorb carbon dioxide.
Go Zero (half of the Travel for Good program, which also promotes "volun-tourism") had three objectives: educate consumers about carbon offsets and develop brand loyalty, secure 50 media placements, and use both traditional and new-media methods.
Travelocity wanted to establish itself as a thought leader on the subject in the US.
"Getting ahead of a news cycle is what you need to do to get in with the media," says Dan Toporek, Travelocity VP of corporate communications. "If you try to stand up when the wave has passed, you'll never get anywhere."
Travelocity worked with The Conservation Fund on launch events in September 2006 in Dallas, New York, and San Francisco, distributing 2,000 seedlings near mass transit stations. They also joined to plant the first trees purchased through Go Zero in November 2006 at the Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge, where 70% of the trees had fallen during Hurricane Katrina.
The company created a viral animation featuring the campaign's ambassadors, the Eco-Bunnies, and posted it on YouTube and Travelocity's site. The animation explained the program and linked to a site for viewers to purchase a carbon offset.
Travelocity also gathered customer feedback about the effort and pitched the media, offering interviews with those consumers.
About 8,200 trees have been planted in the wildlife refuge and will trap more than 21 million pounds of carbon dioxide.
Coverage included local and national broadcast outlets, and national print media, such as The New York Times and The Boston Globe, reaching an audience of more than 45 million. The Eco-Bunnies have been viewed by more than 375,000 consumers.
Travelocity also enjoys the continued participation of its employees and has made corporate donations to offset their employee travel.
"It shows that they're supporting carbon offsetting and traveling responsibly, and that's what this campaign is really saying about the brand," says Briggs.
Vollmer and Travelocity continue to work together on the entire Travel for Good campaign.
PR team: Travelocity (Southlake, TX) and Vollmer Public Relations (Dallas, with media relations help in Austin, TX; Houston; and New York)
Campaign: Be A Hero - Go Zero
Duration: May 2006-ongoing
A big part of cause marketing is authenticity, an element that came naturally to this effort and contributed greatly to its success. By starting with the passions of its employees, Travelocity was able to draw upon pre-existing resources and conviction. With a continued focus on reaching the customer and building loyalty, that authentic attitude reached its intended audience.
It also chose a campaign that was in line with its core product. It is a travel site, and travel leads to carbon emissions, so it moved forward with an initiative to attack a problem inherent to its business - the green topic it's best equipped to address.
Finally, it pushed media outreach with timelines and concrete goals to be sure all of the rewards, both environmental and corporate, were reaped.