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Gnome Races on the Web

Mar 7, 2007  •  Post A Comment

The best ideas often seem blindingly obvious in hindsight.
Take the relationship between Travelocity, the Internet travel-booking service, and CBS’s “The Amazing Race,” a show in which teams travel to spots all over the world.
This season Travelocity and its media agency, OMD, have moved online with “The Amazing Race,” sponsoring an Internet game to encourage viewers and Web surfers to explore Travelocity’s site.
Travelocity runs a 30-second spot during each show and customized billboards during the broadcast to direct viewers to look for clues to a mystery destination on both travelocity.com and cbs.com/travelocity. People who figure out the mystery destination are entered into a sweepstakes to win a trip to that location.
“It’s a perfect example of a great partnership because it’s driving people between CBS.com and Travelocity, so we’re attracting viewers from each place,” said Paige Samson, account director at OMD.
The mystery destination is going to be announced through an on-air billboard during the show at the end of the season. “That’s another exciting part, too, because on-air billboards are promoting this game and so we think it’s the final payoff. It’s great to have it announced in a final billboard at the end,” she said.
“This year for the first time, we have an involving game,” said Deborah Italiano, VP of marketing for Travelocity. And while ultimately the measure of any marketing activity is how many people book trips on the site, “We’re really happy if people get more involved with the brand. That’s a great benefit. And certainly with the game, bringing people to different places in our site will help them appreciate more what we have to offer.”
OMD first hooked Travelocity up with “The Amazing Race” in 2005. The company had been using mostly direct-response cable advertising and was looking to move into prime time and integrate into a network show, said OMD director Guy McCarter.
“It didn’t take us long looking at prime-time schedules,” he said. “The one show that stood out was ‘Amazing Race,’ because it’s all about travel.”
In previous years, Travelocity’s mascot/spokesman, the Roaming Gnome, has been integrated into episodes of “Amazing Race.” In one leg of the race, the contestants have to find a gnome and bring it to the episode’s pit stop; one of the gnomes has a prize (usually a trip) on the bottom.
“It always makes for a great visual because people have to find the gnome and then travel with the gnome to the pit stop, which kind of fits in with the mythology of the Roaming Gnome, who’s gone around the world,” Mr. McCarter said. “You see these great scenes of people, they’re running down the street with the gnome, putting the gnome in the car, putting the seat belt on. It’s real, organic, natural, fun integrations.”
Also, in many segments, the first team to arrive at the pit stop wins a trip provided by Travelocity. The trips are very high-end, including one to spend New Year’s Eve on a private yacht in Sydney Harbor to watch the fireworks. “The prizes that they give away at pit stops are always very cool, high-value, amazing trips,” Mr. McCarter said. “It’s another way to connect Travelocity and the show, which is all about traveling to great destinations that you can book on Travelocity.”
The audience is also a good fit.
“In many ways media is bought by demographics, but what we’re buying here is their mindset,” Ms. Italiano said. “So it’s not just the fact they’re affluent and in our age group and all that stuff, but the fact that not only are they thinking about traveling, they’re usually fun people, smart people, adventurous people, and that’s really our target. It just goes so much deeper beyond demos, and we’re thinking that’s exactly what makes it work so hard and so much harder than just a regular buy.”
Ms. Italiano said Travelocity constantly tracks its brand awareness. After signing on with “Amazing Race,” it compared regular watchers of the show to a national sample. “We saw a lot higher scores on brand awareness and more positive perceptions and intent to buy” among the “Amazing Race” viewers, she said.
Viewers tend not to record “The Amazing Race,” and they seem to be less likely to multitask while watching, she said.
Site visits and actual transactions are a bit harder to link to the show, but Travelocity compared its results 60 days before its first shot on “Amazing Race” to the 50 days after and found “our investment in the program paid off at day 40. So that’s why we went joyfully into ’06 and ’07.”
Ms. Italiano declined to say how much Travelocity is paying CBS for the package, other than to place it in the seven-figure range.
“It’s a very big initiative for one key medium and one key program,” she said.
While most of the company’s other media money is spent on a broad range of cable channels, it is on the lookout for other integrated programs. “Now the movement is to get into scripted integrations,” she said. “We’re looking into opportunities for that.”

29 Comments

  1. I love the show, and have never missed an episode. It is a dream of mine to be a participant. I would love to race around the world and do all of the crazy stunts. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime!

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