Skift Take

It sounds as though Travelocity is betting that a new hotel offering, coming in a few months, will be somewhat of a game-changer. The Roaming Gnome's continued antics may depend on it.

Travelocity is part of a private company, Sabre, so the online travel agency’s new “Go & Smell the Roses” prime time advertising campaign, launched yesterday on The Amazing Race TV show, amounts to a sort of public gut check on where Travelocity thinks it’s at.

Travelocity more than a decade ago was the leading OTA in the U.S., but it fell behind its peers in back-end tech and hotel offerings, and recorded operating losses in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Two years ago, Sabre brought in Carl Sparks, who had been the president of Gilt Groupe, to turn things around.

How Travelocity performed in 2012 is anyone’s guess, although there are no indications that the company is setting the world on fire.

Still, the new tagline and advertising campaign, Travelocity’s first in years with spots on all major networks and in prime time, is a signal that the company feels it is ready to step into the limelight.

Brad Wilson, Travelocity’s chief marketing officer, arrived a month after Sparks in 2011 and explains that the company didn’t previously have the merchandising efficiency to launch an advertising campaign on the scale of the current one.

“We feel much better about where we sit today than we did in the past,” Wilson told Skift.

Travelocity traditionally has notched a low share of TV “voice” when considering the top seven U.S. online travel agency and travel metasearch advertisers, with Kayak and Hotwire spending heavily in 2012, and Priceline’s dominating the TV airwaves and cable wires in 2013.

Wilson says Travelocity plans on being in the first or second position over the next six weeks.

Still, there is a disconnect.

The aim of the “Go & Smell the Roses Campaign,” with five interwoven spots featuring the Roaming Gnome front and center, is to “dislodge” would-be travelers from the couch, and to show them that Travelocity is their partner in crime in loving the travel life.

In a retreat-like gathering in August in Portland, Oregon, Travelocity executives reached a consensus that they wanted consumers to view the brand as “whimsical and efficient,” and wanted the new campaign to portray Travelocity as a “travel instigator,” Wilson says.

But the staff from Character LLC, which conducted the workshop, explained that from past advertising campaigns, consumers appreciated the whimsical part about Travelocity and the Roaming Gnome, but any efficiency attributes didn’t come through.

The ironic thing about the current campaign is that again it is all about whimsy and humor, and provides next to nothing about Travelocity being an efficient ally in arranging travel. [The five spots are embedded below.]

Travelocity isn’t ready to address the efficiency aspect because it is awaiting the launch of a new, unspecified hotel product in the second or third quarter, and there is also a planned “social product down the line,” Wilson says.

After the hotel product becomes operational, there will be a “second wave” to the advertising campaign, perhaps in June or July, although Travelocity is keeping its timing options open, Wilson says.

The Roaming Gnome and Travelocity’s ad campaigns have been back with McKinney, the Gnome’s creator, since July. Travelocity believes the Gnome will be even more effective in establishing rapport with viewers in the current campaign because the Gnome is talking directly to viewers instead of speaking to other characters, as has been done in the past.

The five spots in the current campaign are embedded below:


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Tags: advertising, travelocity

Photo credit: If you live in the U.S., you should be seeing a lot of the Roaming Gnome on TV in prime time over the next six weeks. The Gnome isn't used to so much attention. Travelocity

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