Inside the Mix

Travelocity pulls off hard task of sustaining simultaneous memorable branding efforts

Travelocity pulls off hard task of sustaining simultaneous memorable branding efforts

It's as you're typing Travelocity's URL to idly research flights to Maine, as I did last week, and you find yourself saying, "Don't forget your hat!" to the screen that you realize just how pervasive a marketing campaign has been.

The "Roaming Gnome" first appeared in Travelocity's TV ads just over a year ago, though the push was preceded by some pre-campaign buzz work by Vollmer PR. Since then, through a combination of McKinney & Silver's ads and Vollmer's grassroots work - which has included sending the lost gnome around a baggage carousel and writing letters "from" him - the little guy has become synonymous with the site.

Indeed, the gnome has his own page on the website, with information about him and opportunities to watch TV ads and even buy merchandise, including a gnome statue, of which "several hundred" have been sold, according to Vollmer. It's not every day you see the campaign idea so closely integrated with the retail experience (the gnome appears all over the site, not just on www.gnomestore.com). Obviously, Travelocity's location online makes this easier, but the execution is just right.

At the same time, another prong of activity is going on. Travelocity has just completed its fourth annual holiday push, positioning itself as a go-to source for the media on holiday travel delays and related issues. The system, started by VP of PR Al Comeaux (profiled on p.13), sees a "holiday task force" monitoring conditions at the US' 25 largest airports and reporting back to Travelocity, which, in turn, gives that information to local and national media. Travelocity's editor-at-large, Amy Ziff, has become a go-to for many journalists as a result of the campaign, and the company has found itself appearing in many national outlets, such as Good Morning America, Fox News, and USA Today.

Both initiatives are interesting in their own right. But what Travelocity has done very well is having these two simultaneous but different positioning efforts - the branding idea of the gnome and the independent expertise offered by its on-the-ground staff - without making them seem to fight for attention. Not all companies that try to do so pull it off. (Geico springs to mind as another one that's succeeded.)

This coming year will be an interesting one for the likes of Travelocity, Orbitz, and Expedia. Upstarts like Sidestep and Mobissimo are emerging that not only search the aforementioned sites, but also airlines' own sites (some of which don't appear on the other three). When it comes to simply looking for the best price for a flight, the big sites might no longer be the best choice. But where they are forging ahead is in "dynamic packages" - bundling a flight and hotel for much less than it would cost to buy them separately.

And, of course, what they also offer is information. Orbitz and Expedia offer news and travel tips on their sites, too, but Travelocity has clearly claimed this space with the media. And while I can recall Expedia's ads (people imagining what would happen if they booked the wrong type of vacation) and an Orbitz's campaign featuring puppets, they don't permeate the whole customer experience the way the gnome does. And I'll never forget my hat again.

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