OK, So Maybe We Didn't Realize the Gnome Would Be So Iconic

Turns Out AdReview Is, in Fact, Slightly Uninfallible

By Published on .

No doubt you followed every exciting twist and turn of Advertising Week, the Four A's official display of self-congratulatory fiddling while Rome burns. Among the many, many splendid events was the enshrinement, on the Madison Avenue Walk of Fame, of the Geico Caveman and the Serta mattress sheep. They joined such distinguished icons as Tony the Tiger, the Pillsbury Doughboy and Colonel Sanders (ret.).
Turns out, AdReview is uninfallible.
Turns out, AdReview is uninfallible.

Never mind the accompanying global economic meltdown and advertising recession, the leading edge of God-knows-what industry implosion. Congratulations to the winners. If you actually existed, you'd have reason to be very proud.

Sadly, not everyone can be so honored. Here at AdReview, the nominee that caught our attention was the Travelocity Gnome, the 4.5-year-old ceramic symbol of peripateticism who has fronted the online travel service through skyrocketing growth. We don't care whether he ever gets a bronze star on the sidewalk (once again, he's pretend), but he has won three Effies. Thus did his failed nomination rudely remind us how skeptical -- and dismissive -- of him we were when he first appeared in January 2004.

We cringe as we cut and paste, but here's a taste of what we had to say: In the new campaign for Travelocity.com from McKinney & Silver, Raleigh, N.C., we may have discovered a certain purity of irrelevance: a campaign so wordy, silly and self-indulgent that its central joke refers to the pop culture of another continent.

Mind you, if presented with the same work in the same environment, we'd probably be just as nasty today. And, yes, we did give ourselves a bit of wiggle room with the following: While we concede that the gnome, with years of service, could eventually become the Pillsbury Doughboy of online travel, we're inclined to believe he won't last that long.

The fact remains, though, that we, the putatively infallible, turn out to be slightly uninfallible. This dismal reality has actually made itself plain a dozen or so times over the years (Reebok's disastrous "UBU," four stars; Nike's "Just Do It," only three stars; Saturn's debut, two and a half), but each time the shame burns. Particularly humbling, in this case, is the glaring error of ignoring the very benefit pretend characters bring to a brand in a (basically) parity category: Personality.

Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz can duel over marginal brand benefits, but clearly the stupid little garden gnome, with his little plaster tongue in his little plaster cheek, made Travelocity stand out in the crowd.

True, most consumers probably had no clue about the cultural joke behind the Roamin' Gnome, because the joke came from Europe, where prank kidnappings of déclassé garden statuary for ransom had become enough of a phenomenon to be immortalized in the 2001 French movie "Amelie." But in making that point, AdReview was merely showing off. As is now abundantly clear, understanding the genesis of the joke was unimportant; for the uninitiated, the advertising was initiation plenty.

We are long since on the record as saying we don't care what gets stolen from whom if no law is broken and the brand benefits. The expropriation of the traveling lawn ornament is, in that respect, quintessential. All of this is to say, considering the revenue generated to Travelocity by McKinney's campaign, sometimes it is best to pay us no heed.

Sometimes we're just quibbling while a gnome earns.
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