Skift Take

Will AI replace the Tim Williams (Trivago Guy) and William Shatner (the Priceline Negotiator) types? Could be. Trivago, meanwhile, is already testing a second AI-infused commercial.

Tim Williams, the Texas-born actor who played the Trivago Guy didn’t know he’d been replaced until he saw a new Trivago commercial last December.

There had been hints. Last year, Trivago had tried re-running old ads featuring Williams, and his agent said the results weren’t promising.

“At the moment they’ve got what they need,” Williams said his agent told him. “And they’ll look at the numbers and get back to us. And, so they never really got back.”

Trivago went in a different direction. Its TV commercials that began running last December feature a new actor and use AI so he can seem to speak in multiple languages for different markets.

Williams, now 57, is back in the U.S. after living in Germany for more than 20 years. Skift recently caught up with him in a video chat while he was at his mom’s condo in the Houston area.

What do you think of Trivago’s move to use AI TV commercials that eliminated the need to use multiple actors?

Tim Williams: “They’re saving money and I’ll tell you why. I’m union, I’m SAG (Screen Actors Guild).”

Williams said Trivago hadn’t realized he was a SAG member when the first TV commercial he did for them in 2013, “started airing and blew up.”

Williams said he made more than 60 TV commercials for Trivago, and more than 30 aired. They shot some in a green screen studio in Berlin, Germany, and others in Mexico. The last original commercial he made for Trivago was “probably in 2018.”

The first Trivago Guy ad in the U.S. in 2013. It was called “Compare Prices.” Source: Trivago/YouTube

Did the Trivago commercials make you rich?

Tim Williams: “I had a million in my bank for about three days. In Germany, until the government takes half of it away. And I did a lot of traveling. But you know, I’ve got some stuff still left over of all that.”

Williams added that he had three contracts with Trivago over the years, but he didn’t get paid by the number of impressions.

Tim’s mom, Sharon Williams, walks into the condo and joins the interview.

Actor Tim Williams and mom Sharon Williams. Source: Tim Williams

What did y’all think of the fact that when the commercials ran, some women, totally loved them, and some women like thought they were gross?

Sharon Williams: “The men thought it was gross but the women loved it!”

Tim Williams: “I don’t know. There’s plenty of women who hate me out there.”

Sharon Williams: “What’s amazing is that Tim and the commercials were trendsetters. All of the sudden all of these other companies start going, ‘All you have to do is look on your phone etc.'”

You were famous for not wearing a belt? How did that happen?

Tim Williams: “They didn’t have much of a budget for that first commercial. They had belts there but it didn’t go through the belt loop for the pants they had chosen. The belt loops were too small and then the creative director, Jon Eichelberger, took his belt off and it didn’t work. And he said, ‘You know what, just go without it. It’s cool. It’s fun.'”

What about that scruffy look you had, at least in the early commercials?

Tim Williams: “Yes, that’s because of that character, Kurt LeRoy, I played on the German soap opera ‘Guten Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten’ (Good Times, Bad Times). And I played that guy (an American rock star), and he had like a goatee kind of thing. And I had a few days off, but Trivago wanted to film and I had to be back the following week with some stuff on my face to film. Because I was a regular character.”

Looking Back and What’s Next?

Willliams is currently writing — and rewriting — a TV or film script with his four-person production company in New York, and they are looking for financing. He appeared in a film installation, called Euphoria (2022) by Julian Rosefeldt; it completed filming his scene in Kyiv, Ukraine in February 2020, 10 days before the Russian invasion. Williams also appeared in a Hallmark Channel Christmas special last December.

Despite not appearing in new Trivago commercials anymore, how do you look back at your partnership with Trivago?

Tim Williams: “So I’m grateful to be a part of that experience. If we did do something like that. I’m just happy to be that to know that I was the dude who helped Trivago get on the map.”

Sharon Williams: “I’m very proud of him. My baby boy did that.”

The AI-driven Trivago commercial in multiple languages with actor James Sheldon:

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Tags: advertising, brand marketing, metasearch, online travel, online travel newsletter, trivago, tv

Photo credit: Actor Tim Williams played the Trivago Guy in its North America commercials for a decade. The photo was taken during the making of his country album, "Magnolia City." Source: Tim Williams

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