Orbitz Debuts Characters in TV Spots

Travel e-commerce player Orbitz.com Monday debuted a TV campaign featuring a cast of animated characters expected to become regulars in the company’s marketing efforts.

Spending on the campaign, designed by Young & Rubicam/Chicago, will come in at between $30 and $40 million. TV spots will appear on news, lifestyle, and entertainment channels on cable television, including MSNBC, ESPN, Discovery, and TNT.

The spots star sophisticated marionettes, designed by the Character Shop’s Rick Lazzarini, known collectively as the “Destination: Orbitz” team. Each character represents a different facet of the Orbitz service. The team is led by “Commander O,” who oversees the work of “Code” (the tech whiz); “Care” (who helps customers); Hunt and Starr (who scout great hotels and destinations); and Deal (who finds and negotiates great travel deals).

In the spots, directed by filmmaker Roman Coppola, the action takes place high in the sky in a blimp, where the team is stationed. Each thirty-second commercial opens in the “command center” with Commander O stating a customer’s problem. In one instance he says a bachelorette party wants to go to Miami, but money is tight. The other characters find solutions to the customers’ problems, and Commander O declares: “mission accomplished.”

The “Destination: Orbitz” characters will be integrated into the Orbitz.com site, as well as in print marketing materials. Their creator, Lazzarini, is known for having created the Budweiser Frogs, the “rats” in the new “Willard” motion picture and full-sized animatronic elephants in “Operation Dumbo Drop.”

“The marionettes are a fun and creative way to illustrate how Orbitz listens to customers and responds to their needs,” Mike Sands, Orbitz’ chief marketing officer. “Travel advertising is typically characterized by clichéd beach scenes and testimonials. With the marionettes, Orbitz is going a different way to break through the sameness of travel ads.”

Accompanying the TV spots will be a microsite at destinationorbitz.com which the company will not promote in any advertising, but hopes will become known via word of mouth. Creative for Orbitz’ online pop-under advertising will also be revamped to feature the “Destination: Orbitz” marionettes.

The company’s latest effort — which involves its first new TV spots since June 2001 — is timed to capitalize on people’s summer holiday planning.

“Orbitz wants to get the word out that right now, travelers will find some of the greatest bargains ever on airfares, hotel rooms and other travel arrangements,” said Sands.

It also comes at a time when anxieties about war, terrorism, and the respiratory disease, SARS, are taking their toll on the travel industry.

Most recently, Orbitz has focused its marketing efforts on a series of interactive Flash pop-under ads, which it’s reportedly found successful.

Orbitz is the number two travel transaction site, according to comScore Media Metrix, when ranked by number of unique visitors. It attracted 11.7 million unique individuals in February 2003, comScore said.

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