Orbitz Launches Major Print Campaign

Orbitz, the major U.S. air carriers’ answer to travel booking sites like Expedia and Travelocity, is kicking off an ad campaign in support of its launch that’s designed, it said, to put fun and romance back into travel.

Through an audacious “Visit Planet Earth” campaign that broke last week in print and will debut Monday on national TV, Orbitz — which was jointly founded by American, Continental, Delta, Northwest and United — aims to brand itself by evoking the romance, ease and sophistication associated with traveling in the 60s and 70s. The hip, mod approach is similar to that taken by Priceline and its agency, Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, in animated television spots voiced by actress Sarah Jessica Parker.

To inspire the kind of warmth and excitement it says consumers ought to feel in traveling, Orbitz’ agency, New York-based TBWAChiatDay, even tapped the original artists behind avant-garde travel posters of that bygone era to design the campaign’s main print thrust.

Showing the same kind of iconoclastic thinking that went into its work for Absolut Vodka and Apple Computer, the six print creatives commissioned by ChiatDay can really only be described as “Jet Age” — appearing downright anachronistic compared to the tightly constructed vacation ads (often, promising a particular deal) common today.

Naturally, this is by design. While Travelocity and Expedia are well-known names in the Web booking business, Orbitz says there’s still a severe loyalty gap: its own research shows that less than 10 percent of consumers who purchased online tickets shop exclusively on one travel site, and that abandonment for e-commerce travel purchases hovers near a whopping 95 percent.

So, by omitting any overt discussion of its specific benefits, capabilities or consumer value proposition — copy is limited to “Visit Planet Earth via Orbitz” and the tagline, “Proudly created by the world’s leading airlines” — Orbitz is betting it can stand out by communicating a feeling, rather than a feature.

In fact, the impression is that Orbitz simply doesn’t deign to promote its features.

“The posters — sure to become collectors items themselves — represent a clean break from the ho-hum beach scenes that predominate today’s online leisure travel advertising,” said a spokesperson for the company. “Each poster ad reminds travelers that Orbitz is poised to close the consumer confidence gap.”

The company didn’t disclose the amount it was putting into the campaign, though it said that it would spend “competitively” against other travel Web sites’ reported $100 million annual budgets.

The media buy includes some 65 print magazines and newspapers — ranging from travel and lifestyle publications to general interest and business and technology outlets — and interactive purchases on a dozen Web portals.

Versions of the print ads will also appear on airport billboards, ticket jackets, meal tray cards, and postcards.

Supporting television, radio and banner ad creatives will focus on Orbitz’ competitive differences — its access to deals direct from the carriers. TV creatives feature the tagline “learn and leverage, not spend and pray.”

To top it all off, Orbitz aims to boost its membership database by offering a trip-an-hour sweepstakes from now through mid-July. A second, weekly contest offers chances at winning international trips. Entrants must register for either contest at the site; that user database will be used in later CRM efforts, according to a spokesperson for the site.

Meanwhile, as Orbitz unveils its high-profile advertising campaign, another player — Honolulu-based Cheap Tickets, Inc. — aims to follow suit, tapping J. Walter Thompson for a TV, radio, print and Web campaign.

The firm’s new “Pass it On” campaign — its largest yet — aims to revamp Cheap Tickets’ brand identity and introduces a new tagline: “The Best Kept Secret in Travel.”

The 15-year old discount airfare company is looking to positioning itself as a hip, savvy travel guru. Television creatives from JWT’s San Francisco office show a variety of in-the-know travelers “passing on” the secret of Cheap Tickets’s airfares (in the form of a luggage tag) — suggesting that you, too, now can gain access to this hitherto closely-guarded secret.

The ads aim to send traffic to the company’s Web site, or to encourage people to contact one of its call centers.

Spots will begin appearing this week in regional network and national cable, with similarly-themed radio, print and online advertisements appearing in other targeted trade and special-interest publications.

Cheap Tickets said it is supporting the new ad campaign with an e-mail promotion and a ticket-trade sponsorship.

“These new ads reflect a growing, and more aggressive Cheap Tickets, and build on the fundamentals that have made us successful over our 15-year history — low price, convenience and personal customer service,” said Cheap Tickets’ president and chief executive, Sam Galeotos. “This campaign is designed to get Cheap Tickets’ secret out to a broader range of consumers. We want people to know we’re more than just a Web site; we’re a one-stop, multi-channel discount travel business, offering consumers access to one of the largest collections of discounted airfares on more than 50 air carriers.”

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