There's No Place Like Gnome
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There's No Place Like Gnome

Travelocity’s Gnome advertising campaign was the first step toward re-launching Travelocity’s brand. The Gnome positioned Travelocity as a site for savvy and engaged travelers; he acted as a lens, allowing consumers to witness a variety of rich travel experiences during his adventures with his kidnappers.

Paul Holmes

Travelocity’s Gnome advertising campaign was the first step toward re-launching Travelocity’s brand. The Gnome positioned Travelocity as a site for savvy and engaged travelers; he acted as a lens, allowing consumers to witness a variety of rich travel experiences during his adventures with his kidnappers, a pair of in-the-know Travelocity members committed to discovering the best ways to travel.

Through testing, Travelocity discovered consumers’ desire for a more relaxing, more organized travel booking experience. Travelocity set itself apart from its competition by conveying its promise for true advocacy, providing consumers with better travel options and features in the format they desire, as well as its Mondrian-inspired Web site design that improved the site’s look and feel. With clean, simple blocks of color in terra cotta, blue and green, the customer’s eye is truly guided in a way that is both pleasing and helpful to their travel booking experience.

Additionally, Travelocity launched a new logo, featuring a dark blue background and three hand-drawn stars in orange, blue and white. Meant to convey customer advocacy, Travelocity’s new logo represents the night sky and its guiding stars, leading travelers safely to the destinations of their choosing. Whether through its site, logo or products, Travelocity helps guide customers toward the best possible travel experiences – with a range of choices – from beginning of the travel booking process to the completion of their trip.

Though Travelocity was already a leading travel service, countless new online travel companies had entered the marketplace, and Travelocity was searching for ways to differentiate itself from competitors. Travelocity needed to provide its customers with the great deals on flights, hotels, car rentals, cruise and TotalTrip flight + hotel packages that it offered in a faster, less cluttered and easier-to-find format. More importantly, Travelocity wanted to portray itself as an advocate for consumers, and creating a new easier-to-use site was a step in that direction.

Introducing the Roaming Gnome along with a new site design and logo offered Travelocity and its customers a chance to move into a new direction in online travel by: building a differentiated brand image; establishing Travelocity’s distinctive image for “The Best Trips Start Here”, building deep customer relationships and loyalty through personalized features, improved planning and booking tools, great pricing and added value on every transaction

Challenged with accomplishing these goals, the campaign provided Travelocity and Vollmer the opportunity to convey Travelocity’s commitment to offering truly enriching travel experiences with great prices and value, from the beginning of the booking process to the completion of a journey.

Travelocity carried out two consumer test phases prior to launching its site rebranding campaign. Usability testing conducted by Travelocity explored users’ shopping methods and color preferences, finding that the sample group preferred Travelocity’s new prototype site to Travelocity’s old site AND competitors’ sites.

Vividence, a leading market research firm, involved approximately 400 users from both Travelocity and competitor sites with questions on looks, organization and content. According to users, the new site was very appealing, very organized and containing just the right amount of information. Vividence’s focus is Web-based market research solutions providing insight into online customer experiences, market trends, and industry strategies. Findings from the study revealed that consumers favored Travelocity’s site almost three-to-one over competitors’ sites.

Additionally, Hall  percent Partners, a marketing research firm that helps companies build stronger brands through both quantitative and qualitative research conducted branding research for Travelocity. Prior to the launch of the Gnome in January 2004, research revealed that consumers were lacking strong brand identification with Travelocity. However, by the third quarter of 2004 following the launch of the Gnome advertising campaign and the introduction of the new site design and logo, consumers have shown an increase in brand recognition and loyalty to Travelocity.

Travelocity wanted to differentiate itself from the competition and demonstrate to current and future Travelocity customers its commitment to the best travel experiences possible. Succeeding in this meant communicating and reinforcing its branding message throughout all aspects of the company.

Travelocity and Vollmer focused on achieving the following communications and business goals: As a result of media coverage and subsequently increased awareness about the new site and from the Gnome’s introduction, drive increased traffic to Travelocity’s Web site, leading to a greater percentage of bookings, Travelocity sought to differentiate itself from the competition by promoting a company filled with vitality, enticed travel experiences and travel mastery, Travelocity would be viewed as a trusted company, empowering consumers and giving them control of their travel lives, although Travelocity had been a leading online travel site since its inception in 1996, the introduction of the Gnome and site redesign provided additional opportunities for consumers to become knowledgeable and excited about the brand.

Travelocity’s target audiences for these objectives included travel, consumer and business media, current and potential Travelocity members, users of competitor sites, and Travelocity employees. 

