Hotwire Ads Take Aim at Priceline

Travel site Hotwire is rolling out its own national advertising campaign in the wake of new ads from larger rival Priceline.com .

The yearlong campaign from San Francisco-based Hotwire launched nationally on Monday, after three months of testing in select markets. Spending was not disclosed in the effort, but a Hotwire spokesperson said the firm planned to spend $75 million on advertising during the year.

The Hotwire spots feature ordinary consumers taking the “Hotwire Travel Challenge” — a modern day take on the old “Pepsi Challenge” that asks travelers to say which travel site they’d prefer after sampling several competitors. In the ads, travelers compare the savings they’d get from using Hotwire to results from Priceline and fixed-price sites like Travelocity and Expedia.

Two-year-old Hotwire’s agency, New York-based DiMassimo Brand Advertising, conducted the “Hotwire Travel Challenge” interviews on the street in several U.S. cities. About a dozen spots are currently in rotation in the campaign.

The effort takes particular aim at Norwalk, Conn.-based Priceline, which has been touting its “Name Your Own Price” in television and radio ads since 1999. Several of the spots in Hotwire’s campaign highlight the fact that would-be travelers must hand over their credit card number to Priceline before bidding on a price for airfare, rental cars or hotel rooms. Other ads challenge the cost-savings of Priceline’s bidding process altogether.

Both sites offer discount travel tickets for consumers willing to take any major airline and give up the right to specify the time of day they’d like to depart. On Priceline.com, users specify how much they’d be willing to pay for tickets, hotel accommodations or rental cars, and the service then attempts to match their offer with a seller. On Hotwire, users don’t bid; rather, they’re presented with a number of discount rates, but not told the times at which they’d have to leave. Priceline.com requires that users accept the offer if the company finds a match for their bid. HotWire gives users a price that they can take or leave, but requires them to accept — and fork over their credit card number — before they find out the airline or the departure time.

Earlier this year, Hotwire launched a print ad campaign, also attacking Priceline’s bidding process and its policy of requiring credit card information before consumers receive their prices. Since then, the campaign has switched gears to let satisfied Hotwire users tell their story.

“When people try Hotwire for the first time, they are astounded by our great prices and simple user experience,” said Hotwire chief marketing officer John Hommeyer. “We didn’t write these ads — we just asked real people to try Hotwire and a competing travel site side by side. Then we recorded their natural reactions.”

Last week, Priceline rolled out the second spot in its current radio campaign, featuring the voice of actor William Shatner, who has previously appeared in TV and radio ads for the site. In the ads, Shatner introduces the Priceline.com “SuperComputer,” which is working busily to find money-saving deals for users.

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