Kayak.com Uses Celebs, Politicos and CGM in New Spots

Commissioning Dick Cheney and Pam Anderson to star in an ad campaign could cost a pretty penny. But Kayak.com has managed to feature them and other famous faces in its new TV campaign despite the travel search site’s start-up status. The firm is running animated spots reminiscent of Jib-Jab’s satirical romps, both in their photo collage style and timely pop-cultural references. The hope is that the spots will have a life online, as well as on TV.

“We’ve created ads that we think are media neutral,” commented Kayak.com CMO Dean Harris. “We think [the campaign] has applications to just about any medium.”

Indeed, the ads employ celebrities and current events-related themes in the hopes of spurring Web buzz as well as offline and online media attention. One spot shows U.S. VP Dick Cheney sporting hunting gear; another recommending a trip to L.A. displays blonde bombshell Pamela Anderson buoyed by her surgically-supplemented breasts.

A possible driver of press and online pass-alongs is the fact that the ads resemble popular Web animations that have already grabbed attention from Internet users and the media, such as Jib-Jab’s viral hit “This Land,” and rathergood.com’s singing kittens and “Spongemonkey” clips which inspired a Quiznos TV ad campaign.

The “Trip Ideas” campaign, developed by The Brooklyn Brothers, employs provocative themes and imagery that are “part of the cultural zeitgeist…to get some attention on a smaller budget,” explained Guy Barnett, the agency’s creative director.

Kayak aims to target independent-thinking 25 to 59 year-olds through the ads, or, as Harris described them, “people who already are participating in buying travel online in a self-directed way.”

The 15- and 30-second spots are set to run on national network cable television stations as well as overnight on NBC. “Compared to other advertisers, our budget is relatively modest, so buying a prime time network is not in the cards here,” said Harris. The campaign is costing $10 million and is expected to run for a full year. Online components are set to launch later this summer. The firm also does “very aggressive” search marketing, primarily buying keywords on Google and Yahoo in addition to some on MSN.com and Ask.com.

The company hopes people will watch the spots online after viewing them on TV, as “a way of eliminating TiVo-type [ad] skipping problems,” suggested Harris. He added that Kayak is also encouraging people to put their own ad creations on their MySpace pages.

One way viral promotion of the campaign is bound to come about is through consumer-created Web ads mimicking Kayak’s 13 official spots. Users are invited to tinker with the company’s online ad-making tool to concoct their own ads which are hosted on YouTube. The creator of the ad judged to be the best will be flown to New York along with a friend for a three-night trip to participate in professional production of the winning spot, which will be used in an online and offline campaign.

A handful already have popped up on YouTube, after passing Kayak’s approval process. Recognizing that people are more prone to pass along slightly shocking material, the company has let a few eye-catching submissions pass through its censors. One user-generated ad shows a woman in an airline bathroom and reads, “Join the Mile High Club. On the way to Mile High Stadium.” Another suggests that travelers “Visit Fiji. Like Keith Richards.” The quick clip features a hacked photo of the immortal Stones guitarist plunking his head on the sand after tumbling from a palm tree.

Kayak sells CPC-based paid listings that accompany its hotel, airline and car rental search results. The site currently attracts more than 6 million unique visitors per month, according to Harris. Kayak also powers travel search for sites including AOL, CNN, About.com and USAToday.com, and runs an affiliate program.

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