In order to effectively execute the campaign, Travelocity and Vollmer launched a series of grassroots PR/marketing tactics as well as media outreach activities to garner media and consumer interest, including: Intended to pique the interest of both consumers and media prior to revealing the Gnome’s connection with Travelocity, Travelocity/Vollmer designed a “Missing Gnome” poster, describing the kidnapping of the Gnome from his owner, Bill. The posters featured a photo of the Gnome along with a toll-free tip line with Bill’s voicemail and www.whereismygnome.com Web site. Posters were distributed around the country and placed at local points of interest.

Additionally, Vollmer seeded various Internet chat rooms and sent out more than 2,500 handwritten letters on Bill’s behalf soliciting help from reporters for the Gnome’s safe return. Media outreach for the Gnome’s pre-buzz included outreach to industry analysts; crime, lifestyle and metro reporters at community, daily and national newspapers, as well as on-air personalities and news assignment editors at radio and TV stations in the top 26 U.S. media markets.

Kicking off the official launch of Travelocity’s Roaming Gnome campaign, Vollmer and Travelocity created and distributed a media drop sent from the Gnome. These media drops, delivered in two stages by hand and through the mail, targeted more than 300 local and national consumer and travel online and print writers, trade reporters as well as on-air radio personalities and TV producers. Additionally, on launch day, Travelocity and Vollmer distributed a news release through PR Newswire with accompanying photos from his adventure. Talking points, a biography and photos of the Gnome were also developed for use during Vollmer’s initial media outreach.

During subsequent months, media outreach and grassroots tactics continued as consumers and the media became more aware of the Gnome and his link to Travelocity. In addition to expanding outreach to a variety of reporters, including gardening and marketing-oriented journalists, Travelocity/Vollmer’s tactics included staging appearances by the Gnome at landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty in New York, Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco and at Dallas/Fort Worth and Seattle International airports on luggage carousels, as well as planting “Gnome Chauffeurs” at the Atlanta, Denver and Washington Dulles airports. During all of these events, passersby were offered Travelocity-branded Polaroids of themselves posing with the Gnome. Photos were also developed seasonally to represent the Gnome’s presence at a variety of places and events, such as Mardi Gras, around the country. During the 2004 winter holiday season Travelocity opened a Gnome store on its Web site and began selling the Gnome on eBay, and it created a series of Gnome games featured on the Travelocity Web site.

Building buzz around the site redesign, Travelocity/Vollmer employed several teaser tactics, including a countdown timer three days prior to launch on Travelocity’s homepage, which linked to details of the new site, an e-mail tagline and media pre-pitching to selected targets, including industry analysts, national media and reporters in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, where Travelocity is headquartered. These reporters and industry analysts received a “hard hat” tour of Travelocity’s redesigned site.

Travelocity and Vollmer initiated Travelocity’s site redesign launch with a media drop featuring a “ribbon-cutting” themed media kit. The media drop was completed with post-it notes, a T-shirt and luggage tag all featuring Travelocity’s new guiding stars logo. The 300 media drops were sent to industry analysts, local national and trade reporters in a variety of beats, including travel, business, consumer and marketing. As Travelocity has introduced product enhancements to its site during the following months –e.g. recent Flight Navigator and local and one-way car rental additions – Vollmer has continued to weave the overall rebranding messages into each launch.

Travelocity’s rebranding campaign has been a success for Travelocity and Vollmer; our results, including print and broadcast hits, pop culture inclusions and site visits, reflect this. The campaign has garnered the following results: more than 75 stories/ mentions, Vollmer’s budget was approximately $56,000, the effort resulted in an ROI of $25 for every 1 dollar invested, more than 30 million impressions, The Gnome was featured in an episode of Will  percent Grace, a popular NBC sitcom, on Thursday, March 4, 2004 and Harry Enfield, a British actor and the voice of the Gnome, was featured in TV Guide’s “Insider” section on March 20, 2004.

Since the launch of the rebranding campaign, Travelocity has seen a number of indicators of success, including: an increase of 32.8 % in site traffic in the first two weeks of the Gnome launch, search for “Travelocity Gnome” on Google from 1,070 hits on January 5, 2004 (launch day) to 10,300 hits in the last week of January 2004, 140,550 calls to Bill’s (the Gnome’s owner) 888 phone number, 308,649 unique visitors to Bill’s whereismygnome.com Web site, 2,600 e-mails sent to www.whereismygnome.com and According to a comScore Media Metrix announcement on April 22 for the top 50 Internet properties for March 2004, “seasonal holiday travel planning, boosted by a widely publicized site redesign, pushed Travelocity 7 spots higher to number 39”.

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