StrategyMediaNo Place Like Gnome for Travelocity

No Place Like Gnome for Travelocity

The online travel agency launches an $80 million ad campaign to regain momentum.

There’s no place like gnome, or home, anyway, and veteran travel site Travelocity is hoping to regain its home turf on top of the travel rankings with a campaign involving a purloined gnome.

The $80 million campaign began Dec. 15 with a three-week pre-campaign revolving around a Web site, www.whereismygnome.com, with the objective of “generating interest, buzz, enthusiasm about what’s happening with the gnome,” according to Susan McLaughlin, Travelocity’s vice president of marketing and merchandising.

The hapless gnome, allegedly stolen from an individual’s back yard, suffers indignities such as bobbing in a hot tub and riding in a ski lift as part of its worldwide adventures in a campaign created by McKinney & Silver.

The campaign, officially launching this week, is the largest in Travelocity’s history and may help reestablish the company, or at least aid in fighting off the competition.

The 42-million-member site, owned by Sabre Holdings accounted for 32 percent of United States online travel agency sales in 2001, according to Lorraine Sileo, an analyst with travel research firm PhoCusWright. It has fallen to No. 2, with 20 percent of sales. Competitor Expedia, which had 30 percent of the market in 2001, now generates 40 percent of sales, Sileo said.

“They fell behind because they didn’t have all the pieces in place in terms of having a merchant rate hotel offering where you negotiate with individual hotels and then you mark it up and sell it to a hotel at a discount,” Sileo explained. “They didn’t have the discount packaging in place that Expedia did. They didn’t have key components Expedia had implemented.”

Travelocity now has its own travel merchant program, “and it will be on a par with Expedia” in that area, Sileo elaborated. Orbitz is the No. 3 competitor in the online travel agency space.

Beginning Dec. 15, Travelocity used run-of-site ads on Yahoo and newspaper ads that resembled classifieds routing readers to the Web site. The ads supposedly were run by “Bill,” the lawn ornament’s owner, who asked for help in finding the purloined lawn ornament.

The traditional campaign includes DirecTV and cable television as well as national and local radio and print spots. The interactive component acted as a pre-launch to whip up interest.

“More than 600,000 people have visited the Web site so far,” McLaughlin said. The site has a homegrown feel, with green text against a black background, in keeping with the pre-campaign’s tone. Laughlin noted that there will be a Travelocity promotional offer on the site later this week.

“In the past we advertised our functionality, as did other online travel sites,” McLaughlin said. “The other ads were more impersonal. These ads are quirky, they’re warmer, more personal.”

Sileo said the interactive ads and Web site, as well as the overall campaign, are on the right track.

“Anything that’s memorable is good for Travelocity. If it creates buzz, it’s important. It’s about keeping up with the competitors, it’s about regaining momentum,” Sileo observed.

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