Arjan Dijk

Senior Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer
“We're a mass-market brand with a bit of aspiration”
We meet once again with the always interesting Arjan Dijk, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer VP at At the Cannes Lions, Arjan talks about the dynamic between creativity and AI, and… clicking on Kim Kardashian.
Are you happy to be here in Cannes?
‘It’s great. I have really good conversations about creativity but also about science, the future, the themes that we're all thinking about. Nothing is better than meeting with everyone in person, it's really key to build relationships. I get inspired here and I'm part of a lot of groups within the big ad platforms. I meet colleagues, creatives, and data scientists.’

To an outsider, Cannes may look like just a big party. Is it actually good for business?
‘In my days at Google that question would always come up; what's the return on investment? For the big ad platforms, it's their way of - hopefully - giving back to the industry, and also attracting young talent to come here, to be inspired, meet other people. I don't really know what the alternative should be.’

What inspired you this year?
‘The discussion around the normalization of diversity. Diversity, inclusion, gender, race; it should just be normal part of the people you work with, the work you produce, everything. That's a key theme that I will bring back home. And what about disabilities? As a big brand, our mission is to make it easier for everyone to experience the world. You've seen a couple things this week that were launched around accessibility, but maybe we can do more. Another theme is sustainability. I really believe in setting little steps in the right direction.’
What does that mean for a company that encourages people to travel all over the world when we should be cutting emissions?
‘Travel is a need that everyone has. And it's good for the world because we learn from each other. If we're all stuck in our hometowns, and never go anywhere, our world would not be as fantastic as it is now. That said, we launched our sustainability badge last year. Travellers can filter on it. It means that we're helping all our hotel partners worldwide to be more sustainable, because they struggle with that. What can you do as a small hotel? You can, for instance, ask people not to throw the towels on the ground and reuse them.’

Did submit any work in Cannes this year?
‘I don't think so. It should be on my mind but it's really not. The key reason is that we're able to attract top talent into our company because we work with a lot of external people. I see Cannes Lions as more of a community of creative people.’

If you would have submitted any work, what would it have been?
‘The World is Waiting was a really beautiful campaign. We wanted to be relevant in the zeitgeist, when people could not travel due to Covid and you had these haunting images of empty beaches, empty Venice, empty Amsterdam. We also introduced Travel Proud, with an amazing campaign. I'm excited to be the main sponsor of Amsterdam Pride, where we really go big with our Travel Proud program. More than 10,000 properties have already signed up for that program. They go through training and get a badge.’ recently casted Idris Elba as the main spokesperson for the Superbowl and summer campaigns. Why Idris?
‘I always say that we're a mass-market brand with a bit of aspiration. I like to be like IKEA, VW or Lego. has that kind of brand feel. It’s very accessible, it's for everyone - regardless of budget. So, first we made a long list of 80 celebrities in the US that could be a fit for our brand, and then we narrowed it down. The key thing is that Idris Elba really has universal appeal; everyone likes him. I'm sceptical about market research sometimes, but he did incredibly well. We worked with a small agency, we hired and directed directly, and we did the negotiation with Idris ourselves. We also worked with one of the best directors in the biz.’

What did the campaign with Idris bring to booking?
‘The latest numbers say we're doing well. I look at the world from three angles: we have high-intent marketing, medium-intent marketing, and low-intent marketing. Low-intent marketing is our general brand marketing, for example our Idris Elba ads. That's really about driving brand consideration and awareness. In many markets across the world, we're a household name. In the US we're a challenger. But we're really climbing; our top-of-mind awareness has more than doubled in the past years.’

Does the Superbowl campaign also have an activation layer to it? Or is it more about consideration awareness?
‘We had a whole activation around it and I was also really proud of the 67 commercials in the Superbowl. Before the game, we were the 6th most watched commercial on YouTube. It's really driving that kind of overall awareness of, and making clear what the role of our brand is. I'm also really excited about UEFA women's football in the UK. We launched a beautiful campaign that focuses on little girls learning how to play football. Social engagement is really the key.’

Is purpose-driven?
‘I want us to be truth-tellers, and to be very authentic and clear about the role we play in peoples' lives, namely: making it easier to experience the world in a quick and easy way, and being able to book your travel very quickly. That kind of truth-telling is really important. And if you have watched the Idris Elba campaigns, that's exactly what we're trying to achieve. We're not sexy, we're not lit, but we're and we're very good at what we do. Also, as a brand, you want to have a product edge. We live in the age of technology, so what differentiates you? What makes you better? Claiming an emotion will increasingly become more difficult when you want to appeal to a huge audience. Of course, we'll make it fun and engaging and energizing, but it needs to be true.’
Creativity and AI; friends or foes?
‘I think they're friends. AI is overused at the moment, just like it was 10, 20 years ago, when big data was the word. Big data was always like sex among teenagers; everyone talks about it, no one does it. Clearly, we employ many AI engineers. And clearly, we're carefully thinking about the principles and rules of AI. If we're able to predict what you would be interested in, and if we can serve you that in the right moment in a privacy-secure way, then I'm all for it.’

