A Digital Prospecting Ambition


Carat have been working with Caledonian MacBrayne for 11 years.

In that time we have seen;

Skye named as one of the top island destinations in Europe in 2010 – driving significant increased interest in the Scottish islands from across the world,

The introduction of the Road Equivalent Tariff in 2016 - slashing the cost of travel by ferry,

And widespread digital adoption - changing the way people book travel and improving the ways in which we can spot intent from prospective ferry travellers.

In the past four years, we have:-

• Moved to a digital first strategy - 80% of overall budget is now invested in digital channels

• Delivered a Return on Investment (ROI) of 10:1

• Outperformed Sales Revenue targets by 40%+ consistently.

A significant portion of CalMac ferry bookings are what we’d term ‘lifeline travel’. As the only ferry offering, CalMac is the lifeline of the Scottish islands and a key transport operator. Without advertising, they will still attract a high percentage of their bookings, from those who live within the route map. Our task in advertising is to increase tourist travel to the islands, a portion which accounts for circa 30% of sales.

U 7,435 Sales Target of 6,430 – an over-delivery of 24%


The challenge we face is in proving advertising’s worth at driving incremental value for CalMac.

Wherever travellers go, they’re online. 92% use the internet as a source of holiday inspiration, 79% to plan and 79% to book. We made the decision to move to a digital-first strategy 5 years ago. Since then we have delivered year-on-year efficiencies in digital cost per acquisitions.

One of the key factors in these improvements has been increasing the application of artificial intelligence in programmatic optimisation.

In 2016 and 2017, working alongside our key programmatic partner, Quantcast, we embedded a pixel on CalMac’s site - we used data from that pixel to find similar people, and patterns of behaviour, to those who had already booked and then drive those look-a-likes to book at the appropriate moment in their journey.

However, in 2018, we were tasked with splitting our focus. AI-driven programmatic strategies would remain key at conversion point, but we would also use programmatic tactics to seed content with prospective customers earlier in their decision making journey. Our measures remained the same, drive ROI and sales, however we were charged with playing a greater role in the earlier stages of consideration.

• Sales – 6,430
• Cost Per Sale - £6.54
• ROI – £8.10

Programmatic is often charged with criticisms of ‘cookie bombing’, of capturing those already on the path to convert. In 2018, we proved programmatic media’s worth in delivering value across the funnel - and still delivered on those sales targets.



CalMac is a key partner of Visit Scotland. As such we were able to draw on our existing work with Visit Scotland that defined the key roles for media in driving incremental value. Using data to indicate where a consumer is in the journey, and content to move them between segments, we determined the appropriate tactics and strategy in any 5 given segments;

• See

• Think

• Plan

• Do

• Advocate

Given the focus on incremental bookings we moved budget up the funnel - we had more of a role to play
at ‘See’ and ‘Think’ than ever before.

At See, a customer is unlikely to be in market. At this stage, our role is to instil in them a desire to visit the Scottish Islands. In places where people are looking for inspiration, we typically employ press partnerships and promoted social posts to highlight
the virtues of the Scottish Islands.

At Think, we look to connect specific segments with content about the Islands which will appeal most to our audience. This stage is about making the destinations more relevant to them; if they are history buffs, we promote content about historical sites of the Islands.

If they like walking, we show off the incredible paths on offer. If they’re a foodie, we seed content about award winning restaurants.

Rather than use programmatic purely at the ‘Plan’ / ‘Do’ stages, capturing those who’d shown intent, we used audience segmentation and prospective behavioural analysis to find those who were yet to consider the Islands, and therefore CalMac, and employ programmatic strategies to capture and convert.




As with the consumer journey work, we used experience of the Visit Scotland account to define the key segments we wanted to attract to CalMac. Using demographic, behavioural and attitudinal indexes, we built the 5 key segments for Visit Scotland in our own proprietary research tool, CCS, as well as YouGov. This allowed us to define which of the 5 were key prospects for CalMac.

‘Natural Advocates’ represented the highest potential value to CalMac as frequent repeat customers – once we introduced them to the islands they were likely to return.

