Kayak Makes Mainstream Push With Satirical TV Ads

Kayak.com, a meta-search travel platform created by the co-founders of Travelocity, Orbitz and Expedia, debuts a $10 million television ad campaign — its maiden broadcast effort.

Why would an online property that is ranked in the top 25 travel sites and is popular with early adopters advertise on TV? The answer may surprise.

“TV is now cheaper than some online channels of advertising,” said Dean Harris, chief marketing officer at Kayak, Norwalk, CT. “We are also hoping to tap into a larger, more mainstream audience. And in my experience, TV is still the most efficient way to launch a brand into a household name.”

Mr. Harris came to Kayak four months ago from Internet telephone firm Vonage. He is Kayak’s first and only marketing employee.

The campaign, tagged “Life’s a Trip,” includes 13 15- to 30-second trip ideas, all of which poke fun at contemporary pop culture. The ads are anything but reverent.

For example, “Trip Idea #39” — a hunting trip ad — includes an animated Dick Cheney shooting. Trip Idea #96 encourages travelers to visit national glaciers before they turn into water parks, thus the tourist penguins in sunglasses and bathing suits.

Also, Trip Idea #101 to Los Angeles portrays Hollywood glitz and a Jenny McCarthy lookalike whose breast implants pop and send her flying in the air. The screen text then reads, “Where the Pools are Deeper than Some of the People.”

The ads are produced by The Brooklyn Brothers, New York, which has done campaigns for Reuters, The History Channel and the United Nations. The creative shop understood Kayak’s satirical style.

The commercials, which broke July 10, run on networks and cable channels including NBC, The Discovery Network and A&E in various slots.

With this first run, Kayak will test the time positions and corresponding programming to see where the videos work best. The 13 clips will be released over the next few months as the campaign builds steam.

All the ads can be seen at www.kayak.com or on Kayak’s YouTube page at www.youtube.com/profile?user=kayaktravel.

One of the few who passed on Kayak’s spots was ESPN. The Disney-owned cable network didn’t like the Las Vegas content: Trip Idea #21 travels from Elvis in heaven to Siegfried and Roy’s white tiger in hell. Follow-up text reads “Voted #1 Holiday Destination by the Residents of Sodom and Gomorrah.”

But Mr. Harris is not worried. When you do something funny, not everyone will see it that way, he said.

All of the ads use animated characters in order to avoid paying residuals to union actors.

Kayak hopes that the ads are funny enough for viewers to e-mail each other and post on their MySpace, FaceBook and YouTube pages to share with friends.

The campaign includes a do-it-yourself contest where viewers can make their own ads. Aspiring ad makers can use the adGuru platform to upload pictures, videos and taglines to enter the contest. Kayak will produce the winning ad in the campaign’s format. The winner receives a free trip to New York and gets to visit the production of the commercial.

While the winner will get a professionally produced ad on TV, anyone can make their own ads and post them on the Kayak page or on their own online pages.

Kayak also is using search and pop-up ads generated by the WhenU desktop software. The search keywords are analyzed weekly and changed accordingly.

Social networking site methodology is in its infancy on the Kayak site, too. Users can create profiles, but the future includes much more networking and information sharing.

“Everyone knows that MySpace and sites like it are the future for marketing, but no one knows quite in what way,” said Drew Patterson, vice president of e-marketing, who used to work for Starwood Hotels. “I don’t want to have to go to MySpace and enter my travel plans. I want it posted to my page when I purchase my tickets.”

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