Do you integrate AI also in the creative process, in the insourcing process?
‘We have a lot of what we call dynamic creatives. We really want to make sure that we serve you the right image and the right message. Clearly, we're still in the earlier days of that goal but I hope that we become better and better and better. By the same token, you don't want a world in which we all live in our own little silos. That's when you lose serendipity. I give the Google News people a hard time when they talk about artificial intelligence. If I click on Kim Kardashian, they serve me more Kim Kardashian. What's clever about that? That's just using last click conversion metrics to serve me more Kim Kardashian. That cannot be the future, there needs to be more sophistication.’

Do you veer more toward the creative or AI side of things?
‘You will get far more templated dynamic creatives. The key issue is that it shouldn't be clunky, it should feel beautiful. I want marketing to have a certain quality. Oscar Wilde said: beauty is a thing that everyone understands. When something looks nice or good, there's a quality in it. I'm not saying that we'll always achieve that, but at least it's an aspiration.’

Why was the Idra campaign created in-house in cooperation with a small production agency instead of a big agency?
‘It just fits us. At Booking, on the high-intent side, we work directly with all the major ad platforms. We have relationships with Facebook, with Meta, with Google. We have insourced that. We don't work with an agency because we really want to go deeper on the data side. We want to really understand what's happening. And we're actually very good at that. My team are the world leaders.’

So, it's not cost-motivated?
‘It’s about being able to have high velocity and be able to adapt. It fits our model. Of course, there's also a time and a place for bigger agencies. Don't get me wrong, it's not about money, it's about what fits with’
Will there come a time where you hook up with a big network again?
‘Potentially, yes. We work with many agencies; we work with MediaMonks on social media and we want to do that in many markets across the world.’

Do you keep a lot of things in-house to stay truer to your message and values? Is this the typical straightforward, no-nonsense approach of a Dutch company?
‘I hadn't been in the Netherlands for 20 years and I came back three years ago. So, I'm almost like a foreigner in my own country. It's just – I cannot stand long slide decks. Ideally people on my team can write, they can make things. Our talented people can mock something up, play around with it, and say: 'We're onto something interesting.' And then of course we'll hire in great creatives from the industry to help us make it even better.’

We live in challenging times, with war, the energy transition, inflation; how is coping with all this?
‘You tell me. Nobody knows. I think flexibility will be key. We learned during the Corona crisis that we had to scale up and scale down incredibly. We do marketing in more than 180 countries. At the beginning of the Corona crisis, I’d have a daily meeting with my team and look across the world to decide what to do. How are the metrics going? Are we spending money? Are we going in or going out? But being agile is really difficult. In the digital world it's a little easier to be relatively flexible, but you must pay attention. As for the war in Ukraine; pulling out of Russia meant that we had to do a lot of things to make that work.’

Obviously, you want to convert new clients to reach Genius level and move them up.
‘If we really want to make sure that people return to our platform, they should get clear benefits. I always tell hotel owners and chains that our Genius Program is not Marriott Bonvoy. It’s a very different program that serves a very different purpose. We really are a brand for everyone. We focus on people traveling with us once, twice, three times a year. And with that, people want variety. That's where Genius comes in; when you book a couple of times with us, you see clear benefits. Our tagline is: We make every trip a little better. Because it just is a little better, for instance through a free breakfast, a free bottle of wine, or anything that gives you that sense of getting a good deal. I'm also acutely aware that having good prices will be incredibly important in the future, besides choice and ease. With Genius level 1 we really want to make it attractive for people to sign in. And then, when they come back to us, it's just that much easier. You will see more of that.’
About Arjan Dijk
Arjan Dijk has been the Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at
since 2019. Prior to that he was VP Global Marketing at Google, which he joined in 2008. Before that, Arjan was Brand Leader at Unilever and served in several other marketing roles.

About, founded in 1996 as, is a Dutch online travel agency for lodging reservations & other travel products. It’s a subsidiary of Booking Holdings and is headquartered in Amsterdam. The website has over 28 million listings and is available in 43 languages. With more than 100 million monthly active users it’s the biggest travel app globally.
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