They were also, as the name suggests, likely advocates and were therefore of value to the brand even after their visit.

‘Food Loving Culturalists’ also had high potential, but were less likely to be considering Scottish destinations.

Therefore, our bidding strategies would need to reflect the fact that they were further from conversion.

‘Adventure Seekers’ were more likely to show interest, based on their passions – which matched well with what’s on offer on the CalMac network. The ‘Think’ pillar would be of particular importance to this segment – Adventure Seekers are keen consumers of all adventure-related content.

Our programmatic trading team built these 3 audiences in the trading platform using 3 tactics;
• inMarket/Affinity – we leaned on pre-set Google audiences that matched the profile for the audience descriptions.
• Custom Audiences – we used a combination of custom affinity and custom intent audiences. Affinity audiences are built using keywords/links relating to the audience profiles, custom intent using relevant keywords/links for the main ferry routes.
• Contextual – we targeted content relevant to the audience profiles,
to surround them as they browsed.


Dynamic creative is usually associated with bottom of the funnel tactics, or with people being stalked by products they’d almost bought. However, Presto, Dentsu Aegis’ dynamic arm specialize in highly engaging, brand style creative that’s tailored for individuals.

Given the full funnel programmatic approach we needed a suite of assets to deliver engaging messaging depending on the stage of the journey, relevant route and audience profile. Presto allowed us to do this without having to invest heavily in creative resource. We built a suite of ‘layers’ – when each impression was served the appropriate layers for that prospect came together to form a personally relevant asset.


As well as using audience prospecting strategies, we wanted to be able to react quickly to the data and build in new bidding lines based on new audiences that performed well onsite. We added an Amnet Audience Centre pixel to the CalMac site, which allowed us to spot the behavioral nuances of those who were adding most value. The AAC is a data management solution that consolidates different data sets into one platform to offer in depth analysis.

The insight from the pixel pinpointed audience profiles which we could add to our strategy, based on others who were likely to show interest – for example, it highlighted causes and brands that highly-valuable audiences were most likely
to take an interest in, which allowed us to add in targeting that hinged on;

a) the audience segments as originally built,

b) values and

c) affinity brands.

We could upweight bids on this pinpointed audience. AAC also offered campaign specific insights – it highlighted a retargeting pool that required increased frequency to increase conversions.

After implementing this strategy we saw a significant uplift in sales, increasing our weekly average by 26%.
In 2018, Programmatic played a wider-reaching role in the CalMac campaign than ever before. We were tasked with driving incremental sales, with less reliance on the highly performing AI-based strategies that had underpinned performance in prior years. We used partner research, audience insight and DMP-driven optimization to find those who were not yet considering a trip to the Scottish Islands. By connecting them with the right content for their interests and stage in journey we drove incremental value for Caledonian Macbrayne.



In forecasting 2018 we considered the fact that decreasing reliance on Quantcast was likely to decrease efficiencies. However, we still had significant sales targets to hit and therefore knew that our new programmatic bidding strategies would need to balance increased early-funnel prospecting against efficient direct response results.

In year 1 of this new programmatic strategy we beat our targets;
• Sales – 7,435 (target of 6,430) – an over-delivery of 24%
• Cost Per Sale - £4.52 (target of £6.54)
• ROI – 12.9 (target of £8.10)

Considering the shift in strategy in 2018, we delivered impressive results for CalMac ferries.

U 7,435 Sales Target of 6,430 – an over-delivery of 24%
£ £4.52 Cost Per Sale Target of £6.54
E 12.9 Return on Investment Target of £8.10

Carat has been successfully leading our media strategy for some time now, and with their leadership and guidance moving to a more digital-focused strategy we have enjoyed significant Return on Investment. As an extension of our CalMac team, Carat has helped us to significantly upskill our knowledge of Programmatic as well as measurement through the iAnalyse tool. This positive relationship has helped us to incrementally increase our sales revenue targets year on year.

Julia McIntyre Caledonian MacBrayne
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